The Wonderful Basket

: The Strange Story Book

There was once a time when young women of the Tlingit tribe were not

allowed to eat between their meals, but in spite of this rule which they

knew very well, two girls belonging to one of the noblest families one

day being very hungry took some food. Of course, they did not tell

anybody, but their mother, who looked after the food-box found it out

and was very angry.

'What do you mean by behaving like tha
?' she asked her eldest daughter,

shaking her violently while she spoke. 'It is not right that a big girl

like you should do such things. I am ashamed of you! As you are so fond

of eating, you had better go and marry Mountain Dweller. You will get

plenty of food from him.' But though the mother did not scold her other

daughter who was still quite little, the child did not like her sister

to be slapped and scratched. The sister did not like it either; so that

night the two girls crept softly out of the house and ran away to the


The mother was surprised next morning when she found no signs of her

daughters, but she thought they were cross or lazy, and had stayed in

bed in order that they might not have to do any work. She waited a

little, expecting to see them every moment, and as they did not come she

called out, 'Why don't you get up? it is very late.' There was no

answer, so she went to their room to discover what was the matter. Then

she perceived that they had never been to bed at all, and felt sorry

that her cross words the day before had driven them away.

The first thing she did was to go to the houses of some neighbours, and

ask if they knew anything of her daughters, and if they had been

playing any games with the children. But no one had seen them; and for

seven days the mother wandered from one place to another, but she could

never find any trace of them.

* * * * *

All this time the two girls were walking about the woods not knowing

where they went, and looking vainly for fruit or berries, as they were

very hungry. At last the path they were following led upwards, and they

found themselves among the mountains. A faint sound as of somebody

chopping wood a long distance off reached their ears, and the elder

sister said to herself, 'I wonder if that is the man that mother was

talking of.' By and bye the sound grew clearer and clearer, and on

turning a corner they came upon the woodcutter, with his face painted

red, standing over a fallen tree. As the girls approached he looked up

and said:

'What are you two doing here?'

'Mother was unkind to us,' answered the elder, 'so we came away.'

'What had you done to vex her?' asked the man.

'We had eaten some food between our meals, and she said, "If you are so

fond of eating, you had better go and marry Mountain Dweller."'

'Well, come into my house,' said Mountain Dweller, for it was he who was

chopping the wood, and they went with him and he took them all over it,

and very fine it was. Last of all he led them into a store-house full of

dried meat, salmon, and deer, and halibut. They gazed at it hungrily,

though they did not say anything, but Mountain Dweller saw their eyes

and gave them food which they gladly ate; and they slept there all that

night, as they did not know where else to go.

Next morning they got up very early and found Mountain Dweller making

ready to hunt, drawing on his leggings and choosing his weapons.

'We will be married to-morrow,' said he, 'but to-day I have a long way

to walk, and I shall not be back till nightfall. And before I go, I want

to warn you not to peep behind the large curtain of skins hanging

over that door. A very bad woman lives on the other side, and she does

not like anyone to see her.'

'No; of course we won't,' answered they, and Mountain Dweller set out.

* * * * *

So the girls stayed in the house all day, and wondered what their

friends were doing in the village, and if they were still seeking them.

'I expect,' said the elder, 'they think we have been eaten by wolves,

and are mourning for us. And mother will have cut off her hair, and

painted her face black.'

'Yes; she is sure to have done that,' answered the little girl; and so

she had.

The days went by in much the same way, except that the big girl was now

married to Mountain Dweller. Every morning he went out to hunt, so the

two sisters had plenty to eat, and if they wanted any food between

meals, they took it. They were quite happy until one unlucky morning

when it was snowing so fast they could not leave the house, and at last

they grew weary, and longed for something new.

'Who can the woman be that lives behind the curtain?' said the elder

sister at last. 'I daresay she is not so very bad after all, and perhaps

she can teach us some fresh games. I have noticed that there is a little

hole in the curtain; I will peep through that, and if she looks kind and

good-natured, I will go in.'

'Yes; that is a good plan,' answered the child, and they both went on

tiptoe to the curtain.

The hole was very small, and it was hardly possible that anyone on the

other side of the curtain should have seen them looking through. Yet the

moment that the wife had fixed her eye on it, the woman threw up her

hands and screamed, and both sisters fell down dead; and that is how

Mountain Dweller found them when he returned from the hunt.

He guessed at once what had happened, and his anger was so great that

the first thing he did was to run behind the curtain and kill the bad

woman who lived there. Then he took some eagle-down and spread it over

the girls' bodies, and walked round them many times, shaking his rattle

all the while. At length slight shivers passed through their limbs; the

colour came back into their faces, and there they stood on their feet,

as well as ever they were.

* * * * *

When they had been in the mountain for many, many months, Mountain

Dweller said one day to his wife:

'Would you not like to see your father and mother once more?'

'Oh, yes, yes!' cried both the girls at once.

'Well, you shall,' said he; 'but first I must go to hunt and prepare a

gift for them. So make me a little basket, just big enough to put your

finger in.'

'That won't take long,' laughed she, and on his return in the evening

the basket was ready. But this basket was not like other baskets, for

when the husband shook it, it grew large enough to hold all kinds of

meat and bags of tallow, and when he shook it again, it shrunk--and the

meat also.

At dawn the next day the girls started and carried the basket to their

father's house. It was evening before they arrived, and the first person

who saw them approaching was their little brother, who ran in, crying,

'Mother, my sisters are there.'

'Nonsense!' she answered angrily. 'Why do you say such things? They have

been dead this many a long day.'

'They are my sisters,' shouted he. 'Do you suppose I don't know them?'

'Well, let me see the hair from their marten-skin robes,' she replied,

still unbelieving, for she remembered that her daughters had marten-skin

robes, such as only the chief families were allowed to wear. Then the

boy went and spoke to his sisters, and pulled little pieces of the fur

out. As soon as she saw the fur, the mother believed, and she and her

husband and their kinsfolk went forth to meet the lost girls, weeping

for joy at having found them again.

The next day the big girl said to her mother, 'There is a little basket

in the woods, filled with meat. Let it be fetched.' So several people

went to fetch it, but returned, saying it was so large that all of them

put together could not bring it in.

'I will go and see about it,' answered the girl, and she made it small

so that she could easily carry it, but as soon as she laid it down in

the house, it became as large as ever. She knelt on the floor and

unpacked the basket, and the house could hardly contain all that was in

it; and the village people came and feasted likewise. Only the mother

ate so much that she grew very ill, and never got any better.

To this day luck befalls every man who hears Mountain Dweller chopping

the wood.