Once long ago, before the white man came to Canada, an orphan boy was living alone with his uncle. He was not very happy, for he had to work very hard, and tasks more fitted for a man's shoulders than for a boy's were often placed upon him. When his parents died and left him without brother or sister, his uncle took him to his own home because there was no one else to take care of him. But he treated him very cruelly and often he wished to get rid of him. It mattered not how well the boy did his work or how many fish and animals he caught, his uncle was never satisfied, and often he beat the boy harshly and with little cause. The boy would have run away but he did not know where to go, and he feared to wander alone in the dark forest. So he decided to endure his hardships as best he could.
Now it happened that in a distant village near the sea there lived a Chief who was noted far and wide for his cruelty. He had a wicked temper, and he was known to have put many people to death for no reason whatsoever. More than all else, he hated boastfulness and he had scanty patience with anyone who was vain of his own strength. He pledged himself always to humble the proud and to debase the haughty. The boy's uncle had heard of this wicked ruler, and he said, "Here is a chance for me to get rid of the boy. I will tell lies about him to the Chief."
It chanced just at this time that three giants came into the Chief's territory. Where they came from, no man knew, but they dwelt in a large cave near the sea, and they caused great havoc and destruction in all the land. They ate up great stores of food, and all the little children they could lay their hands on. The Chief used every means to get rid of the giants, but without success. Night after night his best warriors went to the cave by the ocean to seek out the giants, but not a man returned. A piece of birch bark bearing a picture of a warrior with an arrow in his heart, found the next day at the Chief's door, always told him of the warrior's fate. And the giants continued their cruel work, for no one could stop them.
Soon all the country was in great terror. The Chief wondered greatly what was to be done. At last he thought, "I will give my daughter to the man who can rid me of these pests." His daughter was his only child and she was very beautiful, and he knew that many suitors would now appear to seek her hand, for although the task was dangerous, the prize was worth while. When the wicked uncle in the distant village heard of it, he thought, "Now I can get rid of the boy, for I will tell the Chief that the boy says he can kill the giants." So taking his nephew with him he went to the Chief's house and begged to see him. "Oh, Chief," he said, "I have a boy who boasts that before many days have passed he can free your land from the giants." And the Chief said, "Bring him to me." The man said, "Here he is." The Chief was surprised when he saw the small boy, and he said, "You have promised that you can rid my land of giants. Now we shall see if you can do it. If you succeed you may have my daughter. If you fail, you will die. If you escape from the giants, I will kill you myself. I hate vain boasters, and they shall not live in my land."
The boy went and sat by the ocean, and cried as hard as he could. He thought that he would surely die, for he was very small and he had no means of killing the giants. But as he sat there an old woman came along. She came quietly and quickly out of the grey mist of the sea. And she said, "Why are you crying?" And the boy said, "I am crying because I am forced to attack the giants in the cave, and if I cannot kill them I shall surely die," and he cried louder than before. But the old woman, who was the good fairy of the sea, said, "Take this bag and this knife and these three little stones that I will give you, and when you go to-night to the giants' cave, use them as I tell you and all will be well." She gave him three small white stones and a small knife, and a bag like the bladder of a bear, and she taught him their use. Then she disappeared into the grey mist that hung low on the ocean and the boy never saw her again.
The boy lay down on the sand and went to sleep. When he awoke, the moon was shining, and far along the coast in the bright light he could see an opening in the rocks which he knew was the entrance to the giants' cave. Taking his bag and his knife and the three little stones, he approached it cautiously with a trembling heart. When he reached the mouth of the cave he could hear the giants snoring inside, all making different noises, louder than the roar of the sea. Then he remembered the old woman's instructions. He tied the bag inside his coat so that the mouth of it was close to his chin. Then he took one of the stones from his pocket. At once it grew to immense size, so heavy that the boy could scarcely hold it. He threw it at the biggest giant with great force, and it hit him squarely on the head. The giant sat up staring wildly and rubbing his brow. He kicked his younger brother, who was lying beside him, and said in great anger, "Why did you strike me?" "I did not strike you," said his brother. "You struck me on the head while I slept," said the giant, "and if you do it again I will kill you." Then they went to sleep again.
When the boy heard them snoring loudly again, he took a second stone from his pocket. At once it grew great in size and the boy hurled it with great force at the biggest giant. Again the giant sat up staring wildly and rubbing his head. But this time he did not speak. He grasped his axe, which was lying beside him, and killed his brother with a blow. Then he went to sleep again. When the boy heard him snoring, he took the third stone from his pocket. At once it grew to great size and weight, and he hurled it with all his force at the giant. Again the giant sat up with great staring eyes, rubbing the lump on his head. He was now in a great rage. "My brothers have plotted to kill me," he yelled, and seizing his axe he killed his remaining brother with a blow. Then he went to sleep, and the boy slipped from the cave, first gathering up the three stones, which were now of their usual small size.
The next morning when the giant went to get water from the stream, the boy hid in the trees and began to cry loudly. The giant soon discovered him and asked, "Why are you crying?" "I have lost my way," said the boy, "my parents have gone and left me. Please take me into your service, for I would like to work for such a kind handsome man, and I can do many things." The giant was flattered by what the boy said, and although he liked to eat little children, he thought, "Now that I am alone, I ought to have a companion, so I will spare the boy's life and make him my servant." And he took the boy back to his cave, and said, "Cook my dinner before I come home. Make some good stew, for I shall be very hungry."
When the giant went into the forest the boy prepared the evening meal. He cut up a great store of deer meat and put it in a large pot bigger than a hogshead, and made a good meat stew. When the giant came home in the evening he was very hungry, and he was well pleased to see the big pot filled with his favourite food. He seated himself on one side of the pot, and the boy seated himself on the other side, and they dipped their spoons into the big dish. And the boy said, "We must eat it all up so that I can clean the pot well and ready for the corn mush we will have for breakfast." The stew was very hot, and to cool it before he ate it the giant blew his breath on what he dipped out. But the boy poured his own share into the bag under his coat, and said, "Why can't you eat hot food—a big man like you? In my country men never stop to cool their stew with their breath." Now the giant could not see very well, for his eyesight was not very good, and the cave was dark, and he did not notice the boy putting the stew in the bag so quickly. He thought the boy was eating it. And he was shamed by the boy's taunts because he was so much larger than the boy, so he ate up the hot stew at once in great gulps and burned his throat badly. But he was too proud to stop or to complain.
When they had eaten half the potful, the giant said, "I am full. I think I have had enough." "No, indeed," said the boy, "you must show that you like my cooking. In my country men eat much more than that," and he kept on eating. The giant was not to be outdone by a boy, so he fell to eating again, and they did not stop until they had consumed the whole potful of stew. But the boy had poured his share into the bag and when they had finished he was swelled out to an immense size. The giant could scarcely move, he had eaten so much, and he said, "I have eaten too much; I feel very full, and I have a great pain in my belly." And the boy said, "I do not feel very comfortable myself, but I have a way to cure pains." So saying he took his little knife and thrust it gently into the side of the bag and the stew oozed out and he was soon back to his normal size. The giant wondered greatly at the sight, but the boy said, "It is a way they have in my country after they have had a great feast." "Does the knife not hurt?" asked the giant. "No, indeed," said the boy, "it brings great relief." "My throat is very sore," said the giant, for the hot stew had burned him. "You will soon feel better," said the boy, "if you will do as I have done." The giant hesitated to do this, but soon he felt so uncomfortable that he could bear it no longer. He saw that the boy was feeling quite well. So he took his long knife and plunged it into his stomach. "Strike hard," said the boy, "or it will do you no good." The giant plunged the knife into the hilt, and in an instant he fell dead.
Then the boy took the stones and the bag and the knife which the Woman of the Mist had given him and went and told the Chief what he had done. The Chief sent his messengers to the cave to make sure that the boy spoke the truth. Sure enough, they found the three giants lying dead. When they told the Chief what they had seen, he said to the boy, "You may have my daughter as your wife." But the boy said, "I do not want your daughter. She is too old and fat. I want only traps to catch fish and game." So the Chief gave the boy many good traps, and he went into a far country to hunt game, and there he lived happily by himself. And his wicked uncle never saw him again. But the land was troubled no more by giants, because of the boy's great deeds.
Notes: Contains 26 Native American folktales gathered from Canada.
Author: Cyrus Macmillan
Publisher: S. B. Gundy, Toronto; John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd., London