Moonlight nights in the Northland are often very beautiful. There in the summer time the gloaming continues until nearly midnight. Then nothing can be more glorious than to glide along amid the beautiful fir-clad rocky islands in a birch canoe over the still transparent waters. So large and luminous are the full moons of July and August that, with the west aglow and with the wondrous aurora flashing and blazing in the north, there is practically little night and no darkness at all.
Nothing gave the children greater pleasure than to have permission to go with Mary and Kennedy in a large roomy birch canoe for a moonlight excursion during one of those warm, brilliant nights. With plenty of rugs or cushions, to make the coziest of seats in the center of the canoe, they fairly reveled in the beauties of the romantic surroundings while they floated on the moonlit lake. Often in some place of more than ordinary beauty Kennedy would cease paddling, and then their very quietness added to the charms of those happy outings.
"Say, Mary," said Sagastao, "I was reading in one of my books about the 'man in the moon.' Do you know anything about him?"
"He is looking at us very kindly to-night," said Minnehaha. "I really believe I saw him laughing, he is so pleased we have come out to see him this lovely night."
These remarks of the children caused all in the canoe to more closely scan the great round moon that was shining with silvery whiteness straight in front of them.
"There are lots of stories about the moon among our people," said Mary, "but not a great many about the man in the moon. There is, however, a queer one about how he came down and helped a poor orphan boy."
"O, tell it to us just now," said Minnehaha, "while he is watching and listening."
"Do, Mary," said Sagastao, "and Minnehaha and I will watch the old fellow and see how he likes to be talked about."
"Well," said Minnehaha, "Mary will be talking to him to his face, and not behind his back, as people sometimes do when talking about others."
Thus the children ran on with their prattle. Mary and Kennedy were much amused.
"Come, Mary, hurry up! Father said the gloaming would end about eleven, and we must be at the shore by that time."
"Pretty late hours for little children," said Kennedy.
"Never mind that," said Sagastao; "we will make up for it in winter time, when it gets dark at four o'clock."
With Sagastao on one side of her in the big canoe and Minnehaha on the other—their favorite positions when listening to her fascinating stories as she crooned them out in her soft, musical Cree—Mary told them the story.
"Long ago," she began, "there was a poor orphan boy who had neither father nor mother, uncle, aunt, nor any living relative that he knew of. He had a very hard time of it, as the people did not seem to take kindly to him. So he had to live just where he could. He managed to get along all right during the pleasant summer time, but when the long cold winters began he suffered very much. One winter some selfish people let him live with them because he was willing to work hard for what little they did for him. They treated him badly in many ways. They made him go out into the woods and cut firewood, but when he brought it home they would only allow him to stay in the cold entry-way which they had built to their winter dwelling.
"They made him go and hunt different animals for food, and then when he brought, them home they cooked and ate the best themselves, and just threw the fragments and bones to him as they would to a dog. Every member of the household treated him very cruelly, except a nice little girl, the youngest daughter of the family. She felt very sorry for him. She would secretly take him better food, and she furnished him with a knife with which he could cut the tough pieces of meat. She had to be very careful not to be discovered, for if found out she would have been severely punished. So her pity had to show itself on the sly, and the few words she was able to tell him of her sympathy had to be whispered as she passed him, when nobody was looking or listening. The poor boy up to this time had no ambition to better himself, but her kind words and deeds made him resolve that he must begin and do something for himself. But what could he do? Everybody seemed against him but this little girl, and she could do nothing in the way of helping him to escape from these people, who, now that he was becoming so useful to them, would not let him go. What, really, could he do?
"Thus the days and weeks and months passed on and there seemed no chance of escape. He had tried to run away, but had been caught and brought back and beaten.
"One night when it was not very cold he went outside of the narrow entry where he generally had to sleep and threw himself on the ground and cried in his sorrow and despair. He seemed to be utterly unable to better himself. As he lay there he began looking up at the great bright moon that, now so large and round, was, he thought, looking earnestly at him. Soon he was able to see that there was a great man in the moon. As he watched him he was glad to notice that he was not looking crossly at him, but kindly, and so he began crying to the man in the moon to come and help him to escape from the miserable life he was leading. Sure enough, as the boy kept on crying and pleading he saw the man in the moon beginning to come down to this world. He came to the very spot where the unhappy boy was lying, but instead of helping him he made him stand up and then he gave him a good sound thrashing, making the boy, however, strike back at him as vigorously as he could. The beating he got very much disheartened and discouraged the boy, for it was not what he had expected. On the following night, when he had recovered a little, he began reproaching the man in the moon.
"'I called for you,' he said, 'to come and help me against my enemies, and now you have come and thrashed me.'
"But these words, instead of softening the man in the moon, caused him to come down again and give the poor boy a far worse thrashing than before, but for every blow he made the boy return one as good as he had received.
"Now for the first time the boy began to notice that the more he was beaten the stronger he grew. Still he could not understand what the man in the moon meant. So he came again, and they had another regular set-to, and the boy had another good sound thrashing. He asked him what was the meaning of his beating him thus. The man in the moon now spoke to him, but his words were so much like a puzzle that at first the boy did not understand them. This is what the man in the moon said:
"'Would you triumph o'er the strong?
Would you let them no more conquer?
"For a time the boy repeated them over and over. He used to say that as the result of these meetings with the man in the moon he had grown so strong that he was nearly able to hold his own against his antagonist. Then one day, when the man in the moon was puffing from the encounter, the latter said:
"'Now by hard knocks and exercise I have put you on the way of ending your troubles. Be strong, and conquer. Farewell! I am not coming again, as you do not need me any more.'
"Then away he flew back to his place in the moon.
"The boy seemed now to know that he was to use his strength for his own deliverance. To test himself he began tossing up the stones that were so numerous on the shore of the lake. First he began with quite small ones, but soon he found that he could pick up and throw about great big ones, that were like rocks. When he returned from this last contest with the man in the moon it was nearly daylight.
"At first the people began ordering him about as usual. But they soon had reason to be sorry for their cruelty and abuse, for the boy seized one after another of them and flung them with such violence against the rocks that their brains were dashed out and their blood ran in streams down the sides of the rocks—where it turned into seams in the rocks which can be seen to this day.
"One person only, of all who lived in that dwelling, did the now strong boy leave alive, and that was, of course, the good-hearted little girl who used to speak kind words to him and befriend him when she could.
"They grew to be very fond of each other, and were afterward married and lived in full possession of all the things that once belonged to the cruel people for whom the little orphan boy had worked so long."
"Well, sakehou," said Sagastao, "I have been watching the man in the moon while you have been telling the story about his queer way of helping the boy to help himself, and he was looking pleased all the time. So I am sure he is well satisfied with the way you have told the story."
Old Mary was delighted with these words from the lips of the lad she loved with such a passionate devotion.
"But what do you think about it, little sister?" said the lad, calling to Minnehaha, who was cuddled down on the other side of Mary.
But the darling gave no answer, for she had long ago slipped off into Dreamland, and there she remained until the strong arms of Kennedy lifted her up from the canoe and carried her home.