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The mournful mystery of the Partridge-Witch; Setting forth how a young man died from love

An Algonquin Legend

Of the olden time. Two brothers went hunting in the autumn, and that as far as the head waters of the Penobscot, where they remained all winter. But in March their snow-shoes (agahmook) gave out, as did their moccasins, and they wished that a woman were there to mend them.

When the younger brother returned first to the lodge, the next day,--which he generally did, to get it ready for the elder,--he was astonished to find that some one had been there before him, and that, too, in the housekeeping. For garments had been mended, the place cleaned and swept, a fire built, and the pot was boiling. He said nothing of this to his brother; but returning the next day at the same time, found that all had been attended to, as at first. And again he said nothing; but in the morning, when he went forth to hunt, he did but go a little way, and, returning, watched, from a hidden place, the door. And there came a beautiful and graceful girl, well attired, who entered the wigwam. And he, stepping softly, looking through a hole in the hut, saw her very busy with his housekeeping.

Then he entered, and she seemed to be greatly alarmed and confused; but he calmed her, and they soon became good friends, sporting together very happily all day long like children, for indeed they were both young.

When the sun's height was little and his shadows long, the girl said, "I must go now. I hear your brother coming, and I fear him. But I will return tomorrow. Addio!" So she went, and the elder brother knew nothing of what had happened. The next day she came again, and once more they played in sunshine and shadow until evening; but ere she went he sought to persuade her to remain always. And she, as if in doubt, answered, "Tell thy brother all, and it may be that I will stay and serve ye both. For I can make the snow-shoes and moccasins which ye so much need, and also canoes." Then she departed with the day, and the elder, returning, heard from his brother all that had happened, and said, "Truly I should be glad to have some one here to take care of the wigwam and make snow-shoes."

So she came in the morning, and hearing from the younger that his brother had consented to her coming was very glad, and went away, as in baste. But she returned about noon, drawing a toboggin (sled) piled up with garments and arms, for she was a huntress. Indeed, she could do all things as few women could, whether it were cooking, needle-work, or making all that men need. And the winter passed very pleasantly, until the snow grew soft, and it was time for them to return. Till she came they had little luck in hunting, but since her coming all had gone well with them, and they now had a wonderful quantity of furs.

Then they returned in a canoe, going down the river to their village. But as they came near it the girl grew sad, for she had thrown out her soul to their home, though they knew it not, by meelahbi-give. And suddenly she said, as they came to a point of land, "Here I must leave. I can go no further. Say nothing of me to your parents, for your father would have but little love for me." And the young men sought to persuade her, but she only answered sorrowfully, "It cannot be." So they came home with their furs, and the elder was so proud of their luck and their strange adventure that he could not hold his peace, but told all.

Then his father was very angry, and said, "All my life have I feared this. Know that this woman was a devil of the woods, a witch of the Mitche-hant, a sister of the Oonahgamess and of the Ke'tahks." And he spoke so earnestly and so long of this thing that they were afraid, and the elder, being persuaded by the sire, went forth to slay her, and the younger followed him afar. So they sought her by the stream, and found her bathing, and, seeing them, she ran up a little hill. And, as she ran, the elder shot an arrow at her. Then there was a strange flurry about her, a fluttering of scattered feathers, and they saw her fly away as a partridge. Returning, they told all this to their father, who said, "You did well. I know all about these female devils who seek to destroy men. Verily this was a she Mikumwess."

But the younger could not forget her, and longed to see her again; so one day he went into the woods, and there he indeed found her, and she was as kind as before. Then he said, "Truly it was not by my goodwill that my brother shot at you." And she answered, "Well do I know that, and that it was all by your father; yet I blame him not, for this is an affair of N'karnayoo, the days of old; and even yet it is not at an end, and the greatest is to come. But let the day be only a day unto itself; the things of to-morrow are for to-morrow, and those of yesterday are departed." So they forgot their troubles, and played together merrily all day long in the woods and in the open places, and told stories of old times till sunset. And as the Kah-kah-goos, or Crow, went to his tree, the boy said, "I must return;" and she replied, "Whenever you would see me, come to the woods. And remember what I say. Do not marry any one else. For your father wishes you to do so, and he will speak of it to you, and that soon. Yet it is for your sake only that I say this." Then she told him word by word all that his father had said; but he was not astonished, for now he knew that she was not as other women; but he cared not. And he grew brave and bold, and then he was above all things. And when she told him that if he should marry another he would surely die, it was as nothing to him.

Then returning the first thing his father said was, "My son, I have provided a wife for you, and the wedding must be at once." And he said, "It is well. Let it be so." Then the bride came. For four days they held the wedding dance; four days they feasted. But on the last day he said, "This is the end of it all," and he laid him down on a white bear-skin, and a great sickness came upon him, and when they brought the bride to him he was dead.

Truly the father knew what ailed him, and more withal, of which he said nothing. But he liked the place no longer, and he and his went away therefrom, and scattered far and wide.

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