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Glooscap, The Trickster

An Abenaki Legend

In the Old Time of Glooscap's People, a poor Indian widow and her son Tabulech lived in a wigwam by them selves at some distance from a Malicete village. Tabulech was a good lad, but awkward with bow and arrow. He could not shoot straight if his life depended upon it. He and his mother, therefore, had to live as best they could by trapping and fishing. With hard work, they could just manage, but there was never anything left over.

Now the Chief of the nearby village demanded a yearly tribute of wampum from all who lived within reach of his hand. Wampum, you know, is a kind of Indian money made of shells, and the Indians used it in trading. The people feared the Malicete chief because he claimed to be a magician and threatened to put an evil spell on the people if they refused to pay.

At the time of our story, the tribute was nearly due, and Tabulech and his mother had not a single piece of wampum in their lodge. In desperation, the mother took a treasured moose hide left to her by her husband and told Tabulech to go to the village and trade it for wampum.

So off Tabulech went, with the moose hide over his shoulder. He had not gone far when he met an old man, who raised his hand and said politely, "Kwah-ee, my son."

Tabulech returned the greeting with equal politeness.

"I see you have a fine moose hide there," said the old man. "I am in need of just such an article. Will you give it to me?"

Tabulech was sorry to refuse, but explained to the old man that he must sell the hide to get wampum for the tribute.

"Listen now," the old man said coaxingly. "I'll trade you this dish of food for it."

Tabulech looked at the dish and saw a tiny portion of ground cooked meal, hardly enough for a good swallow, and shook his head. The old man shrugged and said cheerfully, "Oh, very well then, but taste a little before you go."

Out of politeness, Tabulech did so, and found to his surprise that it was delicious.

"Have some more," offered the old man slyly.

"Willingly!" cried Tabulech, and went on eating. To his amazement, no matter how much he ate (and he ate a great deal) there was just as much left in the dish. He ate and he ate, and at last he had eaten all he wanted and wished to stop. Then, to his horror, he found he had to keep on eating just the same.

Oh, how the old man laughed to see Tabulech try to push the dish away, at the same time grabbing the food and stuffing it into his mouth. He laughed till the tears came.

"Come," said the old man gasping. "Give me the moose hide and you may stop eating. Moreover, you may have the dish of food to keep."

By this time Tabulech felt he might burst if he ate another mouthful, so he gladly gave the moose hide to the old fellow, and taking the dish of food in exchange, walked sadly home to his mother to tell her what had happened.

Now I'll tell you something Tabulech did not know. The old man he had met was none other than Glooscap, disguised. The Great Chief was something of a trickster, you see, and loved now and then to play jokes on his People, especially when by so doing he could help them.

The next day, Tabulech was sent off with another prized article, a fine bearskin. His mother bid him get a better bargain than he had the day before. However, there on the path again was the old man, holding a shabby old belt in his hand.

"Will you trade this belt for that skin?"

Tabulech took a firmer grip on his fine bearskin.

"I should say not! I am not such a fool as that!"

Instantly the belt jumped out of the old man's hand and wrapped itself around Tabulech, squeezing him and squeezing him until he cried for mercy.

"Take it off, take it off!"

"The belt will come off quick enough," the old man chuckled, "when I have that bearskin in my hand." So, to keep from having the last breath squeezed out of him, Tabulech was obliged to trade the skin for the belt. His mother was scandalized.

"You foolish boy!" she scolded. "Now we have lost two valuable things. All that remains are these ten muskrat pelts. Take them to the village, Tabulech, and sell them for wampum, or the Chief will take our wigwam from over our very heads."

Tabulech promised that this time he would avoid the usual path and have nothing to do with the old man. So he took a new way through the depths of the wood and had nearly reached the village when he heard the sound of music. Despite all he could do, his feet turned toward the sound and began to dance of their own accord. He danced and he danced and could not stop, not even when he had danced up to the old man who played on a broken flute.

"Stop, stop!" pleaded Tabulech. "Stop playing!" and he threw the muskrat skins at the old man's feet.

The old man stopped playing, handed Tabulech the flute, and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.

"All right, my son," he said. "Go home now, and cheer up. You may have made better bargains than you know."

But the mother of Tabulech did not think so.

"A morsel of food," she wailed, "a shabby old belt, and a broken flute--for all those fine skins. And see, here comes the Chief for the tribute!"

It was so. The Chief, with a band of his braves, approached the wigwam. With a worried heart, but the customary Indian politeness, Tabulech invited the Chief to enter the lodge and showed him to the highest place. Having no other food, he offered the Chief the dish of food he had got from the old man. The guest looked disdainful, but tasted it, and then his expression changed. Never had he tasted anything so good! He ate and he ate, and the more he ate, the more there was. But the trouble was, he could not stop eating, even when his stomach began to hurt dreadfully.

"Take it away, or I shall die," he groaned, and Tabulech laughed. He knew just how the Chief felt.

"I shall take it away," he said boldly, "only when you promise that henceforth you will demand no tribute wampum, from me, or from any of the people!"

The Chief was terribly angry, but he was also in pain. He knew if he ate one more bite he would choke to death. So he gasped out, "Yes, yes! Anything you say!"

But as soon as Tabulech had removed the dish, he shouted to his braves:

"Seize this fellow and kill him!"

As the braves rushed forward, Tabulech threw down the magic belt and, quick as a striking snake, it jumped up and wound itself about the lot of them, and not one could stir a muscle. Then the Chief saw he was dealing with trickery, and cast about in his mind for a better trick.

"Let my men go," he said, "and we will make a bargain."

"Tell me what it is first," said Tabulech suspiciously.

"I have a daughter," said the Chief, "who never smiles, much less laughs. A spell was put upon her by Lox when she was a child." He looked at Tabulech with a sly grin. "If you can cause her to laugh, I will make you my son-in-law, and you and your mother will never know want again. If you fail, however, you will die!"

Tabulech thought for a moment, then bravely agreed to the bargain. And the Chief laughed to himself, for he knew his daughter and he was sure that Tabulech would fail, and he would be rid of him.

Tabulech loosed the braves and accompanied the Chief to the village. There, before all the assembled people, the Malicete presented his gloomy daughter to Tabulech. She might have been a pretty maid had not her face stretched from here to here with sulky disdain.

Sitting at her feet, Tabulech began to tell a very funny story about an ant and a beaver, and the people laughed heartily, all but the Chief's daughter. She just sighed and looked gloomier than ever. So Tabulech told another tale, even funnier than the first. All the people fairly shouted with laughter, but not the tiniest smile appeared on the face of the Chief's daughter. In desperation, Tabulech tried standing on his head and making funny faces, but nothing was any good. He had failed.

"I should have been glad if you had succeeded," the Chief said sourly, "for a gloomy face makes a dreary wigwam. However, you have failed and must pay the penalty." And he gave his braves the signal to kill Tabulech. As the braves advanced upon him, Tabulech snatched up the flute and began to play. At once the braves began to dance merrily, and not only the braves, but the Chief himself and all the people except the Chief's daughter, who still sat wrapped in gloom.

How they danced! They jigged and they whirled and they bobbed and they bounced! Fat and thin, short and tall, they all skipped about, and though they gasped for breath and wept with anger, they could not stop. They were a very funny sight indeed.

Suddenly a sound was heard above the music. It was the sound of laughter. Tabulech left off playing and stared at the Chief's daughter. She was laughing! She was laughing so hard, she rocked back and forth and the tears ran down her cheeks. When the music ceased and all collapsed on the ground, she laughed harder than ever.

"Take her!" gasped the Chief. "You have won. It is clear that you are a magician, and your magic is stronger than mine."

The people thought so too, for they made Tabulech their Chief instead, and since the old Chief's daughter was now as cheerful as the summer sun, Tabulech married her and they had many children.

Only one thing puzzled Tabulech. Why, when he played the flute, had the Chief's daughter not danced too? But then, you see, he didn't know of Glooscap's part in the affair, and Glooscap really is a great magician!
Kespeadooksit--the story ends.

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