The coming of the pleasant springtime was hailed with great delight. Seven or eight months were found to be a very long spell of cold winter weather, and so when with a rapidity unknown in more Southern climates the winter broke up, and the welcome warm weather made its appearance, everybody seemed to feel its genial influence.
The first little wild flowers were looked for with intense interest, and great indeed was the joy of the children when some were found. The sweet singing birds that in the previous autumn, on the first signs of the coming down from the colder North of the Frost King, had flitted away to the summer Southland were now returning in multitudes. The air was full of their melody, and as scores of them, fearless and trustful, made themselves at home in the bird resorts around Wahkiegum, great indeed was the children's delight as they welcomed them back to their haunts in the North.
And really it did seem as though the birds were glad to be there again, for it is only in the North that these birds sing their sweet love songs to each other and build their nests and hatch out their little broods.
The Whisky Jacks, that had been croaking out their hoarse cries all winter, seemed to get sulky and vexed that they were now so little admired, and so they flitted away farther north and buried themselves in the interior of the deepest forests.
In the joyousness of those happy days up in those high latitudes, when the changes of every twenty-four hours can easily be noticed, Sagastao and Minnehaha for a time troubled neither Souwanas nor Mary for Indian legends or stories. There was in the rapid melting of the snow, the breaking up of the immense ice fields on the lake, the appearance of the land, and then the grass and flowers, and the planting of seeds in their little gardens, enough to keep them busy and happy.
But even all these things at length lost their interest. The flights of the wild geese, swans, and ducks had all ceased. They, with many other kinds of migrating birds, were busy nesting. The sweet songsters around the home were everyday companions, and, while the children loved them as much as ever, the excitement of their coming had died away. So when one day they saw Souwanas coming over the now sparkling waters in his canoe they were delighted to welcome him. As usual, when he reached the shore the contents of his canoe were examined speedily. There the children found a couple of beavers that had but lately been trapped, and a dozen or more muskrats that Souwanas had speared in the marshes. These animals were the result of one night's hunting, and now Souwanas was on his way home to have them skinned and the pelts prepared for sale to the fur traders.
The children's curiosity was much aroused by the sight of the beavers and muskrats, and they questioned the old man about them. The queer, broad, scaly tail of the beavers much interested them, and drew from Souwanas an interesting account of the various purposes for which the clever, industrious beavers use this apparently awkward appendage.
"Do you know any Nanahboozhoo stories in which he tells anything about beavers or muskrats?" asked Sagastao.
"Yes, indeed," replied Souwanas; "in nearly all the stories that are told about the forming of the new land after the great flood both the beaver and the muskrat are mentioned, as well as the other animals."
"Tell us one of the stories," urged little Minnehaha.
The arrival of some other canoes at this point interrupted the conversation. The newcomers were on their way to the wigwam of Souwanas, who was their chief. He was about to go on with them, but when he saw the look of disappointment on the faces of the children he, with his usual thoughtful kindness, transferred the two beavers and the muskrats from his own canoe to one of the late arrivals. Then telling the people to give them to his wife, to have them all cooked and ready for dinner, by which time he would join them, he sent the people on their way. Having lighted his calumet, with the children seated near him, he began:
"Nanahboozhoo's life commenced long before the great flood of waters that covered the earth, about which all of our tribes have heard something. He had his own wigwam and furnished it with everything he wanted. One day when walking on the shore of a great river he saw some sea lions lying on the sandy beach, basking in the sun. These animals, like the beaver, could live as well in the water as on the land. As he closely watched them from a distance, and saw the rich, shiny skins, he thought what a nice tobacco pouch could be made out of one of them. When Nanahboozhoo once set his heart on anything he at once began to work hard to secure it. He tried various plans to capture one of these sea-lions, but none of them succeeded. They were too clever to be caught as other animals are, and he saw that he would have to adopt some unusual method. He decided that he would go down very early to the spot on the bank of the river where they were in the habit of sunning themselves and disguise himself as an old stump of a tree, then, when they came out and were enjoying the sunshine, he would shoot the fine old white one with the beautiful glossy skin that he had so much admired. As on other days the lions came, and when they saw this stump the white lion, which was a kind of king among them, said:
"'I never saw that big stump before. I think it must be Nanahboozhoo.'
"Another one said he thought the same thing.
"Others only laughed, and said, 'It is only an old pine stump.'
"However, as a number of them were suspicious, it was decided to go up and shake it and see if it would move, and thus really find out. They went to it, and three of them together used their greatest efforts to move it.
"Nanahboozhoo had to make one of the hardest efforts of his life to hold firm. However, he succeeded, and so the lions only said:
"'It really is a stump of a tree, but it is very strange we did not notice it before.' Then they rolled about on the warm sand in the sunshine until one after another fell asleep.
"Nanahboozhoo now noiselessly and quickly turned himself into a young hunter, then taking up his bow and arrow he shot the white lion. His arrow stuck fast in his body and badly wounded him, but did not kill him. At once the lions all plunged into the river and disappeared. Nanahboozhoo was sorry that he did not get the lion's skin, indeed he was greatly vexed and annoyed to have to return to his wigwam without it. A day or two after, as he was walking in the woods, he met with a very old woman. She had a bundle of slippery elm bark, out of which poultices were made by the Indians for wounds and bruises, and also some roots for medicine.
"'Where are you going, nookoom (grandmother), and what are you going to do with the bark and roots?'
"'O' said she, 'you cannot imagine what trouble we are in, for Nanahboozhoo has shot and badly wounded one of our chiefs, and great efforts are going to be made to catch and kill him.'
"She also told him that she had been honored in being sent for to come and use all of her healing arts to try and restore the wounded chief to health again, and that now she was on her way to his abode to poultice him with the slippery elm bark, and to give him medicine, made by boiling the roots, to allay the great fever from which he was suffering.
"Nanahboozhoo thus discovered that these lions, as he had supposed them to be, were wicked magicians who had been doing a great deal of harm, and who when they chose to do so could change themselves into the form of lions and live either under the water or on land, as best suited them, to escape from being killed by those whom they had injured. As the old woman was very talkative, Nanahboozhoo soon obtained from her all the information he desired. Among other things she told him that sometimes people came to her for bad medicines, to give to persons with whom they had quarreled, and in this way they would kill them with the poisons which she made out of toadstools and other deadly things.
"Hearing these dreadful facts from her own lips Nanahboozhoo resolved to kill her, but first he had her tell him where the wounded chief's abode was, and all about what was expected of her when she arrived there. He then speedily tomahawked her, and clothing himself in her garments he made himself look exactly like her, after which he took up her bundle of bark and roots and went to the dwelling of the chiefs.
"There he found quite a crowd assembled, but all were in confusion and excitement on account of the wounded chief. When they saw, as they thought, the old woman coming, whom they were eagerly expecting, they made way for her. Nanahboozhoo went straight to the place where the wounded chief lay.
"He was surprised to see that the arrow which he had shot was still sticking in his side. He made a great ado about preparing the poultices and medicine, and set everybody around him doing something to help carry out his plans. Then when all were hurrying, and none looking at him, Nanahboozhoo pushed the arrow with such force into the body of the chief that it killed him instantly. Then with a shout of triumph he made his escape.
"There was, of course, great excitement among the people. They at once called a council and consulted what they should do to destroy Nanahboozhoo. They were, as I have told you, magicians, and had power to raise the waters, and so they resolved to drown him. They accordingly called on the waters to rise and rush over the plains and forests in the direction in which he lived. Nanahboozhoo had traveled with great speed back to his wigwam, but hardly had he reached it ere he heard the roar of the floods of water that were coming to overwhelm him. He saw his great danger and he ran away west, to the great mountains; but the floods of water continued rising and drove him up higher and higher. When he saw that he was nearing the highest peak he began to think what he must do next. Around him in the raging waters were quantities of logs and trees, and among them, or on the now small peak of land, were numbers of various animals.
"With all his powers he set to work and it was not very long ere he had a large raft made out of the floating logs. As the last spot of land was now being overwhelmed by the flood, and he pitied the animals that were swimming about, he took them on the raft with him. As Nanahboozhoo knew all the animals and their languages he held a council on the raft. He told them that if he could get even a very little of the old world that was drowned he could make a new world for them all. He first asked the otter if he would try, and see if he could dive down and bring up a little portion of the earth. The otter at once made the attempt, but after a while he came up to the surface apparently quite dead. Nanahboozhoo reached out and lifted him in and placed him in a sunny spot on the raft. Then the beaver tried. He took a great header and down he dived, resolved to succeed if possible, but after a time even he came up apparently as lifeless as the otter. Nanahboozhoo lifted his body up out of the water and laid it in the sun by the side of the otter. The muskrat next volunteered to try what he could do, so down he dived and, after a much longer time than the others had been down, he too floated up senseless and cold. Nanahboozhoo took him up, and as he did so he noticed that there was earth in his mouth and on his paws. He carefully collected this in his hand, and then placed the body of the muskrat beside the otter and the beaver. He then blew upon the earth and thus made it dry and porous, so that when it was placed in the water it would not sink but float. He then put a lively little mouse upon it, which by running round and round upon the earth made it grow larger and larger. Nanahboozhoo then put a squirrel upon it for the same object. Then the marten and mink—for the new earth was now so extended that it could hold up these light animals.
"For a time Nanahboozhoo had to guard the now rapidly growing young world from the larger animals with a stick, for fear they would sink it. They were all very tired of having to remain huddled together so long on the raft, and were eager to follow the smaller creatures that seemed so happy on the new earth, even if it were not very large as yet. As there was much to be done to fit this new world up for them to dwell upon, everyone had to do what he could. The birds were sent to fly over the water to pick up branches and seeds.
"By and by Nanahboozhoo decided that the earth, which had now grown beyond the reach of his eyes, was large enough, and so he revived the otter, the beaver and the muskrat, and with them and all the other animals around him he took possession of the new world.
"In order to ascertain the size of the world he sent a wolf to run to the end of it and then to return at once to him. The wolf easily made the journey in one day. Nanahboozhoo then kept him with him for some time, and again sent him off. The second journey took him five days, the third ten, the fourth a month, then he was gone a year and then five years. Thus it went on, until at length Nanahboozhoo started off a young wolf just able to run on the long journey. This one died of old age ere he had completed the trip. Nanahboozhoo then said that the world was large enough, and commanded it to cease from growing."