As the home where Sagastao and Minnehaha lived was near a trail along which numbers of Indian hunters were accustomed to travel when on their way to the trading post with their furs, they frequently called in to see their loved friends the palefaces. These hunters were always welcome, and as they were very seldom in a hurry the children drew from them many a quaint Indian legend or story of animal life.
It was also a great pleasure for the children to have the hunters, returning from a successful trip, open their fur packs and spread out before them the rich furs and tell them stories about these animals—the silver fox, the otter, beavers, minks, martens, ermines, and sometimes even about great bears and wolves, whose skin they had often had. These valuable furs were generally well dressed and prepared for shipment by the industrious women before they were taken to the trading post. Sometimes, however, a hunter when on the trail to the trading post would find in one of his traps an animal just caught, and not having time to return to his wigwam and have the skin dressed and dried he would carry the animal just as it was and sell it to the fur traders.
One day there called a number of Indians, and among them was a hunter with a couple of martens which he had caught in his trap that very morning. Sagastao and Minnehaha had never seen these little animals before, and they handled them with much interest and asked several questions about them.
"Why has the marten that queer white spot on its throat?" asked Minnehaha.
The Indians looked at each other and a grim smile flitted over their bronzed faces when they heard this question.
Their conduct only the more excited the curiosity of the children and they both clamored for the answer. Then one of the Indians said:
"Ask Mary; she knows all about the story, and as a woman was in the affair she can tell it better than we can."
With this answer the children had to be content, for the hunters, having drank their cups of tea, soon took their departure.
When the children found Mary they at once demanded the story.
"What story?" said Mary.
"O, you know what we want, for you were in the kitchen and heard what was said."
But Mary still protested her ignorance, and declared that she had been so busy caring for Souwanaquenapeke that she had not listened to half the chatter that had passed between them and the Indians.
"O, I know you, sakehow Mary," said Sagastao. "You don't want to tell us because there was a woman like yourself mixed up in it."
Mary bridled up with indignation, but before she could utter a word the arms of Sagastao were around her neck, and he cried:
"Forgive me, sakehou! for speaking so foolishly. I do remember now that you had left the kitchen with baby before Minnehaha asked the question."
This prompt apology and the sweet word "sakehow" restored harmony, and Mary was now anxious to please them.
"What was the question which interested you?" asked Mary.
"Why has the marten that queer white spot on its throat?" asked Minnehaha.
"And the men told us to go to you because there was a woman in it," added Sagastao.
Mary smiled when she heard this.
"Yes," she said, "there was a foolish woman mixed up in the story. It was like this, as far as I can remember, and it is a story from the North people. Long ago a man had a wife who was a very proud, vain woman. She was not contented with having her husband and her own people saying nice things about her, but she wanted to be flattered and admired by every creature. You know that I have told you that, in old times, animals could talk and do many things. Well, this conceited woman, with her silly foolish way, began attracting the different animals around her. Almost everybody was laughing at her, but she seemed to think it great fun to have so many admirers. She got a lesson one day when flirting with the bear. They were walking along together and she let him put his arm around her, but he gave her such a hug that he broke two of her ribs. She was a long time getting well and then her husband gave her a great lecturing. You would have thought that this would have cured her, but not a bit of it. When she was well again she was just as silly as ever, though she took good care not to flirt with any animal that could hug like a bear. She next bewitched the skunk with her foolishness. But one day, as they walked together, a dog suddenly attacked the skunk and in his anger and excitement he so perfumed the woman, instead of the dog, with his odor that her husband found her out and gave her a beating.
"Everybody was now laughing at her on account of her silly ways, and as her husband had persons employed to see what creatures she went out walking with she had to remain at home in her wigwam. But when a woman gets proud and conceited and carries on like this one did she is hard to cure. The fact was, her husband was too kind to her. He did not give her plenty of work to keep her busy and out of mischief. Instead of making her chop the wood and carry the water, and do other hard things, he did it for her, for he was very proud of her and she was indeed a beautiful woman. He did, however, make her stay in their wigwam instead of allowing her to go about wherever she liked.
"She spent most of her time in fixing herself up in her beautiful clothes and thinking what a lovely creature she was. But she soon missed the flattery of her admirers and resolved that, in spite of her husband, she would try to hear it again. So vigilant, however, were her husband and his friends that they were too clever for her.
"One day her husband returned from hunting and visiting his traps and snares. Among other animals that he had trapped was a beautiful marten. He had caught it in what is called a dead-fall; that is, where a log is so arranged that when the animal reaches the bait he is directly under the log, which falls upon him the instant he pulls the bait.
"When the woman took up the marten which her husband had thrown at her feet she noticed that it was still quite warm, but she said nothing about it to her husband, who, picking up an ax and blanket, said that he was going off to visit his more distant traps and would not be back for some days. Before he left he made her promise that she would not leave the wigwam until his return.
"The woman, as soon as she was sure that her husband was really gone, picked up the marten. On examining it she was convinced that it was not dead, only knocked senseless by the falling log, so she rubbed it, and breathed into its nostrils, and then with a reed blew air into its lungs.
"Sure enough, the life was in it, and the first sign it gave was a big sneeze or two. At this the woman wrapped it up in a warm covering and held it until it was well again. The marten, of course, was very much frightened when it found itself in the hands of a woman. It was about to struggle to get free, when the woman spoke to it in its own language. At this it was very much surprised, and more so when the woman told it how she had given it back its life, and that now in return it must do what she desired.
"Any animal or human being would be willing to promise as much when its life had been thus restored to it.
"'I will do anything I can for you,' said the marten.
"'I want you to go to your king marten,' said the woman, 'and tell him that a beautiful lady has heard so many wonderful things about him that she is very anxious to have a visit from him.'
"This the marten promised to do, and it was not very long before the king marten came. Of course he had to be very cautious, as he had been warned of the many who were watching the silly woman.
"Hardly, however, had he time to say much to her before the footsteps of her husband were heard outside. The instant he opened the door of the wigwam the king marten ran out, and disappeared in the forest.
"'What was that?' asked the husband.
"'O, dear, that was the marten you trapped. It must have come to life and escaped,' said the woman, who thus cleverly saved herself and the king marten.
"The man was suspicious, but as the marten which he had trapped was not to be found he could not find fault with her, except to say that she ought to have skinned the marten soon after he had brought it in.
"The king marten, who was a very conceited fellow, had been quite struck with the beauty of the woman, and so, in spite of his narrow escape, he resolved to go and see her again. By watching her husband's departure he managed to have several brief visits, and at length became so infatuated with her that he tried to coax her to run away with him.
"When she heard this she was very angry, for, with all her foolishness, she had only acted as she did because of her vanity and love of flattery. Now that the marten had dared make such a request she resolved that he should be punished; so one day, when he was sitting beside her and saying a lot of foolish flattery, she heard the footsteps of her husband approaching, but did not warn the king marten.
"So the man thus caught the old marten sitting by the side of his wife. At this he was much annoyed, and as the marten suddenly ran out the man asked the woman what it meant. So she told him all that the marten had said, and of his impertinence in asking her to leave him and become the marten's wife. At this the man was very indignant, and so they arranged to punish the marten.
"The next time the man went off he told his wife to fill the kettle with water and put it on the fire to boil. Then the man took his traps and started off as though he were going on a long journey. But he only went a little way, just far enough to throw the marten off his guard, and, sure enough, while he was watching he saw the marten go into the wigwam.
"Then the man came quietly to the door and listened. He heard the marten urging his wife to leave and run away with him. Then he suddenly sprang into the tent and shouted out:
"'Old king marten, what are you doing here? How dare you talk to my wife?'
"So saying, the man seized the kettle of boiling water and threw its contents at the marten, severely scalding him. The marten tore at his burning breast as he dashed away into the woods. And from that day to this all martens have that whitish spot on their chests caused by that burn."
"What became of the woman?" said Sagastao.
"Never mind now. We have wasted too much time already on such a good-for-nothing conceited flirt," said Mary.