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The Rabbit Brothers

A Seneca Legend

Six brothers and a sister lived in a long house in a clearing in the woods. The house stood East and West with a door at each end and a fire in the middle. Three brothers occupied one half of the house and three the other half. Each man was obliged to stay on his own side of the fire, never crossing to the other side, and always to go in and out at his own door, never using the door of the other three.

Whenever the brothers were away hunting, the sister was alone in the house. She had the right to go everywhere and in and out both doors.

The Tondayents lived a long time in this way, then one day the eldest brother asked, "How would it be if I were to marry and bring my wife into the house?"

"Oh," answered the brothers, "it would be well if she didn't abuse us."

He went to an old woman, who lived in the West and had six daughters, and asked, "How would you like to have me marry one of your daughters?"

"Very well," said the mother, "if you would be kind to her and not abuse her."

He promised to be kind, and went home.

The girl made a basketful of marriage bread and the next day came to his house bringing the bread. The brothers were glad. They ate the bread and the woman stayed. Her brother told her that three brothers had one half of the house and three the other half and each three had their own door. The sister was the only person who could go in and out at either door.

For a time the woman was satisfied and the Tondayents were happy, but one day she said to herself, "I'm not going to obey such a silly rule, I'll go out of whichever door I choose."

She crossed the house and went out of the forbidden door. The minute she did this her husband, who was hunting in the woods, in crossing a fallen tree, got the strings of his moccasins tangled on a knot of the tree, fell and hung there, head down, helpless.

Five of the brothers came home from hunting. They missed their brother and waited a long time for him. At last they took torches and started off to look for him. After a long search they found him hanging to the tree stiff and half dead. They carried him home, rubbed him and brought him to life.

The next morning when the man was himself again, he began to scold his wife, who by her disobedience had almost killed him. He said, "You will kill us all. I don't want you any longer. Go home! You can't stay here."

They were both very angry. He started to drive her out, but as be went toward her she held up a skin blanket which she wore over her shoulders and instantly the man's eyes were on the blanket.

The second brother, seeing what the woman had done, screamed, "You have killed my brother! You have taken out his eyes. I will kill you!" and he ran after her. But before he reached her she turned, threw up the blanket, and immediately his eyes were on the blanket.

In the same manner the other brothers followed her and each in turn lost his eyes. All groped their way back to the house and sat down in despair.

Now the young sister was left to keep her brothers alive. Each day she went to the woods to collect roots and oak nuts to feed the blind men. One day, when she went to the river for water, she heard loud laughter and looking up saw a canoe coming and in it were two children, who were having great sport. They drew near, and said to the girl, "You must come and ride with us, it is great fun."

"I cannot," said the girl. "I have to take care of my blind brothers."

"Oh, come a little way," urged the children, "You don't know how nice it is."

"No," said the girl, "I cannot."

"But only a little way, we will let you right out again."

At last, after much urging, the girl got into the canoe; the children turned it and went a short distance. Then she said, "I must get out."

"Oh, go a little farther, just to the next turn."

When they got to the turn she again begged to get out. They said, "Just a bit farther."

Soon they came to a lake. As the girl looked toward the stern to beg the child to let her out, she saw a fat, ugly old man sitting there. Looking to the other end of the canoe she saw the little child was gone; she was alone with the terrible old man.

They went on swiftly and soon came to an island on which there was a bark house. The old man said, "Get out and go into the house."

It was a strange looking house and in it sat a fat old woman. The man said to her, "I have brought nice game for you."

"Thank you! thank you!" answered the old woman, and turning to the girl she said, "Take that bed on the shelf."

The man said, "Let her be well-fed."

They gave her plenty to eat and after a time the girl knew that she was growing fat; her body felt heavy. There was another girl, about her own size, in the house. Waking up one morning she saw a great many hands and feet hanging on the beams and she asked the other girl why they were there.

She said, "Those are the hands and feet of people who have been eaten up. When these men-eaters are hungry, if they haven't fresh meat, they boil dried hands and feet and eat them. When they kill us, today or tomorrow, they will eat our bodies and hang up our feet and hands to make soup of when they get hungry."

As the girl lay thinking of her fate she saw some one looking down through the smoke-hole and she asked, "Who are you? What are you looking for?"

"I am the son of Dagwanoenyent (Whirlwind). I can save you if you do as I tell you. The old woman wants to kill you today. She will send you to get the water that you are to boil in. Go to the lake, pick up three round stones, put them side by side at the edge of the water. Some distance from the stones stick a wooden mannikin in the ground. When you have carried two pailfuls of water to the house, I will meet you with a canoe. After the old woman has waited a while she will come to the lake to look for you. She will find the mannikin and think you have turned yourself into it. She will take her club and beat the mannikin and we will gain time.

Whirlwind's son went away. Soon the old woman called out, "Here, it's time to get up! Go and bring me some water."

The old woman got her kettle ready to put over the fire and the girl went to the lake for water. She found three round stones and placed them side by side at the water's edge, stuck a mannikin in the sand and went back to the house. When she went for the third pailful, Whirlwind's son was standing there with one end of his canoe in the sand. The girl put the stones into the canoe and jumped in herself. The young man pushed off the canoe and away they went.

They rowed as fast as they could and were a long way out before the old woman missed the girl. She hurried to the lake and seeing nothing of her walked up and down till she saw the mannikin. Thinking it was the girl she pounded the mannikin with her club till, chancing to look across the lake she saw, in the distance, a canoe and in it Whirlwind's son and the girl.

"Oh, you good-for-nothing creature," called she, "why did you carry off my game?" And taking out a hook and line she hurled it after the canoe. The hook caught into the canoe and she pulled it rapidly toward the shore.

When the young man saw they were nearing the shore he called to the girl, "Turn the canoe on one side!"

She did so and broke the hook with one of the stones. Then they righted the canoe and hurried on again.

The old woman threw another hook, saying, "I'll kill you both!" They turned the canoe over a second time and broke the hook with the second stone. A third time, she threw a hook and a third time they broke it. Then she stooped down and began to drink up the lake, saying, "I'll get you at last; you'll not escape me."

Soon they saw that the canoe was going in a swift current straight to the shore and into the old woman's mouth. Whirlwind's son waited till they were near, then running to the bow of the canoe he ripped up the old woman's body with a sharp flint knife. Out shot the water and carried the canoe to the other shore.

The young man drew the canoe onto the sand and the two went toward his mother's house. Then he asked the girl if she would be his wife. She consented and when they were near the cliffs he said, "I will put you in a hollow stump till I go and see my mother. She lives in the cliff at the head of the creek. She is a cross woman and might harm you."

He left the girl in a stump and went on. When he came to his mother's house two wolves sprang at him and barked furiously.

"Get away, you miserable wolves! Why do your wolves bark at me?" asked he of his mother.

"Because you smell of people."

"That is no reason. I go everywhere. Of course I smell of people." And he struck and scolded the wolves till they slunk away.

After a while he said, "Well, Mother, what would you think if I took a human being for a wife? Would you be like your wolves?"

"I wouldn't be angry, but would you like a human being?"

"Yes, I have a body. You have only a head, but I am like a human being. I have a nice wife out there in a stump, will you go and bring her in?"

The old woman went to the stump. When the girl saw the Head she was frightened, but the Head said, "Don't be afraid, I will keep my wolves away."

The girl went home with the Head and the three lived happily together. After a while twins were born, two handsome boys. The old grandmother nursed the boys and took great care of them. First she gave them bows and arrows, then she gave them ball clubs. After that they wanted fish spears. She told them they mustn't go away from the house, if they did an old uncle who lived nearby might catch them; but the boys went wherever they liked.

One day they saw a great pine tree and a nest.

One said, "If we go there that old man might see us.

"Oh," said the other, "We'll go and if he shows himself we will kill him."

They went under the tree and made a noise.

Their uncle looked down from his nest and called out, "I saw you first!"

The boys looked up, and said, "Very well."

The old man asked, "What would you do if a storm of fish spears were to come down on you?"

"Oh, we would like it. We'd take some of the spears to fish with. Make them come quickly."

Old man Whirlwind called for a storm of spears to come from the clouds. The boys crept under a big stone. They heard a great noise as of a storm coming toward their hiding place. It passed and when they couldn't bear it any longer they came out. There were a great many spears on the ground. They picked up the best spears they could find, took them home and said to their grandmother, "We have had good luck, our uncle sent a storm of spears."

"Don't go there again," said the old woman, "he will kill you."

The boys laughed. The next morning they went toward the pine tree. When they were near they hired a mole to carry them under the ground till they were at the tree.

When there they called out, "We see you, Uncle."

Then one of the boys asked, "What would you do if a storm of fire should come down on you?

"I should die," said the old man.

"Let it come!" said the boy.

That minute fire fell from the clouds. The boys hid under a great rock. When the storm was over they found their uncle lying dead on the ground; his head had burst.

When they told their grandmother what they had done, she cried and said, "He was my brother, all the brother I had."

One day when the boys were playing around they found a great hole in the ground and in the hole were six blind men.

"What made you blind?" asked the boys.

"A woman took our eyes from us and stole our sister."

"Maybe our mother is your sister, our father stole us from a man-eater. You must be our uncles. We will find your eyes."

The men told the boys where their home was and the two started off. When they were near the house, one brother said to the other, "You will be a white deer and I will be a wolf and chase you, when you run toward the house the woman will come out and chase me. While she is gone you must steal the eye blanket."

The woman heard a wolf and running out saw it was following a white deer. She picked up a club and chased the wolf. The deer became a boy, found the eye blanket and ran off with it.

When the boys came back to where their uncles were, they separated the eyes, gave a pair to each man. Then they could see their nephews.

After that the six brothers lived with their sister and nephews in old woman Whirlwind's house.

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