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The Partridge Spirit

An Algonquin Legend

One red autumn, two brothers went on a hunting expedition for their tribe. They come to the source of the Penobscott river and there they stayed all winter. They had no woman with them to do all the tasks that make a hunter thankful.

So most of the daily tasks fell upon the younger brother who said to his older brother, "I wish there were a woman in our wigwam to mend and cook, to sew and clean for us."

"Well, our mother and sisters are at home, brother. We must do the best we can," replied the older brother. By the time spring came around, their snowshoes were broken and their moccasins were full of holes.

One day, when the snow was still hard and icy, the younger brother came home to find that the wigwam was clean and tidy! A fire was burning and there was hot water already boiling in the pot. He said nothing to his brother, but the next day, he returned home early in order to spy on the wigwam. In the light of the dying sun, he saw a beautiful maiden step through the woods and busy herself about the household tasks. She was smaller and more delicate than any woman he had ever seen. He stepped into the wigwam and greeted her, "Thank you, maiden, for the work you've been doing. It's very hard for hunters to be alone during the harsh winter."

She replied, "Your brother is coming. I am frightened of him. But I will see you tomorrow if you come home early." With that, she slipped away.

The young hunter said nothing to his brother, but the next day he crept home early and there was the maiden again. Together they played in the snow like children. Just before the sun went down, the young hunter begged her, "Please stay with me forever. My heart was never so happy as now."

The maiden frowned. "Speak to your brother tonight. Tell him everything. Maybe I will stay and serve you both, for I can make snowshoes and moccasins, and build canoes." With that, she slipped away.

When the elder brother came home, he listened eagerly to his young brother, then said, "It seems that we have been lucky! I would be very glad to have a woman help us and care for our camp."

The next morning, the maiden came again. Behind her she pulled a toboggan piled high with hand - sewn garments and finely worked weapons. She greeted both the brothers, who exclaimed at the beauty of the clothes and weapons. "I too am a hunter," was all she would say and she set to work.

The rest of the snowbound spring passed quickly. The maiden cared for the hunters, sewing, mending and making herself useful in ways that they both quickly took for granted. They also seemed to be particularly lucky in their hunting. They soon had many furs and were ready to return to their tribe.

When the snow began to thaw, the brothers returned home by canoe down the Penobscott river. When they were halfway down the river the maiden began to look pale and faint. "Stop!" she called out to the hunters. I can go no further." They sculled to the bank and set her down.

Now although they didn't know it, the maiden had sent out her soul back to the wigwam where they had lived all winter. "Leave me here," she begged. "Say nothing about me to your father, for he would have nothing but scorn for me."

The younger brother was heartbroken. "But I want you to stay with me forever!" He did not realize that the maiden could not come with him because she wasn't a human being at all, but one of the forest spirits.

"It cannot be," replied the maiden. "You must leave me here."

The two brothers returned to their village. When they unpacked the canoe and their family saw the heap of fine furs that they had brought back with them, there was great rejoicing. During the celebrations, the elder brother could not keep quiet about how their luck had changed. He boasted about the strange maiden who had helped them in the depths of the winter.

His father trembled and grew very angry. "All my life I have feared this very thing. My sons, that was no ordinary woman! You have been in the presence of a ghost, a forest spirit, a trickster of the snows! She is a Mikumwess, a witch that can do great harm to human beings."

The elder brother thought to himself, "She may have put a spell upon me. What a fool I've been, not to see it!"

However, the younger brother thought, "Maybe there's something in what father says. Maybe she is a forest spirit. But I didn't feel I was in danger at any time. She was my dearest friend, and I wanted her to be my wife." But he was young and was more inclined to listen to his father's fears than to the wisdom of his own heart.

The father made such a fuss about the maiden being a Mikumwess that the elder brother made a decision. "Come, brother!" he said one day. "Let's go hunting."

Taking some special arrows that were said to be good against witches, the elder brother began to track the maiden. The younger brother didn't know what they were hunting. Suddenly, the elder brother caught sight of the maiden bathing in the stream and drew his bow. At the same time, his brother saw her and started to call and wave to her, but too late! The elder brother's arrow had already flown.

Where the maiden had been swimming was now a confusion of water and feathers. Then they both saw her rise in the shape of a partridge into the sky.

The younger brother's heart was very heavy and he walked silently away. As he was sitting sadly in a birch clearing, a partridge landed at his feet and changed into the maiden. He threw himself at her feet and cried, "Forgive me! I didn't know what my brother intended! I never meant to hunt you, my dearest one!"

"Do not blame yourself," said the maiden. "I know everything. It was not your father's fault either, for he spoke from fear and ignorance. The past is forgotten already. I promise you that the best is yet to come."

And together they played in the woods, as once they had played in the snows, forgetting their sorrows. When the crows flew home to their nests, the young hunter said, I must return."

The maiden answered, "When you want to see me, come to the woods and I will be here. But, remember, do not marry anyone! Your father has a girl in mind and will speak of marriage soon." And she told him what his father would say, word for word.

He listened carefully, but was not surprised by her words. He knew for certain that she was, indeed, a forest spirit, but he was not afraid.

They kissed gently under the birch trees. "Remember," she reminded him, "if you marry, You will surely die!"

When the young man went home that night, his father spoke, just as the maiden said he would. "My son, I have found a wife for you and the wedding will be this week."

The young hunter nodded and said, "So be it!"

The young bride was brought from her family's wigwam and the wedding feast began. For four days everyone danced and ate and told stories. But on the last day, the young bridegroom began to feel ill. His family laid him upon a white bearskin, but he grew worse and worse. They tried all kinds of remedies to heal him.

But the young hunter's soul yearned for the partridge maiden and as he lay dying, his soul flew out of his body searching for her. At the moment he found her, his soul finally left his body, and they ran together through the woods, never to be parted again.

When his sorrowful family brought the bride to where the young hunter lay, they found that he was already dead. But his face was calm and happy, for he had found his true bride at last.

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