The adventures of the great hero Pulowech, or the Partridge
A Micmac Legend
Wee-yig-yik-keseyook. A tale of old times. Two men once lived together in one wigwam in the woods, on the border of a beautiful lake. Many hard-wood trees made their pictures in it. One of these Indians was Pulowech, the Partridge in the Micmac tongue, but who is called by the Passamaquoddy Mitchihess; but the other was Wejek, the Tree Partridge.
Now it befell that one day Pulowech was walking along the shore, when it was winter, and he beheld three girls, fair and fine, with flowing hair, sitting on the ice braiding their locks. Then he knew that they were of the fairy kind, who dwell in the water; and, verily, these were plentier of old than they are now,--to our sorrow be it said, for they were good company for the one who could get them. And Pulowech, knowing this, said, "I will essay this thing, and perchance I may catch one or two of them; which will be a great comfort, for. a pretty girl is a nice thing to have about the wigwam." So he sought to secure them by stealing softly along; but one cried, "Ne miha skedap!" "I see a man!", and they all went head over heels, first best time, into the water; and verily that was a cold duck for December in the Bay of Fundy.
But though Pulowech had never hunted for sea-girls, yet he had fished for seals, who are greatly akin unto them, being almost as slippery; and wotting well that no man hath the mitten till he is refused thirty times and many more, he went about it in another wise. For this time he gat many fir boughs, strewing them about as if blown by the wind, and hiding himself behind them, again came up and made a sudden dart. Then the maids, crying as before, "Ne miha skedap!" "I see a man!" went with a dive into the deep. But this time he caught, if not the hair, at least the hair-string, of the fairest, which remained in his hand. And, gazing on this, it came into his mind that he had got that which was her charm, or life, and that she could not live without it, or her cherished sakultobee. And taking it home, he tied it to the place in the wigwam above that wherein he slept. Nor had he waited long before she came, and, with little ado, remained with him as his wife.
Now Pulowech, being himself addicted to sorcery, knew that there were divers knaves of the same stamp prowling about the woods, who would make short work of a wife if they could find a plump young one in the way,--they being robbers, ravishers, and cannibals withal. Therefore he warned his bride to keep well within doors when he was away, and to open to none, which she, poor soul, meant to obey with all her might. But being alone at midnight, and hearing a call outside, even "Pantahdooe!", "Open the door to me!" she wondered greatly who it might be. And it was a very wicked wizard, a boo-öin, or pow-wow; and he, being subtle and crafty, and knowing of her family, so imitated the voices of her brothers and sisters, beseeching her to let them in, that her very heart ached. "O sister, we have come from afar!" they cried. "We missed you, and have followed you. Let us in! And yet again she heard a sad and very earnest voice, and it was that of her old mother, crying, "N'toos', n'toos', pantahdooe!", "My daughter! my daughter! open unto me!" and she verily wist that it must be so. But when she heard the voice of her dear old father, shaking and saying, "Pantahdooe loke cyowchee!" "Open the door, for I am very cold!" she could resist no more, and, springing up, opened it to those who were without. And then the evil sorcerers, springing on her like mad wolves, dragged her away and devoured her. They did not leave two of her little bones one with another.
Now when Wejek, the Tree Partridge, came in and found his friend's wife gone, he was so angry that, without waiting, he set forth to seek her. And this was not wisely done, since, falling among them, he was himself slain. Then Pulowech, returning last of all, and finding no one, sought by means of magic to know where friend and wife might be. For taking a woltes, or a wooden dish, he filled it with water, and charmed it with a spell, and placed it in the back part of his wigwam, just opposite the door. So he laid him down to sleep, and in the morning when he arose he looked upon the dish,--even the dish of divination,--and lo! it was half full of blood. Then he knew that the twain had been murdered.
Then gathering all his arms, he went forth for revenge, and passed many days on the path, tracking the boo-öin; and having the eyesight of sorcery, he one day beheld very far away, upon an exceeding high cliff, the knee of a man sticking out of the stone, and knew that a sorcerer had hidden himself in the solid rock, even as a child might hide itself in a pile of feathers. Then throwing his tomahawk he cut away the knee, and the boo-öin, his spell broken, remained hard and fast forever in the ledge. And yet, anon, a little further on, he saw a foot projecting from a wall, and this he likewise cut off, and with that he had slain two.
And as he went further he found by the way a poor little squirrel, even Meeko, who was crawling along, half dead, in sorry plight. And taking her up he made her well, and placing her in his bosom, said, "Rest there yet a while, Meeko, for thou must fight today, and that fiercely. Yet fear not, for I will stand by thee, and when I tap thy back, then shalt thou bring forth thy young!"
Then going ever on, he saw from the mountains far in a lake below a flock of wild geese sporting merrily, even the Senum-kwak'. But he wist right well that these also were of the boo-öin, whom he sought, and placing a spell on his bow, and singing a charm over his arrows that they should not miss, he slew the wild fowl one by one, and tying their heads together, he carried them in a bunch upon his back. And truly he deemed it a good bag of game for one day.
And yet further on he came to a wigwam, and entering it saw a man there seated, whom he knew at once was of the enemy. For he who sat there glared at him grimly; he did not say to him, "'Kutakumoogwal!" "Come higher up!" as they do who are hospitable. But having cooked some meat, and given it in a dish to Pulowech's hand, he snatched it back again, and said he would sooner give it to his dog. And this he did more than once, saying the same thing. But Pulowech kept quiet. Then the rude man said, "Hast thou met with aught to-day, thou knave?" And the guest replied, "Truly I saw a fellow's knee sticking out of a stone, and I cut it off. And yet, anon, I saw a foot coming from a rock, and this I also chopped. And further on there was a flock of wild geese, and them I slew; there was not one left,--no, not one. And if you will look without there you may see them all dead, and much good may it do you!"
Then the savage sorcerer burst forth in all his rage--"Come on, then, our dogs must fight this out!" "Thou sayest well," replied Pulowech; "truly I am fond of a good dog-fight, so bring out thy pup!" And that which the man brought forth was terrible; for it was no dog, but a hideous savage beast, known to Micmacs as the Weisum.
But that which Pulowech produced was quite as different from a dog as was the Weisum; for it was only Meeko, a poor little squirrel, and half dead at that, which he laid carefully before the fire that it might revive. But anon it began to revive, and grew until it was well-nigh as great as the Weisum. And then there was indeed a battle as of devils and witches; he who had been a hundred miles away might have heard it.
But anon it seemed that the Weisum was getting the better of Meeko. Then Pulowech did but tap the squirrel on the back, when lo! she brought forth two other squirrels, and these grew in all instant to be as large as their mother, and the three were soon too many for the beast. "Ho! call off your dogs!" cried the boo-öin; "you have beaten. But spare mine, since, indeed, he does not belong to me, but to my grandmother, who is very fond of him." But this Pulowech, who held to his own in all things like a wolverine, was the last man alive to think of, and he encouraged the squirrels until they had torn the Weisum to rags.
Then he who had staked it, bitterly lamented, saying, "Alack, my poor grandmother! Alas, how she will wail when she bears that her Weisum is dead! Woe the day that ever I did put him up! Alas, my grandmother!" For all which the cruel Pulowech, the hard-hearted, impenitent Partridge, did not care the hair of a dead musk-rat.
Now the host, who had thus suddenly grown so tender-hearted, said, "Let us sail forth upon the river in a canoe." Then they were soon on the stream, and rushing down a rapid like a dart. And anon they came to a terribly high cliff, in which there was a narrow cavern into which the river ran. And on it, thundering through this door of death, borne on a boiling surge, the bark was forced furiously into darkness. And Pulowech sat firmly in his seat, and steered the boat with steady, certain hand; but just as he entered the horrible bole, glancing around, he saw the sorcerer leap ashore. For the evil man, believing that no one had ever come alive out of the cavern, had betrayed him into it.
Yet ever cool and calm the mighty man went on, for danger now was bringing out all the force of his magic; and soon the stream grew smoother, the rocks disappeared from its bed, and then from afar there was a brightness, and he was soon in the daylight and sunshine on a beautiful stream, and by the banks thereof there grew the wabeyu-beskwan, or water-lilies, and very pleasant it was to him to feel the wind again. So using his paddle he saw a smoke rising from a cave in the rocks, and landing and softly stepping up heard talking within.
Nor had he listened long ere he knew the voice of the man who had lured him into the canoe, and he was telling his grandmother how, one after the other, all the best boo-öin of their band had been slain by a mighty sorcerer. But when she heard from him how her beloved, or the one who had inspired the Weisum, had been beaten, her wrath burst forth in a storm, like the raving of devils, like a mad wind on the waves. And she said, "If Pulowech were but before me, were he but alive, I would roast him." The man, hearing this, cried, "Aye; but he is not alive, for I sent him afloat down into the dark cavern!"
And then Pulowech, stepping in before them, said, "And yet I am alive. And do thou, woman, bak sok bok sooc!" (roast me to death). Then she scowled horribly at him, but said naught; and he, sitting down, looked at them.
This woman was of the Porcupines, who are never long without raising their quills, and they are fond of heat. Now there was in the cave much hemlock bark, and this she began to heap on the fire. Then it blazed, it crackled and roared; but Pulowech sat still, and said naught, neither did his eyes change. And he called unto himself all his might, the might of his magic did he awaken, and the spirit came unto him very terribly, so that all the boo-öin, with their vile black witchcraft, were but as worms before him, the Great and Terrible One. And when the fire had burned low he brought in by his will great store of bark, so that the whole cave was filled, and closing the door he lighted the fuel. Then the Porcupines, who were those who had slain his wife and friend, howled for mercy, but he was deaf as a stone to their cries. Then the roof and sides of the cavern cracked with the heat, the red-hot stones fell in heavy blocks, the red flames rose in the thickest smoke, but Pulowech sat and sang his song until the witch and wizard were burned to cinders; yea, till their white bones crumbled to ashes beneath his feet. And then he arose and went unto his home.
In this legend the hero passes the mysterious river which separates in several Indian tales the ordinary world from that where the evil giants, Jötuns, sorcerers, or witches live. It appears to correspond exactly to "the stream called Ifing, which divides the earth between the Jötuns and the Gods." (Edda, Vafthrudnismal, 16.) The attempt by the Porcupine host to roast the guest alive and its failure bears a marked likeness to the scene in the Grimnismâl, in which King Geirrod vainly strives to roast his guest, Odin, and is himself slain.
"Fire, thou art hot,
and much too great flame,
let us separate."
The grandeur of Odin and the behavior of the Indian are set forth in a strikingly similar manner in both narratives. If any modern poet had depicted this incident in so like a style, every critic would have cried out plagiarism!
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