A few days later Mary was annoyed by having the children tell her frankly that they did not think she was a first-class story-teller. For if she had been she ought to have been able to answer Minnehaha's question about what Nanahboozhoo did to Maheigan when he tried to catch Waubenoo.
Mary was vexed at herself that she was unable to answer the question, for she well knew that the children would not rest satisfied until they had the story told them by some one, possibly Souwanas himself. Indeed, knowing them so well, she had fully resolved to post herself from one of the noted story-tellers who have all the Indian legends at their tongue tips. But as yet she was ignorant in this matter, and therefore fell considerably in the children's estimation. Alary was somewhat hurt by noticing, perhaps for the first time, Sagastao and Minnehaha whispering confidentially to each other. The children conversed with Mary only in her own language, which at that time they perhaps understood better than they did English. Now, much to Mary's annoyance, their confidential whisperings were carried on in English. Being sensitive and quick-tempered, when she saw this sudden break in their affections toward her she was inclined to resent it, and asked the reason why she was not allowed to know what they were talking about.
Blunt little Sagastao spoke up at once:
"Minnehaha and I have talked it over, and have decided that unless you tell us better stories, and ones which you know all about, we're going to run away to the wigwam of Souwanas."
This was humiliating and distressing news. Mary fancied she had told them a good story, and that with a few others like it she could satisfy their curiosity and keep them at home until the brief summer would have passed. Not so, however, thought the children. They saw their advantage and were resolved to keep it, and when their lessons were over and they were left entirely in the charge of Mary they taxed the little woman in a way that obliged her to exercise all her gifts as a story-teller, and she was far from being a poor one.
One day she took them out in a graceful birch canoe among the picturesque islands. They landed on one of these islands, and spent some time in exploring its beauties and resting where grew a profusion of the fragrant Indian grass. They were for a time much interested in the various wild birds that then were so numerous and fearless. Beautiful gulls of different varieties were there nesting, and by following Mary's directions the children were delighted to find that they could approach very near to the nests of some of them without disturbing the mother bird while her mate, in fearless confidence, stood on guard beside her.
"Now, Mary, hurrah for a story!" cried the children, as they sat at lunch.
While Mary was wondering what she would tell them, Minnehaha, with all the restless, inquisitive spirit of childhood, noticing the ceaseless rustling movements of the leaves in the stately northern poplar while the leaves of all the other trees were so still, said:
"Why is it, Mary, that even while the leaves on the other trees are so quiet those almost round ones are ever stirring?"
Mary knew the Indian legend, and at once proceeded to narrate it.
"It is believed by our people," said Mary, "that there are other persons just as clever as Nanahboozhoo, and as able to do wonderful things, but they are very seldom heard of. Some of them were the children of Wakonda, the powerful spirit who dwelt in the region of Spirit Lake, where they say it is always sunshine. Many strange things have been told about them, but everybody says they are kind-hearted, and never did anything to injure any of our people unless it was well deserved. The story is that long ago one of these sons of Wakonda, whose name was Wakontas, could not find a wife to suit him in his own beautiful country, and so he came to the regions where the Indians dwelt.
"For a long time he wandered throughout great regions of country before he found anyone who interested him. However, in his journeyings Wakontas went into the wigwam of some Indians where there were two lovely maidens, so very beautiful that he fell in love with both of them. He was in the disguise of a very fine-looking young hunter. So clever was he in the use of his bow and arrow that at the end of every hunting excursion he returned laden with the richest spoils of the chase. He fell more and more in love with the two girls, and knowing, of course, that he could only get one of them he found a great difficulty in making his choice. He had already gone to the girl's father, and after finding out from him the price demanded for his daughter, without mentioning which one, very quickly by his magic powers he obtained the heavy price and laid it at the father's feet. Both of the girls seemed equally pleased with him, and each one secretly hoped that she might be the object of his choice. Still he hesitated, and although he tried many experiments yet they so nearly equaled each other in cleverness and beauty that he was still undecided. However, there was a great difference in their dispositions. While one was proud and jealous, and had a very bitter tongue, the other was just the opposite; while one was very selfish, the other was generous and kind-hearted. But Wakontas was not able to find this out at first, and after he had considered various plans he decided that he would put on one of his many disguises and thus try them.
"So he started off as though going on a hunting expedition, but soon after he was out of sight he quickly assumed the form of a poor and aged Indian, and came to the home of these two beautiful sisters, and asked for assistance. Wakontas chose a time when he knew the rest of the family were away from the wigwam, in order that he might see how the two sisters would act toward him.
"When he walked into the wigwam, for nobody ever knocks at an Indian tent, the maidens were a little startled at thus suddenly seeing this rough-looking old beggar-man in their midst. The selfish, proud girl, whose name was Misticoosis, at once began assailing him, and cried, 'Auwasta kena!' (Get out; go away, you!)
"In vain he pleaded that he was aged and hungry. She would not listen to him.
"Omemee, the other young Indian maiden, who had not said a word, but had been pitying him from the first moment she saw how feeble and sad he looked, now interfered, and remonstrated with her sister, whose tongue kept up a constant stream of abuse. Taking the old man to her side of the wigwam she seated him on a rug of deerskins and then built up before him a bright fire. Then she quickly brought in venison, cooked it nicely, and gave him the broth for drink and the meat for food. He thanked her gratefully, but she checked his words and said that her greatest joy was in making others happy. Not satisfied with what she had done, and noticing that his shoes were old and worn, she took out of her beaded workbag a pair of splendidly worked moccasins, and put them on his feet.
"All this time, while this good-hearted, generous Omemee was treating the poor old man so kindly, the proud, selfish Misticoosis was talking as hard and as fast as she could against such deeds of kindness to all old people. In her opinion, when they had got so old and helpless as that old fellow was, they ought to be killed by their relatives.
"The old man again expressed his thanks to the kind sister, and then went his way.
"Soon the girls began to think of arraying themselves for the return of their friend and lover. The proud, selfish Misticoosis spent all the time in fixing herself up in the most elaborate manner. She had lately become quite jealous of her sister, and she was resolved to so outshine her in appearance that the handsome young hunter would surely prefer her. But Omemee (a name which means a dove) thought to herself:
"'My father and mother and the rest of the family will soon be returning to the wigwam, tired and hungry, and the best thing I can do will be to have a good dinner ready for them all.' So, only taking time to comb and brush her luxuriant hair and make herself neat and tidy for her work, she set about cooking the meal. She skillfully prepared venison and bear's meat, and the finest of fish.
"Hardly had she finished her work and seen everything nicely cooked before she heard the happy shoutings of her younger brothers, and the sweet birdcalls of her little sisters.
"As Omemee and her sister Misticoosis hurried out to greet them they were surprised to see the handsome stranger gliding along in his beautiful canoe alongside of the larger one of the family. Of course, the sight of their lover excited the two girls. Misticoosis, who had spent all the hours in arraying herself in her finery and adornment, boldly thrust herself to the front, and crowded out the modest Omemee, who was flushed by the busy work of cooking the dinner, and was wisely dressed in a costume which harmonized with her face and with the work in which she had been engaged so industriously.
"The instant the handsome young Indian landed—fancy the amazement of the two girls to notice that he had on his feet the same beautiful moccasins that, not many hours before, Omemee had given to the aged feeble man! Before anyone could utter a word he came striding up to the girls, and said:
"'As an old, weary man, I came to your wigwam a few hours ago. Misticoosis gave me nothing but abuse, yet my only crime was that I was old. Her tongue went on and on without stopping, and all of her words were words of abuse for the old man and anger that he should have been left to live so long. But Omemee, kind-hearted Omemee, pitied the poor old man. She made him sit down on a couch of deerskins, that he might rest his tired limbs. She built a fire and warmed him. She took of the best of the venison, and made him food and drink, and then ere he left she put on his feet the most beautiful of her moccasins. All her gifts to the unknown old man were the best she had.
"'See the beautiful moccasins, the gift of Omemee!
"'I was that old man—I am now the lover long seeking a bride. I have made my choice. Two beautiful maidens for a time divided my heart. There is no division now. By testing them I have found out that only one is lovely within.
"'That no man may have to put up through life with the unceasing clatter of the tongue of Misticoosis, she will be from this time the unbeautiful aspen tree, while her tongue shall be the leaves that will never again be still even in the gentlest breeze. The leaves of other trees shall rest at times, but the aspen leaves, now the tongue of Misticoosis, shall ever be restless and unquiet.'
"And even while he was speaking, Misticoosis, who was amazed and ashamed at the words he spoke, became rooted to the ground, and gradually turned into an aspen tree.
"Then, turning from her to the maiden of his choice, he exclaimed:
"'But Omemee, the loving, the tender, the kind-hearted, thou art my heart's choice!'
"Saying this, the handsome hunter opened his arms, and Omemee sprang toward him. For a moment he held her in his arms; then he said:
"'I am Wakontas, and to the beautiful home of Wakontas thou shalt be taken.'
"Then there was a wonderful transformation; as quickly as a butterfly bursts from its chrysalis, so suddenly was Omemee transformed into a beautiful dove and the hunter as quickly assumed the same lovely form. Together they arose into the air, and flew away to the unknown but beautiful home of Wakontas, in the land of perpetual sunshine."