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The Son Of The Wolf Chief

from The Strange Story Book





Once upon a time a town near the North Pacific Ocean suffered greatly
from famine and many of the Indians who lived there died of hunger. It
was terrible to see them sitting before their doors, too weak and
listless to move, and waiting silently and hopelessly for death to come.
But there was one boy who behaved quite differently from the rest of the
tribe. For some reason or other he seemed quite strong on his legs,
and all day long he would go into the fields or the woods, with his bow
and arrows slung to his back, hoping to bring back a supper for himself
and his mother.

One morning when he was out as usual, he found a little animal that
looked like a dog. It was such a round, funny little thing that he could
not bear to kill it, so he put it under his warm blanket, and carried it
home, and as it was very dirty from rolling about in the mud and snow,
his mother washed it for him. When it was quite clean, the boy fetched
some red paint which his uncle who had died of famine had used for
smearing over their faces, and put it on the dog's head and legs so that
he might always be able to trace it when they were hunting together.

The boy got up early next morning and took his dog into the woods and
the hills. The little beast was very quick and sharp, and it was not
long before the two got quite a number of grouse and birds of all sorts;
and as soon as they had enough for that day and the next, they returned
to the wigwam and invited their neighbours to supper with them.

A short time after, the boy was out on the hills wondering where the dog
had gone, for, in spite of the red paint, he was to be seen nowhere. At
length he stood still and put his ear to the ground and listened with
all his might, and that means a great deal, for Indian ears are much
cleverer at hearing than European ones. Then he heard a whine which
sounded as if it came from a long way off, so he jumped up at once and
walked and walked till he reached a small hollow, where he found that
the dog had killed one of the mountain sheep.

'Can it really be a dog?' said the boy to himself. 'I don't know; I
wish I did. But at any rate, it deserves to be treated like one,' and
when the sheep was cooked, the dog--if it was a dog--was given all the
fat part.

After this, never a day passed without the boy and the dog bringing home
meat, and thanks to them the people began to grow fat again. But if the
dog killed many sheep at once, the boy was always careful to give it
first the best for itself.

* * * * *

Some weeks later the husband of the boy's sister came to him and said:

'Lend me your dog, it will help me greatly.' So the boy went and brought
the dog from the little house he had made for it, and painted its head
and its feet, and carried it to his brother-in-law.

'Give it the first thing that is killed as I always do,' observed the
boy, but the man answered nothing, only put the dog in his blanket.

Now the brother-in-law was greedy and selfish and wanted to keep
everything for himself; so after the dog had killed a whole flock of
sheep in the fields, the man threw it a bit of the inside which nobody
else would touch, exclaiming rudely:

'Here, take that! It is quite good enough for you.'

But the dog would not touch it either, and ran away to the mountains,
yelping loudly.

The man had to bring back all the sheep himself, and it was evening
before he reached the village. The first person he saw was the boy who
was waiting about for him.

'Where is the dog?' asked he, and the man answered:

'It ran away from me.'

On hearing this the boy put no more questions, but he called his sister
and said to her:

'Tell me the truth. What did your husband do to the dog? I did not want
to let it go, because I guessed what would happen.'

And the wife answered:

'He threw the inside of a sheep to it, and that is why it ran off.'

When the boy heard this, he felt very sad, and turned to go into the
mountains in search of the dog. After walking some time he found the
marks of its paws, and smears of red paint on the grass. But all this
time the boy never knew that the dog was really the son of the Wolf
Chief and had been sent by his father to help him, and he did not guess
that from the day that he painted red paint round its face and on its
feet a wolf can be told far off by the red on its paws and round its
mouth.

The marks led a long, long way, and at length they brought him to a
lake, with a town on the opposite side of it, where people seemed to be
playing some game, as the noise that they made reached all the way
across.

'I must try if I can get over there,' he said, and as he spoke, he
noticed a column of smoke coming right up from the ground under his
feet, and a door flew open.

'Enter!' cried a voice, so he entered, and discovered that the voice
belonged to an old woman, who was called 'Woman-always-wondering.'

'Grandchild, why are you here?' she asked, and he answered:

'I found a young dog who helped me to get food for the people, but it is
lost and I am seeking it.'

'Its people live right across there,' replied the woman. 'It is the Wolf
Chief's son, and that is his father's town where the noise comes from.'

'How can I get over the lake?' he said to himself, but the old woman
guessed what he was thinking and replied:

'My little canoe is just below here.'

'It might turn over with me,' he thought, and again she answered him:

'Take it down to the shore and shake it before you get in, and it will
soon become large. Then stretch yourself in the bottom, and, instead of
paddling, wish with all your might to reach the town.'

The boy did as he was told, and by and bye he arrived on the other side
of the lake. He shook the canoe a second time, and it shrunk into a mere
toy-boat which he put in his pocket, and after that he went and watched
some boys who were playing with a thing that was like a rainbow.

'Where is the chief's house?' he asked when he was tired of looking at
their game.

'At the other end of the village,' they said, and he walked on till he
reached a place where a large fire was burning, with people sitting
round it. The chief was there too, and the boy saw his little wolf
playing about near his father.

'There is a man here,' exclaimed the Wolf Chief. 'Vanish all of you!'
and the wolf-people vanished instantly, all but the little wolf, who ran
up to the boy and smelt him and knew him at once. As soon as the Wolf
Chief beheld that, he said:

'I am your friend; fear nothing. I sent my son to help you because you
were starving, and I am glad you have come in quest of him.' But after a
pause, he added:

'Still, I do not think I will let him go back with you; but I will aid
you in some other way,' and the boy did not guess that the reason the
chief was so pleased to see him was because he had painted the little
wolf. Yet, as he glanced at the little beast again, he observed with
surprise that it did not look like a wolf any longer, but like a human
being.

'Take out the fish-hawk's quill that is hanging on the wall, and if you
should meet a bear point the quill straight at it, and it will fly out
of your hand. I will also give you this,' and he opened a box and lifted
out a second quill stuck in a blanket. 'If you lay this side on a sick
person, it will cure him; and if you lay the other side on your enemy,
it will kill him. Thus you can grow rich by healing sick people.'

So the boy and the Wolf Chief made friends, and they talked together a
long time, and the boy put many questions about things he had seen in
the town, which puzzled him.

'What was the toy the children were playing with?' he asked at last.

'That toy belongs to me,' answered the chief. 'If it appears to you in
the evening it means bad weather, and if it appears in the morning it
means fine weather. Then we know that we can go out on the lake. It is a
good toy.'

'But,' continued he, 'you must depart now, and, before you leave eat
this, for you have a long journey to make and you will need strength for
it;' and he dropped something into the boy's mouth.

And the boy did not guess that he had been absent for two years, and
thought it was only two nights.

* * * * *

Then he journeyed back to his own town, not a boy any more, but a man.
Near the first house he met a bear and he held the quill straight
towards it. Away it flew and hit the bear right in the heart; so there
was good meat for hungry people. Further on, he passed a flock of sheep,
and the quill slew them all and he drew it out from the heart of the
last one. He cooked part of a sheep for himself and hid the rest where
he knew he could find them. After that he entered the town.

It seemed strangely quiet. What had become of all his friends and of the
children whom he had left behind him when he left to seek for his dog?
He opened the door of a hut and peeped in: three or four bodies were
stretched on the floor, their bones showing through their skin, dead of
starvation; for after the boy had gone to the mountains there was no one
to bring them food. He opened another door, and another and another;
everywhere it was the same story. Then he remembered the gift of the
Wolf Chief, and he drew the quill out of his blanket and laid one side
of it against their bodies, so that they all came to life again, and
once more the town was full of noise and gaiety.

'Now come and hunt with me,' he said; but he did not show them his quill
lest he should lose it as he had lost the dog. And when they beheld a
flock of mountain sheep grazing, he let fly the quill so quickly that
nobody saw it go, neither did they see him pull out the quill and hide
it in his blanket. After that they made a fire and all sat down to
dine, and those who were not his friends gave him payment for the meat.

For the rest of his life the man journeyed from place to place, curing
the sick and receiving payment from their kinsfolk. But those who had
been dead for many years took a long while to get well, and their eyes
were always set deep back in their heads, and had a look as if they had
seen something.

[Tlingit Myths.]





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Previous: The Handless Brigade



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