The Little Spirit or Boy-Man
Native American Folktale
In a little lodge at a beautiful spot on a lake shore, alone with his sister, lived a boy remarkable for the smallness of his stature. Many large rocks were scattered around their habitation, and it had a very wild and out-of-the-way look.
The boy grew no larger as he advanced in years, and yet, small as he was, he had a big spirit of his own, and loved dearly to play the master in the lodge. One day in winter he told his sister to make him a ball to play with, as he meant to have some sport along the shore on the clear ice. When she handed him the ball, his sister cautioned him not to go too far.
He laughed at her, and posted off in high glee, throwing his ball before him and running after it at full speed, and he went as fast as his ball. At last his ball flew to a great distance; he followed as fast as he could. After he had run forward for some time, he saw what seemed four dark spots upon the ice, straight before him.
When he came up to the shore he was surprised to see four large, tall men, lying on the ice, spearing fish. They were four brothers, who looked exactly alike. As the little boy-man approached them, the nearest looked up, and in his turn he was surprised to see such a tiny being, and turning to his brothers, he said:
"Tia! look! see what a little fellow is here."
The three others thereupon looked up too, and seeing these four faces, as if they had been one, the little spirit or boy-man said to himself:
"Four in one! What a time they must have in choosing their hunting-shirts!"
After they had all stared for a moment at the boy, they covered their heads, intent in searching for fish. The boy thought to himself:
"These four-faces fancy that I am to be put off without notice because I am so little, and they are so broad and long. They shall find out. I may find a way to teach them that I am not to be treated so lightly."
After they were covered up, the boy-man, looking sharply about, saw that among them they had caught one large trout, which was lying just by their side. Stealing along, he slyly seized it, and placing his fingers in the gills, and tossing his ball before him, he ran off at full speed.
They heard the pattering of his little steps upon the ice, and when the four looked up all together, they saw their fine trout sliding away, as if of itself, at a great rate, the boy being so small that he could not be distinguished from the fish.
"See!" they cried out, "our fish is running away on the dry land!"
When they stood up they could just see, over the fish's head, that it was the boy-man who was carrying it off.
The little spirit reached the lodge, and having left the trout at the door, he told his sister to go out and bring in the fish he had brought home.
She exclaimed, "Where could you have got it? I hope you have not stolen it."
"Oh," he replied, "I found it on the ice. It was caught in our lake. Have we no right to a little lake of our own? I shall claim all the fish that come out of its waters."
"How," the sister asked again, "could you have got it there?"
"No matter," said the boy; "go and cook it."
It was as much as the girl could do to drag the great trout within doors. She cooked it, and its flavor was so delicious that she asked no more questions as to how he had come by it.
The next morning the little spirit or boy-man set off as he had the day before.
He made all sorts of sport with his ball as he frolicked along—high over his head he would toss it, straight up into the air; then far before him, and again, in mere merriment of spirit, he would send it bounding back, as if he had plenty of speed and enough to spare in running back after it. And the ball leaped and bounded about, and glided through the air as if it were a live thing, and enjoyed the sport as much as the boy-man himself.
When he came within hail of the four large men, who were fishing there every day, he cast his ball with such force that it rolled into the ice-hole about which they were busy. The boy, standing on the shore of the lake, called out:
"Four-in-one, pray hand me my ball."
"No, indeed," they answered, setting up a grim laugh which curdled their four dark faces all at once, "we shall not;" and with their fishing-spears they thrust the ball under the ice.
"Good!" said the boy-man, "we shall see."
Saying which he rushed upon the four brothers and thrust them at one push into the water. His ball bounded back to the surface, and, picking it up, he ran off, tossing it before him in his own sportive way. Outstripping it in speed he soon reached home, and remained within till the next morning.
The four brothers, rising up from the water at the same time, dripping and wroth, roared out in one voice a terrible threat of vengeance, which they promised to execute the next day. They knew the boy's speed, and that they could by no means overtake him.
By times in the morning, the four brothers were stirring in their lodge, and getting ready to look after their revenge.
Their old mother, who lived with them, begged them not to go.
"Better," said she, "now that your clothes are dry, to think no more of the ducking than to go and all four of you get your heads broken, as you surely will, for that boy is a monedo or he could not perform such feats as he does."
But her sons paid no heed to this wise advice, and, raising a great war-cry, which frightened the birds overhead nearly out of their feathers, they started for the boy's lodge among the rocks.
The little spirit or boy-man heard them roaring forth their threats as they approached, but he did not appear to be disquieted in the least. His sister as yet had heard nothing; after a while she thought she could distinguish the noise of snow-shoes on the snow, at a distance, but rapidly advancing. She looked out, and seeing the four large men coming straight to their lodge she was in great fear, and running in, exclaimed:
"He is coming, four times as strong as ever!" for she supposed that the one man whom her brother had offended had become so angry as to make four of himself in order to wreak his vengeance.
The boy-man said, "Why do you mind them? Give me something to eat."
"How can you think of eating at such a time?" she replied.
"Do as I request you, and be quick."
She then gave little spirit his dish, and he commenced eating.
Just then the brothers came to the door.
"See!" cried the sister, "the man with four heads!"
The brothers were about to lift the curtain at the door, when the boy-man turned his dish upside down, and immediately the door was closed with a stone; upon which the four brothers set to work and hammered with their clubs with great fury, until at length they succeeded in making a slight opening. One of the brothers presented his face at this little window, and rolled his eye about at the boy-man in a very threatening way.
The little spirit, who, when he had closed the door, had returned to his meal, which he was quietly eating, took up his bow and arrow which lay by his side, and let fly the shaft, which, striking the man in the head, he fell back. The boy-man merely called out "Number one" as he fell, and went on with his meal.
In a moment a second face, just like the first, presented itself; and as he raised his bow, his sister said to him:
"What is the use? You have killed that man already."
Little spirit fired his arrow—the man fell—he called out "Number two," and continued his meal.
The two others of the four brothers were dispatched in the same quiet way, and counted off as "Number three" and "Number four."
After they were all well disposed of in this way, the boy-man directed his sister to go out and see them. She presently ran back, saying:
"There are four of them."
"Of course," the boy-man answered, "and there always shall be four of them."
Going out himself, the boy-man raised the brothers to their feet, and giving each a push, one with his face to the East, another to the West, a third to the South, and the last to the North, he sent them off to wander about the earth; and whenever you see four men just alike, they are the four brothers whom the little spirit or boy-man dispatched upon their travels.
But this was not the last display of the boy-man's power.
When spring came on, and the lake began to sparkle in the morning sun, the boy-man said to his sister:
"Make me a new set of arrows, and a bow."
Although he provided for their support, the little spirit never performed household or hard work of any kind, and his sister obeyed.
When she had made the weapons, which, though they were very small, were beautifully wrought and of the best stuff the field and wood could furnish, she again cautioned him not to shoot into the lake.
"She thinks," said the boy-man to himself, "I can see no further into the water than she. My sister shall learn better."
Regardless of her warnings, he on purpose discharged a shaft into the lake, waded out into the water till he got into its depth, and paddled about for his arrow, so as to call the attention of his sister, and as if to show that he hardily braved her advice.
She hurried to the shore, calling on him to return; but instead of heeding her, he cried out:
"You of the red fins, come and swallow me!"
Although his sister did not clearly understand whom her brother was addressing, she too called out:
"Don't mind the foolish boy!"
The boy-man's order seemed to be best attended to, for immediately a monstrous fish came and swallowed him. Before disappearing entirely, catching a glimpse of his sister standing in despair upon the shore, the boy-man hallooed out to her:
She wondered what he meant. At last it occurred to her that it must be an old moccasin. She accordingly ran to the lodge, and bringing one, she tied it to a string attached to a tree, and cast it into the water.
The great fish said to the boy-man under water.
"What is that floating?"
To which the boy-man replied:
"Go, take hold of it, swallow it as fast as you can; it is a great delicacy."
The fish darted toward the old shoe and swallowed it, making of it a mere mouthful.
The boy-man laughed in himself, but said nothing, till the fish was fairly caught, when he took hold of the line and began to pull himself in his fish-carriage ashore.
The sister, who was watching all this time, opened wide her eyes as the huge fish came up and up upon the shore; and she opened them still more when the fish seemed to speak, and she heard from within a voice, saying, "Make haste and release me from this nasty place."
It was her brother's voice, which she was accustomed to obey; and she made haste with her knife to open a door in the side of the fish, from which the boy-man presently leaped forth. He lost no time in ordering her to cut it up and dry it; telling her that their spring supply of meat was now provided.
The sister now began to believe that her brother was an extraordinary boy; yet she was not altogether satisfied in her mind that he was greater than the rest of the world.
They sat, one evening, in the lodge, musing with each other in the dark, by the light of each other's eyes—for they had no other of any kind—when the sister said, "My brother, it is strange that you, who can do so much, are no wiser than the Ko-ko, who gets all his light from the moon; which shines or not, as it pleases."
"And is not that light enough?" asked the little spirit.
"Quite enough," the sister replied. "If it would but come within the lodge and not sojourn out in the tree-tops and among the clouds."
"We will have a light of our own, sister," said the boy-man; and, casting himself upon a mat by the door, he commenced singing:
Light me to bed and my song I will sing;
Give me your light, as you fly o'er my head,
That I may merrily go to my bed.
That I may joyfully go to my sleep;
Come, little fire-fly, come little beast,
Come! and I'll make you to-morrow a feast.
Bright little fairy-bug, night's little king;
Come and I'll dream as you guide me along;
Come and I'll pay you, my bug, with a song.
As the boy-man chanted this call, they came in at first one by one, then in couples, till at last, swarming in little armies, the fire-flies lit up the little lodge with a thousand sparkling lamps, just as the stars were lighting the mighty hollow of the sky without.
The faces of the sister and brother shone upon each other, from their opposite sides of the lodge, with a kindly gleam of mutual trustfulness; and never more from that hour did a doubt of each other darken their little household.
Notes:From the Original Legends
Contains 26 Native American folktales
Author: Cornelius Mathews
Publisher: Allen Brothers, New York