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
'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
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
'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
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