One cold day Souwanas, who had not been seen by the children for some time—he had been away on a long hunting excursion—quite unexpectedly walked into the mission house during the school hours of Sagastao and Minnehaha. The news of his coming was hailed with delight by the children, and it required a certain amount of firmness on the part of the heads of the household to keep them at their studies. They were, however, quickly pacified, and returned with diligence to their lessons, when informed that their old friend had been invited to stay all day and doubtless would have a story of some kind for them when their studies were all over.
The venison and bear's meat which he had brought were quickly purchased at a price that well pleased him. Then he sat down for a rest and a smoke in the kitchen. Of course he had his usual tiff with Mary, the nurse, who was very jealous of him because he had so won the love and confidence of the children. Souwanas was greatly amused at her jealousy of him, especially since he was told by one of the Indian maids that the children had been overheard gravely debating between themselves which was the better story-teller, Mary or Souwanas.
When peace again reigned some illustrated volumes from the library were given to Souwanas for his inspection. He was not able to read English, but he was very fond of looking at pictures.
There was one book that had a special fascination for him, in fact when he first examined it, and had had some of its illustrations explained to him, it gave this superstitious Indian about the biggest fright he had ever received. It was a book in which were pictured and described many of the great extinct monsters of the old times. These enormous hideous creatures, whose bones and fossil remains are still occasionally to be found, quite alarmed him. Yet the book was generally about the first one he desired to see.
On this present visit, however, Souwanas, while as usual eager again to inspect this book, was observed to look at it in a very different spirit. The explanation came out later, when he had the children around him—indeed almost the whole household—listening to a new Nanahboozhoo story which he had secured from some famous old Indian whom he had met while far away on his long hunting excursion.
"Yes, it is true," he began, "that there did once live on this earth, both in the land and in the water, great animals like those here shown in this book. I have been to the wigwam of the great Shuniou and from him I have learned much about them, as handed down in the tradition of our forefathers. Great and terrible were they, and the people of those times lived in great terror of them, for the bows and arrows and even the stone war clubs of the strongest warriors were powerless to kill or even dangerously wound such monsters. It was well for the inhabitants of the earth in those days that these great monsters were few in number and that they were constantly fighting among themselves, for so large and terrible were they that only animals as big and fierce of other kinds could battle with them.
"But there was one great monster that lived in the water, and as he had no enemies big enough to attack him he lived on, even long after the other great animals were all killed off.
"Shuniou said that the tradition was that a great rush of waters caused many of the last of the great monsters that had tusks of ivory to be carried to the far Northland, and there, as the terribly cold winter set in, they were all frozen to death.
"This must be true," added Souwanas, "for it was not many years ago that the Hudson Bay Company sent their men there to get this ivory, which they intended to ship to England. They came back with word that some of the dead bodies had been seen where the ice broke up. But this great monster in the water, as I have said, lived on after the rest were all supposed to have died off or been killed. He was a terrible scourge to those Indians whose wigwams were on the shores of the great sea in which he lived. They were in mortal terror when they ventured out in their canoes to fish. This they had to do, as they depended almost entirely on fish for their living, and there were times when the fish left the shallow waters near the shore and went out far from land. There the Indians had to follow and catch them or they and their families would starve.
"Happily for them, sometimes for months together no one would hear or see anything of this great sea monster. Then, perhaps, suddenly he would rise up right under a canoe in which were several Indians, whom he would easily catch and swallow one by one. He would sometimes rush after a herd of deer that had gone out swimming in the waters. He would catch and easily swallow several of them."
"Well, I should think that the big horns of a moose or reindeer would give him some trouble to swallow," said Sagastao.
"He was so large," said Souwanas, "that the horns or body of the largest deer did not seem to bother him in the least degree."
"I wonder if it were not one of his great grandfathers that swallowed Jonah," said the observant Minnehaha.
"The Indians at length came to be so much distressed by the loss of so many of their number, and by their inability to slay the monster, that they resolved to ask Nanahboozhoo to come and help them if he possibly could.
"I ought to have told you," said Souwanas, "that this great monster was called by the Indians Mooshekinnebik.
"Nanahboozhoo at once responded to their request, for he was very angry when he heard how many industrious fishermen had been swallowed by this creature. He was doubly angry when he returned with the deputation who had gone for him and further learned that, only the day before, Mooshekinnebik had been mean enough to come near to the shore and catch and swallow some boys and girls who had been out swimming that warm summer day.
"When Nanahboozhoo informed Nokomis of the request of the people for his help to deliver them from the long hated Mooshekinnebik she was very much frightened, and more so when he told her of the strange and dangerous plan he was going to adopt to carry out his purpose. It was this: he was going to allow himself to be swallowed by this monster who had already destroyed so many people."
"O how dreadful!" said Minnehaha. "We will never hear any more nice stories about Nanahboozhoo."
"All a pack of lies; there never were any such monsters," snapped out old Mary, who could not longer conceal her jealousy at seeing how interested the children were in the story.
"Hold on, Mary; not so fast," cried Sagastao, taking the book from Souwanas and showing the pictures to Mary.
"There, Sakehow," he said, using his favorite term of endearment, "look for yourself and see those lovely creatures—some of them quite big enough to swallow us all without winking."
But Mary was stubborn, as well as jealous, and would not give in, even when Kennedy, the favorite dog driver, who was present, told her that even now there were some of the great tusks and bones of animals that the officers called mammoths over at the Hudson Bay Company's fort ready to be shipped to England next summer. She was, however, quickly silenced when Sagastao sat down beside her and throwing his head into her lap said, very coaxingly:
"Now, Mary, just be quiet and let us hear Souwanas tell the rest of the story of what Nanahboozhoo did to Mooshekinnebik."
Peace being thus restored, Souwanas, who had been much amused by Mary's ire, resumed his story:
"When Nokomis heard her grandson describe how he was going to let the monster swallow him she resolved to come and pitch her tent on the seashore, among the people who had been so troubled, and there to await the return of her grandson, if he should ever come back from such a perilous adventure.
"Nanahboozhoo asked his mother for some magic singing sticks, and also for a very sharp knife. Then he made for himself a small raft of logs and, bidding her good-bye for a short time, he sprang on it and was soon floating out, in search of the dreaded creature, over the great waters.
"When well out from the shore he began to make music with his magic sticks and to sing a defiant song:
"'Ho, ho! great fish down in the sea,
Come, if you dare, and swallow me.
My brothers all you're fond of eating,
'Tis time some one gave you a beating.
He, he! Hi, hi! Ho, ho! Ho, ho!
"'You see I am not far away,
So come and taste me while you may;
Yet not afraid am I, no, no!
So hurry up, old fish. Ho, ho!
He, he! Hi, hi! Ho, ho! Ho, ho!'
"Nanahboozhoo sang this brave song over and over, to the weird harmony of his magic music sticks, until he reached the place where the great fish was resting.
"When the great monster Mooshekinnebik heard the voice of Nanahboozhoo he came up to the surface of the water to find out who was making all that music and shouting out such defiant words.
"When he saw that it was only one young man on a raft of dry logs, he ordered one of his children to go and knock the raft to pieces and swallow that noisy fellow. But this was not what Nanahboozhoo wanted, and so he shouted out:
"'I want the old father fish to eat me.'
"This made old Mooshekinnebik very angry, and so, open mouthed, he rushed furiously at Nanahboozhoo who, when the great monster was close enough, took a leap into the open mouth and was immediately swallowed up.
"For a short time after being swallowed Nanahboozhoo was unconscious, but he soon recovered himself and was able to look around and see the queer prison in which he was now confined. It was fortunate for him that he had eyes like a cat, and so could see as well in the dark as in the light. He found that he was not the only inmate of this queer prison; there were a lot of creatures whom he called his brothers—the bear, the deer, the fox, the beaver and even the squirrel. Nanahboozhoo inquired of them and they told him how they had been captured and the length of time they had been in that horrid place. They also informed him that many others who had been captured were now dead. Nanahboozhoo found that they were quite hopeless, and looked forward to nothing but death. However he called them around him and informed them that he had willingly come among them for the purpose of affording a speedy deliverance.
"This was indeed good news. Then he explained to them the plan he had in his mind, and said that it was necessary for them to kick up a rumpus in the interior of this monster, that they would thus make him so very sick that he would have to go near to land, and when they should have him there he thought he had another plan that would enable them all to escape.
"They all agreed to do anything they could to help on his plans, so Nanahboozhoo took out his magic singing sticks and began to play and sing.
"At once the bear, the deer, the fox, the beaver, and indeed all of the creatures that were still alive, caught up the lively tune, and such a dancing and jumping and flying around was hardly ever seen before.
"This internal commotion very much disturbed Mooshekinnebik. He could not make out what was the matter. He shook himself thoroughly, but that did no good; then he darted off through the water at a great rate, but this also was of no use. Then he rolled over and over and over in the water. This of course stopped the dancing and hubbub inside for a time, but as the walls of the prison were soft, also the floor and ceiling, nobody was hurt, and so the instant it ceased they were up and at it again, harder than ever. Mooshekinnebik never had such a turn in his life. He did not know what to do. Still Nanahboozhoo kept singing louder and louder, while the dancers kept up their wild antics around him.
"At length Nanahboozhoo decided that the monster was about enough frightened for him to do something else, and so he drew out his sharp knife and gave Mooshekinnebik a good stab near his heart.
"This threw him into convulsions and added to his terror, and he began swimming toward the shore. When Nanahboozhoo knew this he kept stabbing him more and more, until at length his body was heard to scrape on the shallow sandy ground. At this Nanahboozhoo with a mighty effort plunged his knife with all his power deep into the monster's heart.
"The instant he did this Mooshekinnebik was thrown into a number of mighty convulsions, and in one of them, with one tremendous effort, he fairly threw himself out of the water on the shore, and there he died.
"So great and terrible had been these dying convulsions that all the creatures inside, and even Nanahboozhoo himself, had become unconscious from being so knocked about.
"How long they remained so they did not know. Nanahboozhoo was the first to regain his senses, and he was indeed very sorry to see that all of his comrades were still unconscious. He had some difficulty in getting out from under the bodies of his comrades, who were piled up on him. He was glad that the monster was dead, but he was uncertain whether they were on the shore or at the bottom of the water. So he speedily determined to find out. He climbed up over the bodies of his comrades to the place that he thought was the thinnest, and there, with his keen knife, he began cutting through the roof of this queer prison.
"To his great delight he was soon able to see the sunshine coming through. When he had cut a hole big enough to let in some air and sunshine he took up his magic singing sticks and began singing, for the purpose of reviving all those imprisoned with him. His song was not much to us, but it was a great deal to those shut up in such a prison. It was:
(I see the sky,
I see the sky.)
"As Nanahboozhoo continued to sing this over and over, one after another his brothers sneezed and opened their eyes. They were indeed a happy lot at the prospect of deliverance.
"When Nanahboozhoo saw that they were all now recovered he again set to work with his knife, and it was not long before he had a hole large enough to permit all of the imprisoned creatures to make their escape.
"The news soon spread, and it was not long before Nokomis, with others, came to see the huge dead monster, and there were great rejoicings."
"And this," added Souwanas, "is the tradition, as told by Shuniou, of how Nanahboozhoo destroyed Mooshekinnebik."
"What became of the little monsters?" asked Minnehaha.
"The Indians," replied Souwanas, "under the leadership of Nanahboozhoo made such a war upon them that they were soon annihilated."