The Return Of The Dead Wife





Once upon a time there lived in Alaska a chief of the Tlingit tribe who

had one son. When the boy grew to be a man, he saw a girl who seemed to

him prettier and cleverer than any other girl of the tribe, and his

heart went out to her, and he told his father. Then the chief spoke to

the father and the mother of the girl, and they agreed to give her to

the young man for a wife. So the two were married, and for a few months

all went well with them and they were very happy.



But one day the husband came home from hunting and found his wife

sitting crouched over the fire--her eyes dull and her head heavy.



'You are ill,' he said, 'I will go for the shaman,' but the girl

answered:



'No, not now. I will sleep, and in the morning the pains will have gone

from me.'



But in the morning she was dead, and the young man grieved bitterly and

would eat nothing, and he lay awake all that night thinking of his wife,

and the next night also.



'Perhaps if I went out into the forest and walked till I was tired, I

might sleep and forget my pain,' thought he. But, after all, he could

not bear to leave the house while his dead wife was in it, so he waited

till her body was taken away that evening for burial. Then, very early

next morning, he put on his leggings and set off into the forest and

walked through that day and the following night. Sunrise on the second

morning found him in a wide valley covered with thick trees. Before him

stretched a plain which had once been full of water, but it was now

dried up.



He paused for a moment and looked about him, and as he looked he seemed

to hear voices speaking a long way off. But he could see nobody, and

walked on again till he beheld a light shining through the branches of

the trees and noticed a flat stone on the edge of a lake. Here the road

stopped; for it was the death road along which he had come, though he

did not know it.



The lake was narrow, and on the other side were houses and people going

in and out of them.



'Come over and fetch me,' he shouted, but nobody heard him, though he

cried till he was hoarse.



'It is very odd that nobody hears me,' whispered the youth after he had

shouted for some time longer; and at that minute a person standing at

the door of one of the houses across the lake cried out:



'Someone is shouting'; for they could hear him when he whispered, but

not when he made a great noise.



'It is somebody who has come from dreamland,' continued the voice. 'Let

a canoe go and bring him over.' So a canoe shot out from the shore, and

the young man got into it and was paddled across, and as soon as he

stepped out he saw his dead wife.



Joy rushed into his heart at the sight of her; her eyes were red as

though she had been crying; and he held out his hands. As he did so the

people in the house said to him:



'You must have come from far; sit down, and we will give you food,' and

they spread food before him, at which he felt glad, for he was hungry.



'Don't eat that,' whispered his wife, 'if you do, you will never get

back again'; and he listened to her and did not eat it.



Then his wife said again:



'It is not good for you to stay here. Let us depart at once,' and they

hastened to the edge of the water and got into the canoe, which is

called the Ghost's Canoe, and is the only one on the lake. They were

soon across and they landed at the flat stone where the young man had

stood when he was shouting, and the name of that stone is the Ghost's

Rock. Down they went along the road that he had come, and on the second

night they reached the youth's house.






'Stay here,' he said, 'and I will go in and tell my father.' So he

entered and said to his father:



'I have brought my wife back.'



'Well, why don't you bring her in?' asked the chief, and he took a fur

robe and laid it on top of a mat for her to sit on. After that the young

man led his wife into the house, but the people inside could not see her

enter, but only her husband; yet when he came quite close, they noticed

a deep shadow behind him. The young man bade his wife sit down on the

mat they had prepared for her, and a robe of marten skins was placed

over her shoulders, and it hung upon her as if she had been a real woman

and not a ghost. Then they put food before her, and, as she ate, they

beheld her arms, and the spoon moving up and down. But the shadow of her

hands they did not see, and it seemed strange to them.



* * * * *



Now from henceforth the young man and his wife always went everywhere

together; whether he was hunting or fishing, the shadow always followed

him, and he begged to have his bed made where they had first seated

themselves, instead of in the room where he had slept before. And this

the people in the house did gladly, for joy at having him back.



In the day, if they happened not to be away hunting or fishing, the wife

was so quiet that no one would have guessed she was there, but during

the night she would play games with her husband and talk to him, so that

the others could hear her voice. At her first coming the chief felt

silent and awkward, but after a while he grew accustomed to her and

would pretend to be angry and called out: 'You had better get up now,

after keeping everyone awake all night with your games,' and they could

hear the shadow laugh in answer, and knew it was the laugh of the dead

woman.



Thus things went on for some time, and they might have gone on longer,

had not a cousin of the dead girl's who had wanted to marry her before

she married the chief's son become jealous when he found that her

husband had brought her back from across the lake. And he spied upon

her, and listened to her when she was talking, hoping for a chance to

work her some ill. At last the chance came, as it commonly does, and it

was in this wise:



Night after night the jealous man had hidden himself at the head of the

bed, and had stolen away unperceived in the morning without having heard

anything to help his wicked plans. He was beginning to think he must try

something else when one evening the girl suddenly said to her husband

that she was tired of being a shadow, and was going to show herself in

the body that she used to have, and meant to keep it always. The husband

was glad in his soul at her words, and then proposed that they should

get up and play a game as usual; and, while they were playing, the man

behind the curtains peeped through. As he did so, a noise as of a

rattling of bones rang through the house, and when the people came

running, they found the husband dead and the shadow gone, for the ghosts

of both had sped back to Ghostland.



Tlingit Myths.





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