He of the Little Shell
Native American Folktale
Once upon a time, all the people of a certain country had died, excepting two helpless children, a baby boy and a little girl.
When their parents died, these children were asleep. The little girl, who was the elder, was the first to awake. She looked around her, but seeing nobody beside her little brother, who lay smiling in his dreams, she quietly resumed her bed.
At the end of ten days her brother moved, without opening his eyes.
At the end of ten days more he changed his position, lying on the other side, and in this way he kept on sleeping for a long time; and pleasant, too, must have been his dreams, for his little sister never looked at him that he was not quite a little heaven of smiles and flashing lights, which beamed about his head and filled the lodge with a strange splendor.
The girl soon grew to be a woman, but the boy increased in stature very slowly. It was a long time before he could even creep, and he was well advancedin years before he could stand alone. When he was able to walk, his sister made him a little bow and arrows, and hung around his neck a small shell, saying:
"You shall be called Dais Imid, or He of the Little Shell."
Every day he would go out with his little bow, shooting at the small birds. The first bird he killed was a tom-tit. His sister was highly pleased when he took it to her. She carefully prepared and stuffed it, and put it away for him.
The next day he killed a red squirrel. His sister preserved this, too. The third day he killed a partridge, and this they had for their evening meal.
After this he acquired more courage, and would venture some distance from home. His skill and success as a hunter daily increased, and he killed the deer, bear, moose, and other large animals inhabiting the forest.
At last, although so very small of stature, he became a great hunter, and all that he shot he brought home and shared with his sister; and whenever he entered the lodge, a light beamed about his head and filled the place with a strange splendor.
He had now arrived at the years of manhood, but he still remained a perfect infant in size.
One day, walking about in quest of game, he came to a small lake.
It was in the winter season; and upon the ice of the lake he saw a man of giant height, employed killing beavers.
Comparing himself with this great man, he felt that he was no bigger than an insect. He seated himself on the shore and watched his movements.
When the large man had killed many beavers, he put them on a hand-sled which he had, and pursued his way home. When he saw him retire, the dwarf hunter followed, and, wielding his magic shell, he cut off the tail of one of the beavers, and ran home with the prize.
The giant, on reaching his lodge with his sled-load of beavers, was surprised to find one of them shorn of its tail.
The next day the little hero of the shell went to the same lake. The giant, who had been busy there for some time, had already loaded his sled and commenced his return; but running nimbly forward and overtaking him, he succeeded in securing another of the beaver-tails.
"I wonder," said the giant, on reaching his lodge and overlooking his beavers, "what dog it is that has thus cheated me. Could I meet him, I would make his flesh quiver at the point of my javelin."
The giant forgot that he had taken these very beavers out of a beaver-dam which belonged to the little shell-man and his sister, without permission.
The next day he pursued his hunting at the beaver-dam near the lake, and he was again followed by the little man with the shell.
This time the giant was so nimble in his movements that he had nearly reached home before the Shell, make the best speed he could, could overtake him; but he was just in time to clip another beaver's tail before the sled slipped into the lodge.
The giant would have been a patient giant, indeed, if his anger had not been violent at these constant tricks played upon him. What vexed him most, was, that he could not get a sight of his enemy. Sharp eyes he would have needed to do so, inasmuch as he of the little shell had the gift of making himself invisible whenever he chose.
The giant, giving vent to his feelings with many loud rumbling words, looked sharply around to see whether he could discover any tracks. He could find none. The unknown had stepped too lightly to leave the slightest mark behind.
The next day the giant resolved to disappoint his mysterious follower by going to the beaver-dam very early; and accordingly, when the little shell man came to the place he found the fresh traces of his work, but the giant had already gone away. He followed hard upon his tracks, but he failed to overtake him. When he of the little shell came in sight of the lodge, the stranger was in front of it, employed in skinning his beavers.
As Dais-Imid stood looking at him—for he had been all this time invisible—he thought:
"I will let him have a view of me."
Presently the man, who proved to be no less a personage than the celebrated giant, Manabozho, looked up and saw him.
After regarding him with attention, "Who are you, little man?" said Manabozho. "I have a mind to kill you."
The little hero of the shell replied:
"If you were to try to kill me you could not do it."
With this speech of the little man, Manabozho grabbed at him; but when he thought to have had him in his hand, he was gone.
"Where are you now, little man?" cried Manabozho.
"Here, under your girdle," answered the shell-dwarf; at which giant Manabozho, thinking to crush him, slapped down his great hand with all his might; but on unloosing his girdle he was disappointed at finding no dwarf there.
"Where are you now, little man?" he cried again, in a greater rage than ever.
"In your right nostril!" the dwarf replied; whereupon the giant Manabozho seized himself by the finger and thumb at the place, and gave it a violent tweak; but as he immediately heard the voice of the dwarf at a distance upon the ground, he was satisfied that he had only pulled his own nose to no purpose.
"Good-by, Manabozho," said the voice of the invisible dwarf. "Count your beaver-tails, and you will find that I have taken another for my sister;" for he of the little shell never, in his wanderings or pastimes, forgot his sister and her wishes. "Good-by, beaver-man!"
And as he went away he made himself visible once more, and a light beamed about his head and lit the air around him with a strange splendor; a circumstance which Manabozho, who was at times quite thick-headed and dull of apprehension, could no way understand.
When Dais-Imid returned home, he told his sister that the time drew nigh when they must separate.
"I must go away," said Dais-Imid, "it is my fate. You, too," he added, "must go away soon. Tell me where you would wish to dwell."
She said, "I would like to go to the place of the breaking of daylight. I have always loved the East. The earliest glimpses of light are from that quarter, and it is to my mind the most beautiful part of the heavens. After I get there, my brother, whenever you see the clouds, in that direction, of various colors, you may think that your sister is painting her face."
"And I," said he, "I, my sister, shall live on the mountains and rocks. There I can see you at the earliest hour; there are the streams of water clear; the air is pure, and the golden lights will shine ever around my head, and I shall ever be called 'Puck-Ininee, or the Little Wild Man of the Mountains.' But," he resumed, "before we part forever, I must go and try to find what manitoes rule the earth, and see which of them will be friendly to us."
He left his sister and traveled over the surface of the globe, and then went far down into the earth.
He had been treated well wherever he went. At last he came to a giant manito, who had a large kettle which was forever boiling. The giant, who was a first cousin to Manabozho, and had already heard of the tricks which Dais-Imid had played upon his kinsman, regarded him with a stern look, and, catching him up in his hand, he threw him unceremoniously into the kettle.
It was evidently the giant's intention to drown Dais-Imid; in which he was mistaken, for by means of his magic shell, little Dais, in less than a second's time, bailed the water to the bottom, leaped from the kettle, and ran away unharmed.
He returned to his sister and related his rovings and adventures. He finished his story by addressing her thus:
"My sister there is a manito at each of the four corners of the earth. There is also one above them, far in the sky, a Great Being who assigns to you, and-to me, and to all of us, where we must go. And last," he continued, "there is another and wicked one who lives deep down in the earth. It will be our lot to escape out of his reach. We must now separate. When the winds blow from the four corners of the earth, you must then go. They will carry you to the place you wish. I go to the rocks and mountains, where my kindred will ever delight to dwell."
Dais-Imid then took his ball-stick and commenced running up a high mountain, and a bright light shone about his head all the way, and he kept singing as he went:
For her dwelling in the sky,
Where the morn, with rosy fingers,
Shall her cheeks with vermil dye.
Shall from her their color take,
And her smiles, through clouds reflected,
Guide me on by wood or lake.
Sport in valleys green and low,
Or, beside our Indian fountains,
Raise my tiny hip-hallo.
Presently the winds blew, and, as Dais-Imid had predicted, his sister was borne by them to the eastern sky, where she has ever since lived, and her name is now the Morning Star.
Notes:From the Original Legends
Contains 26 Native American folktales
Author: Cornelius Mathews
Publisher: Allen Brothers, New York