The Trailing Arbutus
A Native American Legend
Many, many moons ago, in a lodge in a forest, there lived an old man. His hair was white as the snowdrift. All the world was winter; snow and ice were everywhere, and the old man wore heavy furs.
The winds went wildly through the forest searching every bush and tree for birds to chill. The old man looked in vain in the deep snow for pieces of wood to keep up the fire in his lodge. Then he sat down by his dull and low fire.
Shaking and trembling he sat there, hearing nothing but the tempest as it roared through the forest, seeing nothing but the snowstorm as it whirled and hissed and drifted.
All the coals became white with ashes, and the fire was slowly dying. Suddenly the wind blew aside the door of the lodge, and there came in a most beautiful maiden.
Her cheeks were like the wild rose, her eyes were soft and glowed like the stars in springtime; and her hair was as brown as October's nuts.
Her dress was of ferns and sweet grasses, her moccasins were of white lilies, on her head was a wreath of wild flowers, and in her hands were beautiful blossoms. When she breathed, the air became warm and fragrant.
"Ah, my daughter," exclaimed the old man. "Happy are my eyes to see you. Sit here on the mat beside me; sit here by the dying embers. Tell me of your strange adventures, and I will tell you of my deeds of wonder."
From his pouch he drew his peace pipe, very old and strangely fashioned. He filled the pipe with bark of willow, and placed a burning coal upon it.
Then he said, "I am Manito, the Mighty. When I blow my breath about me, the rivers become motionless and the waters hard as stone."
The maiden smiling said, "When I blow my breath about me, flowers spring up over all the meadows. And all the rivers rush onward, singing songs of joy."
"When I shake my hoary tresses," said the old man, darkly frowning, "all the ground is covered with snow. All the leaves fade and wither."
"When I shake my flowing ringlets," said the maiden, "the warm rains fall over all the land."
Then proudly the old man replied, "When I walk through the forest, everything flees before me. The animals hide in their holes. The birds rise from the lakes and the marshes, and fly to distant regions."
Softly the maiden answered, "When I walk through the forest, all is bright and joyous. The animals come from their holes. The birds return to the lakes and marshes. The leaves come back to the trees. The plants lift up their heads to kiss the breezes. And where-ever my footsteps wander, all the meadows wave their blossoms, all the woodlands ring with music."
While they talked, the night departed. From his shining lodge of silver came the sun. The air was warm and pleasant; the streams began to murmur; the birds began to sing. And a scent of growing grasses was wafted through the lodge.
The old man's face dropped upon his breast, and he slept. Then the maiden saw more clearly the icy face before her - saw the icy face of winter.
Slowly she passed her hands above his head. Streams of water ran from his eyes, and his body shrunk and dwindled till it faded into the air - vanished into the earth - and his clothing turned to green leaves.
The maiden took from her bosom the most precious flowers. Kneeling upon the ground, she hid them all about among the leaves.
"I give you my most precious flowers and my sweetest breath," she said, "but all who would pluck you must do so upon bended knee."
Then the maiden moved away - through the forest and over the waking fields; and wherever she stepped, and nowhere else in all the land, grows the trailing arbutus.
Sources And Further Reading
Project Gutenberg The Child's World Third Reader by Hetty S. Browne