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The Invisible One Post by :kld113 Category :Short Stories Author :Charles G. Leland Date :July 2011 Read :1269

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The Invisible One


There was once a large Indian village situated on the border of a lake,--_Nameskeek' oodun Kuspemku_ (M.). At the end of the place was a lodge, in which dwelt a being who was always invisible. (Footnote: In this Micmac tale, which is manifestly corrupted in many ways, the hero is said to be "a youth whose _teeomul_ (or tutelary animal) was the moose," whence he took his name. In the Passamaquoddy version nothing is said about a moose. A detailed account of the difficulty attending the proper analysis of this tradition will be found at the end of this chapter.) He had a sister who attended to his wants, and it was known that any girl who could see him might marry him. Therefore there were indeed few who did not make the trial, but it was long ere one succeeded:

And it passed in this wise. Towards evening, when the Invisible One was supposed to be returning home, his sister would walk with any girls who came down to the shore of the lake. She indeed could see her brother, since to her he was always visible, and beholding him she would say to her companions, "Do you see my brother?" And then they would mostly answer, "Yes," though some said, "Nay,"--_alt telovejich, aa alttelooejik_. And then the sister would say, "_Cogoowa' wiskobooksich_?" "Of what is his shoulder-strap made?" But as some tell the tale, she would, inquire other things, such as, "What is his moose-runner's haul?" or, "With what does he draw his sled?" And they would reply, "A strip of rawhide," or "A green withe," or something of the kind. And then she, knowing they had not told the truth, would reply quietly, "Very well, let us return to the wigwam!"

And when they entered the place she would bid them not to take a certain seat, for it was his. And after they had helped to cook the supper they would wait with great curiosity to see Him eat. Truly he gave proof that he was a real person, for as he took off his moccasins they became visible, and his sister hung them up; but beyond this they beheld nothing not even when they remained all night, as many did.

There dwelt in the village an old man, a widower, with three daughters. The youngest of these was very small, weak, and often ill, which did not prevent her sisters, especially the eldest, treating her with great cruelty. The second daughter was kinder, and sometimes took the part of the poor abused little girl, but the other would burn her lands and face with hot coals; yes, her whole body was scarred with the marks made by torture, so that people called her _Oochigeaskw_ (the rough-faced girl). And when her father, coming home, asked what it meant that the child was so disfigured, her sister would promptly say that it was the fault of the girl, herself, for that, having been forbidden to go near the fire, she had disobeyed and fallen in.

Now it came to pass that it entered the heads of the two elder sisters of this poor girl that they would go and try their fortune at seeing the Invisible One. So they clad themselves in their finest and strove to look their fairest; and finding his sister at home went with her to take the wonted walk down to the water. Then when He came, being asked if they saw him, they said, "Certainly," and also replied to the question of the shoulder-strap or sled cord, "A piece of rawhide." In saying which, they lied, like the rest, for they had seen nothing, and got nothing for their pains.

When their father returned home the next evening he brought with him many of the pretty little shells from which _weiopeskool_ (M.), or wampum, was made, (Footnote: In Passamaquoddy wampum is called _waw-bap_. It is said that a single bead required a full day's work to make and finish it. It is not many years since it was made much more expeditiously in certain New York villages.) and they were soon engaged _napawejik_ (in stringing them). That day poor little Oochigeaskw', the burnt-faced girl, who had always run barefoot, got a pair of her father's old moccasins, and put them into water that they might become flexible to wear. And begging her sisters for a few wampum shells, the eldest did but call her "a lying little pest," but the other gave her a few. And having no clothes beyond a few paltry rags, the poor creature went forth and got herself from the woods a few sheets of birch bark, of which she made a dress, putting some figures on the bark. (Footnote: Probably by scraping. Birch bark (_moskwe_) peeled in winter can have the thin dark brown coat scraped away, leaving a very light yellowish-brown ground. Tornah Josephs and his niece Susan, of Princeton, Maine, are experts at this work.) And this dress she shaped like those worn of old. (Footnote: This remark indicates the lateness of the Micmac version of this very old myth.) So she made a petticoat and a loose gown, a cap, leggins, and handkerchief, and, having put on her father's great old moccasins,-- which came nearly up to her knees,--she went forth to try her luck. For even this little thing would see the Invisible One in the great wigwam at the end of the village.

Truly her luck had a most inauspicious beginning, for there was one long storm of ridicule and hisses, yells and hoots, from her own door to that which she went to seek. Her sisters tried to shame her, and bade her stay at home, but she would not obey; and all the idlers, seeing this strange little creature in her odd array, cried "Shame!" But she went on, for she was greatly resolved; it may be that some spirit had inspired her.

Now this poor small wretch in her mad attire, with her hair singed off and her little face as full of burns and scars as there are holes in a sieve, was, for all this, most kindly received by the sister of the Invisible One; for this noble girl knew more than the mere outside of things as the world knows them. And as the brown of the evening sky became black, she took her down to the lake. And erelong the girls knew that He had come. Then the sister said, "Do you see him?" And the other replied with awe, "Truly I do,--and He is wonderful." "And what is his sled-string?" "It is," she replied, "the Rainbow." And great fear was on her. "But, my sister," said the other, "what is his bow-string?" "His bowstring is _Ketaksoowowcht_" (the Spirits' Road, the Milky Way). (Footnote: The Spirits' or Ghosts' Road, so called because it is believed to be the highway by which spirits pass to and from the earth. The Micmac version, belittled and reduced in every way, limits this reply to "a _piece_ of a rainbow." There is a grandeur of conception in the Passamaquoddy myth which recalls the most stupendous similes in Scripture.)

"Thou hast seen him," said the sister. And, taking the girl home, she bathed her, and as she washed all the scars disappeared from face and body. Her hair grew again; it was very long, and like a blackbird's wing. Her eyes were like stars. In all the world was no such beauty. Then from her treasures she gave her a wedding garment, and adorned her. Under the comb, as she combed her, her hair grew. It was a great marvel to behold.

Then, having done this, she bade her take the _wife's seat_ in the wigwam,--that by which her brother sat, the seat next the door. And when He entered, terrible and beautiful, he smiled and said, "_Wajoolkoos_!" "So we are found out!" "_Alajulaa_." "Yes," was her reply. So she became his wife. (Footnote: This is the true end of this Indian Cupid and Psyche legend. But the Micmacs having, for no apparent reason, made the Stupendous Deity of the Heavens a moose (Team), have added to it another for the sake of the name, and which I give in due succession simply as an illustration of the manner in which tales are tacked together. I have very little doubt that the story as here given is an old solar myth, worked up, perhaps, with the story of Cinderella, derived from a Canadian-French source. There are enough of these French-Indian stories in my possession alone to form what would make one of the most interesting volumes of the series of the _Contes Populaires_. The Passamaquoddy version is to this effect: "There was a great being, a mighty hunter, who had a wife, of wonderful magic gifts, and a boy; and the child became blind. After a long time his sight returned, and he said so; but his mother was suspicious, and did not believe him." It is evident that she suspected that he saw by _clairvoyance_, not by literal vision. "So one day she bade her husband put on certain things which no one could behold who did not see them in truth. Then she asked the boy, 'What has your father for a sled-string?' (literally for a moose-runner haul). And he replied, 'The rainbow to haul by.' Then she asked him yet again, 'What has he for a bow-string?' And he answered, '_Ke'taksoo wowcht_;' 'The Spirits' or Ghosts' Road.' And once more she inquired, 'What has he on his sled?' To which he said, 'A beaver.' Then she knew that he could indeed see." (T. Josephs.)

We can perceive by shreds and patches such as these the _all but_ loss of an early and grand mythology which has undergone the usual transmutation into romantic and nursery legends. By great exertion we might recover it, but the old Indians who retain its fragments are passing away rapidly, and no subject attracts so little interest among our _literati_. A few hundred dollars expended annually in each State would result in the collection of all that is extant of this folk-lore; and a hundred years hence some few will, perhaps, regret that it was not done.

It may be observed that in the Edda the rainbow is the heavenly road over which the gods pass. The rainbow is not the Milky Way, but it may be observed that in this tale the two are curiously compared, or almost identified. But according to Charles Francis Keary (_Mythology of the Eddas_, London, 1882), "there is small hint in the Edda of the use of the _rainbow_ as a path for souls, save where Helgi says to his wife,--

"''Tis time for me to ride the ruddy road,
And on my horse to tread the path of flight,'"

which is more applicable to the Milky Way than the rainbow. "We owe," he says, "to the learned Adalbert Kohn some researches which have traced the path of the Milky Way as a bridge of souls from its first appearance in Eastern creeds to its later appearance in mediaeval German tradition." (_Zeitschrift f. v. Sp.l.c._) In the Vedas the Milky Way is called the Gods' Path. The American Indians firmly believe that the Spirits' Road is one of their very earliest traditions, and I believe with them that they had it long before Columbus discovered this country.

Since the foregoing remarks were written, Mrs. W. Wallace Brown has obtained the following fragment, which was given as a song, and declared to be very ancient:--

"Then was woman, long, long ago:
She came out of a hole.
In it dead people were buried.
She made her house in a tree;
She was dressed in leaves,
All long ago.
When she walked among the dry leaves
Her feet were so covered
The feet were invisible.
She walked through the woods,
Singing all the time,
'I want company; I'm lonesome!'
A wild man heard her:
From afar over the lakes and mountains
He came to her.
She saw him; she was afraid;
She tried to flee away,
For he was covered with the rainbow;
Color and light were his garments.
She ran, and he pursued rapidly;
He chased her to the foot of a mountain.
He spoke in a strange language,
She could not understand him at first.
He would make her tell where she dwelt.
They married, they had two children.
One of them was a boy,
He was blind from his birth,
But he frightened his mother by his sight.
He could tell her what was coming,
What was coming from afar
What was near he could not see.
He could see the bear and the moose
Far away beyond the mountains,
He could see through everything."

The old Indian woman ended this story by saying abruptly, "Don't know any more. Guess they all eat up by _mooin_" (the bear). She said that it was only a fragment. "If you could have heard her repeat this," adds Mrs. Brown, "in pieces, stopping to explain what the characters said, and describing how they looked, and anon singing it again, you would have got the _inner sense_ of a wonderfully weird tale. The woman's feet covering and the man's dress _like_ a rainbow, yet not one, which made their bodies invisible, seemed to exercise her imagination strangely; and these were to her the most important part of the story." The fragment is part of a very old myth; I regret to say a very obscure one.)

(The end)
Charles G. Leland's short story: Invisible One

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