The Young Man who was saved by a Rabbit and a Fox
A Passamaquoddy Legend
There dwelt a couple in the woods, far away from other people, a man and his wife. They had one boy, who grew up strong and clever. One day he said, "Father and mother, let me go and see other men and women." They grieved, but let him go.
He went afar. All night he lay on the ground. In the morning he heard something coming. He rose and saw it was a Rabbit, who said, "Ha, friend, where go you?" The boy answered, "To find people." "That is what I want," replied the Rabbit. "Let us go together."
So they went on for a long time, till they heard voices far off, and walking quietly came to a village. "Now," said the Rabbit, "steal up unseen, and listen to them!" The boy did so, and heard the people saying that a kewahqu', a cannibal monster, was to come the next day to devour the daughter of their sagamore. And having returned and reported this to the Rabbit, the latter said to the boy, "Have no fear; go to the people and tell them that you can save her." He did so, but it was long before they would listen to him. Yet at last it came to the ears of the old chief that a strange young man insisted that he could save the girl; so the chief sent for him, and said, "They tell me that you think you can deliver my daughter from death. Do so, and she shall be yours."
Then he returned to the Rabbit, who said, "They did not send the girl far away because they know that the demon can follow any track. But I hope to make a track which he cannot follow. Now do you, as soon as it shall be dark, bring her to this place." The young man did so, and the Rabbit was there with a sled, and in his hand he had two squirrels. These he smoothed down, and as he did so they grew to be as large as the largest sled-dogs. Then all three went headlong, like the wind, till they came to another village.
The Rabbit looked about till he found a certain wigwam, and then peered through a crevice into it. "This is the place," he said. "Enter." They did so; then the Rabbit ran away. They found in the cabin an old woman, who was very kind, but who, on seeing them, burst into tears. "Ah, my dear grandchildren," she cried, "your death is following you rapidly, for the kewahqu' is on your track, and will soon be here. But run down to the river, where you will find your grandfather camping."
They went, and were joined by the Rabbit, who had spent the time in making many divergent tracks in the ground. The kewahqu' came. The tracks delayed him a long time, but at last he found the right one. Meanwhile the young couple went on, and found an old man by the river. He said, "Truly you are in great danger, for the kewahqu' is coming. But I will help you." Saying this, he threw himself into the water, where he floated with outstretched limbs, and said, "Now, my children, get on me." The girl feared lest she should fall off, but being reassured mounted, when he turned into a canoe, which carried them safely across. But when they turned to look at him, lo! he was no longer a canoe, but an old Duck. "Now, my dear children," he said, "hasten to the top of yonder old mountain, high among the gray rocks. There you will find your friend." They fled to the old gray mountain. The kewahqu' came raging and roaring in a fury, but however he pursued they were at the foot of the precipice before him.
There stood the Rabbit. He was holding up a very long pole; no pine was ever longer. "Climb this," he said. And, as they climbed, it lengthened, till they left it for the hill, and then scrambled up the rocks. Then the kewahqu' came yelling and howling horribly. Seeing the fugitives far above, he swarmed up the pole. With him, too, it grew, and grew rapidly, till it seemed to be half a mile high. Now the kewahqu' was no such sorcerer that he could fly; neither had he wings; he must remain on the pole; and when he came to the top the young man pushed it afar. It fell, and the monster was killed by the fall thereof.
They went with the squirrel-sledge; they flew through the woods on the snow by the moonlight; they were very glad. And at last they came to the girl's village, when the Rabbit said, "Now, friend, good-by. Yet there is more trouble coming, and when it is with you I and mine will aid you. So farewell." And when they were home again it all appeared like a dream. Then the wedding feast was held, and all seemed well.
But the young men of the village hated the youth, and desired to kill him, that they might take his wife. They persuaded him to go with them fishing on the sea. Then they raised a cry, and said, "A whale is chasing us! he is under the canoe!" and suddenly they knocked him overboard, and paddled away like an arrow in flight.
The young man called for help. A Crow came, and said, "Swim or float as long as you can. I will bring you aid." He floated a long time. The Crow returned with a strong cord; the Crow made himself very large; he threw one end of the cord to the youth; by the other he towed him to a small island. "I can do no more," he said; "but there is another friend." So as the youth sat there, starving and freezing, there came to him a Fox. "Ha, friend," he said, "are you here?" "Yes," replied the youth, "and dying of hunger." The Fox reflected an instant, and said, Truly I have no meat; and yet there is a way." So he picked from the ground a blade of dry grass, and bade the youth eat it. He did so, and found himself a moose (or a horse). Then he fed richly on the young grass till he had enough, when the Fox gave him a second straw, and he became a man again. "Friend," said the Fox, "there is an Indian village on the main-land, where there is to be a great feast, a grand dance. Would you like to be there?" "Indeed I would," replied the youth. "Then wait till dark, and I will take you there," said the Fox. And when night came he bade the youth close his eyes and enter the river, and take hold of the end of his tail, while he should draw. So in the tossing sea they, went on for hours. Thought the youth, "We shall never get there." Said the Fox, "Yes, we will, but keep your eyes shut." So it went on for another hour, when the youth thought again, "We shall never reach land." Said the Fox, "Yes, we shall." However, after a time he opened his eyes, when they were only ten feet from the shore, and this cost them more time and trouble than all the previous swim ere they had the beach under foot.
It was his own village. The festival was for the marriage of his own wife to one of the young men who had pushed him overboard. Great was his magic power, great was his anger; he became strong as death. Then he went to his own wigwam, and his wife, seeing him, cried aloud for joy, and kissed him and wept all at once. He said, "Be glad, but the hour of punishment for the men who made these tears is come." So he went to the sagamore and told him all.
The old chief called for the young men. "Slay them all as you choose," he said to his son-in-law; "scalp them." But the youth refused. He called to the Fox, and got the straws which gave the power to transform men to beasts. He changed his enemies into bad animals,--one into a porcupine, one into a hog, and they were driven into the woods. Thus it was that the first hog and the first porcupine came into the world.
This story, narrated by Tomah Josephs, is partly old Indian and partly European, but whether the latter element was derived from a French Canadian or a Norse source I cannot tell, since it is common to both. The mention of the horse and the bog, or of cattle, does not prove that a story is not pre-Columbian. The Norsemen had brought cattle of various descriptions even to New England. It is to be very much regretted that the first settlers in New England took no pains to ascertain what the Indians knew of the white men who had preceded them. But modern material may have easily been added to an old legend.
Return to Passamaquoddy Legends