The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, , at sacred-texts.com
Don't live with mean people if you can help it. They will turn your greatest sorrow to their own account if they can. Bad habit gets to be devilish second nature. One dead herring is not much, but one by one you may make such a heap of them as to stink out a whole village.
As it happened to old Mrs. Bear, who was easy as regarded people, and thought well of everybody, and trusted all. So she took in for a house-mate another old woman. Their wigwam was all by itself, and the next neighbor was so far off that he was not their neighbor at all, but that of some other folks.
One night the old women made up a fire, and lay down and went to sleep Indian-fashion,--witkusoodijik,--heads and points, so that both could lie with their back to the fire.
Now while they were sound asleep, Lox, the Wolverine, or Indian Devil, came prowling round. Some people say it was Hespuns, the Raccoon; and it is a fact that Master Coon can play a very close game of deviltry on his own account. However, this time it must have been Lox, as you can see by the tracks.
While they were both sound asleep Lox looked in. He found the old women asleep, heads and points, and at once saw his way to a neat little bit of mischief. So, going into the woods, he cut a fine long sapling-pole of ozo-bo-goos, and poked one end of it into the fire till it was a burning coal. Then he touched the soles of Mrs. Bear; and she, waking, cried out to the other, "Take care! you are burning me!" which the other denied like a thunder-clap.
Then Master Lox carefully applied the end of the hot pole to the feet of the other woman. First she dreamed that she was walking on hot sand and roasting rocks in summer-time, and then that the Mohawks were cooking her at the death-fire; and then she woke
up, and, seeing where she was, began to blame Mrs. Bear for it all, just as if she were a Mohawk.
Ali, yes. Well, Master Lox, seeing them fighting in a great rage, burst out laughing, so that he actually burst himself, and fell down dead with delight. It was a regular side-splitter. When my grandfather said that we always laughed.
In the morning, when the women came out, there lay a dead devil at the door. He must indeed have looked like a Raccoon this time; but whatever he was, they took him, skinned him, and dressed him for breakfast. Then the kettle was hung and the water boiled, and they popped him in. But as soon as it began to scald he began to come to life. In a minute he was all together again, alive and well, and with one good leap went clear of the kettle. Rushing out of the lodge, he grabbed his skin, which hung on a bush outside, put it on, and in ten seconds was safe in the greenwood. He just saved himself with a whole skin.
Now Master Lox had precious little time, you will say, to do any more mischief between his coming to life and running away; yet, short as the allowance was, he made a great deal of it. For even while jumping out his wits for wickedness came to him, and he just kicked the edge of the pot, so that it spilled all the scalding hot water into the fire, and threw up the ashes with a great splutter. They flew into the eyes of Dame Bear and blinded her.
Now this was hard on the old lady. She could not
go out hunting, or set traps, or fish any more; and her partner, being mean, kept all the nice morsels for herself. Mrs. Bear only got the leanest and poorest of the meat, though there was plenty of the best. As my grandfather used to say, Mrs. Bear might have fared better if she had used her eyes earlier.
One day, when she was sitting alone in the wigwam, Mrs. Bear began to remember all she had ever heard about eyes, and it came into her head that sometimes they were closed up in such a way that clever folk could cut them open again. So she got her knife and sharpened it, and, carefully cutting a little, saw the light of day. Then she was glad indeed, and with a little more cutting found that she could see as well as ever. And as good luck does not come single, the very first thing she beheld was an abundance of beautiful fat venison, fish, and maple-sugar hung up overhead.
Dame Bear said nothing about her having recovered her eyesight. She watched all the cooking going on, and saw the daintiest dinner, which all went into one platter, and a very poor lot of bones and scraps placed in another. Then, when she was called to eat, she simply said to the other woman, who kept the best, "Well, you have done well for yourself!"
The other saw that Mrs. Bear had recovered her sight. She was frightened, for Dame Bear was by far the better man of the two. So she cried out, "Bless me! what a mistake I've made! Why, I gave you the wrong dish. You know, my dear sister,
that I always give you the best because you are blind."
My grandfather said that after this Mrs. Bear kept her eyes open on people in two ways. And it always made us laugh, that did.
The Spirit of Mischief in these stories is sometimes Lox, the Wolverine; at others the Raccoon, or the Badger. Their adventures are interchangeable. But the character is always the same, and it is much like that of Loki. Now Loki is Fire; and it may be observed in this legend that the wolverine or raccoon comes to life when thrown into scalding water, and that in another narrative Lox dies for want of fire; in another he is pricked by thorns and stung by ants. "We must," says C. F. Keary, in his Mythology of the Eddas, "admit that the constant appearance of thorn-hedges, pricking with a sleep-thorn (Lox's thorns are his bed), in German and Norse legends, is a mythical way of expressing the idea of the funeral fire."
The first thing that the Lox-Raccoon does in this tale, on coming to life, is to upset a pot into the ashes for mischief's sake. And the very first exploit of the magic deer, made by the evil spirits and sorcerers in the Kalevala (Runes XIII.), is thus set forth:
"Then the Hüsi stag went bounding,
Bounding to the land of Pohja,
Till he reached the fields of Lapland.
Passing there before a cabin (goatte),
With a single kick while running p. 179
He upset the boiling kettle,
So that all the meat went rolling,
Rolling rained in the ashes,
And the soup upon the hearth-stone."
This is, in both cases, the very first act of an animal, created and living only for mischief, on coming to a magic or artificial life.
The legends of Finland and Lapland are as important as the Norse to explain the origin of our Indian mythology.