The Strange Guests
Source: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian
Many years ago there lived, near the borders of Lake Superior, a noted
hunter, who had a wife and one child. His lodge stood in a remote part
of the forest, several days' journey from that of any other person. He
spent his days in hunting, and his evenings in relating to his wife
the incidents that had befallen him in the chase. As game was very
abundant, he seldom failed to bring home in the evening an ample store
of meat to last them until the succeeding evening; and while they were
seated by the fire in his lodge partaking the fruits of his day's
labour, he entertained his wife with conversation, or by occasionally
relating those tales, or enforcing those precepts, which every good
Indian esteems necessary for the instruction of his wife and children.
Thus, far removed from all sources of disquiet, surrounded by all they
deemed necessary to their comfort, and happy in one another's society,
their lives passed away in cheerful solitude and sweet contentment.
The breast of the hunter had never felt the compunctions of remorse,
for he was a just man in all his dealings. He had never violated the
laws of his tribe by encroaching upon the hunting-grounds of his
neighbours, by taking that which did not belong to him, or by any act
calculated to displease the village chiefs or offend the Great Spirit.
His chief ambition was to support his family with a sufficiency of
food and skins by his own unaided exertions, and to share their
happiness around his cheerful fire at night. The white man had not yet
taught them that blankets and clothes were necessary to their comfort,
or that guns could be used in the killing of game.
The life of the Chippewa hunter peacefully glided away.
One evening during the winter season, it chanced that he remained out
later than usual, and his wife sat lonely in the lodge, and began to
be agitated with fears lest some accident had befallen him. Darkness
had already fallen. She listened attentively to hear the sound of
coming footsteps; but nothing could be heard but the wind mournfully
whistling around the sides of the lodge. Time passed away while she
remained in this state of suspense, every moment augmenting her fears
and adding to her disappointment.
Suddenly she heard the sound of approaching footsteps upon the frozen
surface of the snow. Not doubting that it was her husband, she quickly
unfastened the loop which held, by an inner fastening, the skin door
of the lodge, and throwing it open she saw two strange women standing
before it. Courtesy left the hunter's wife no time for deliberation.
She invited the strangers to enter and warm themselves, thinking, from
the distance to the nearest neighbours, they must have walked a
considerable way. When they were entered she invited them to remain.
They seemed to be total strangers to that part of the country, and the
more closely she observed them the more curious the hunter's wife
became respecting her guests.
No efforts could induce them to come near the fire. They took their
seats in a remote part of the lodge, and drew their garments about
them in such a manner as to almost completely hide their faces. They
seemed shy and reserved, and when a glimpse could be had of their
faces they appeared pale, even of a deathly hue. Their eyes were
bright but sunken: their cheek-bones were prominent, and their persons
slender and emaciated.
Seeing that her guests avoided conversation as well as observation,
the woman forbore to question them, and sat in silence until her
husband entered. He had been led further than usual in the pursuit of
game, but had returned with the carcass of a large and fat deer. The
moment he entered the lodge, the mysterious women exclaimed--
"Behold! what a fine and fat animal!" and they immediately ran and
pulled off pieces of the whitest fat, which they ate with avidity.
Such conduct appeared very strange to the hunter, but supposing the
strangers had been a long time without food, he made no remark; and
his wife, taking example from her husband, likewise restrained
On the following evening the same scene was repeated. The hunter
brought home the best portions of the game he had killed, and while he
was laying it down before his wife, according to custom, the two
strange women came quickly up, tore off large pieces of fat, and ate
them with greediness. Such behaviour might well have aroused the
hunter's displeasure; but the deference due to strange guests induced
him to pass it over in silence.
Observing the parts to which the strangers were most partial, the
hunter resolved the next day to anticipate their wants by cutting off
and tying up a portion of the fat for each. This he did: and having
placed the two portions of fat upon the top of his burden, as soon as
he entered the lodge he gave to each stranger the part that was hers.
Still the guests appeared to be dissatisfied, and took more from the
carcass lying before the wife.
Except for this remarkable behaviour, the conduct of the guests was
unexceptionable, although marked by some peculiarities. They were
quiet, modest, and discreet. They maintained a cautious silence during
the day, neither uttering a word nor moving from the lodge. At night
they would get up, and, taking those implements which were then used
in breaking and preparing wood, repair to the forest. Here they would
busy themselves in seeking dry branches and pieces of trees blown down
by the wind. When a sufficient quantity had been gathered to last
until the succeeding night they carried it home upon their shoulders.
Then carefully putting everything in its place within the lodge, they
resumed their seats and their studied silence. They were always
careful to return from their labours before the dawn of day, and were
never known to stay out beyond that hour. In this manner they repaid,
in some measure, the kindness of the hunter, and relieved his wife
from one of her most laborious duties.
Thus nearly the whole year passed away, every day leading to some new
development of character which served to endear the parties to each
other. The visitors began to assume a more hale and healthy aspect;
their faces daily lost something of that deathly hue which had at
first marked them, and they visibly improved in strength, and threw
off some of that cold reserve and forbidding austerity which had kept
the hunter so long in ignorance of their true character.
One evening the hunter returned very late after having spent the day
in toilsome exertion, and having laid the produce of his hunt at his
wife's feet, the silent women seized it and began to tear off the fat
in such an unceremonious manner that the wife could no longer control
her feelings of disgust, and said to herself--
"This is really too bad. How can I bear it any longer!"
She did not, however, put her thought into words, but an immediate
change was observed in the two visitors. They became unusually
reserved, and showed evident signs of being uneasy in their situation.
The good hunter immediately perceived this change, and, fearful that
they had taken offence, as soon as they had retired demanded of his
wife whether any harsh expression had escaped her lips during the day.
She replied that she had uttered nothing to give the least offence.
The hunter tried to compose himself to sleep, but he felt restive and
uneasy, for he could hear the sighs and lamentations of the two
strangers. Every moment added to his conviction that his guests had
taken some deep offence; and, as he could not banish this idea from
his mind, he arose, and, going to the strangers, thus addressed them--
"Tell me, ye women, what is it that causes you pain of mind, and makes
you utter these unceasing sighs? Has my wife given you any cause of
offence during the day while I was absent in the chase? My fears
persuade me that, in some unguarded moment, she has forgotten what is
due to the rights of hospitality, and used expressions ill-befitting
the mysterious character you sustain. Tell me, ye strangers from a
strange country, ye women who appear not to be of this world, what it
is that causes you pain of mind, and makes you utter these unceasing
They replied that no unkind expression had ever been used towards them
during their residence in the lodge, that they had received all the
affectionate attention they could reasonably expect.
"It is not for ourselves," they continued, "it is not for ourselves
that we weep. We are weeping for the fate of mankind; we are weeping
for the fate of mortals whom Death awaits at every stage of their
existence. Proud mortals, whom disease attacks in youth and in age.
Vain men, whom hunger pinches, cold benumbs, and poverty emaciates.
Weak beings, who are born in tears, who are nurtured in tears, and
whose whole course is marked upon the thirsty sands of life in a broad
line of tears. It is for these we weep.
"You have spoken truly, brother; we are not of this world. We are
spirits from the land of the dead, sent upon the earth to try the
sincerity of the living. It is not for the dead but for the living
that we mourn. It was by no means necessary that your wife should
express her thoughts to us. We knew them as soon as they were formed.
We saw that for once displeasure had arisen in her heart. It is
enough. Our mission is ended. We came but to try you, and we knew
before we came that you were a kind husband, an affectionate father,
and a good friend. Still, you have the weaknesses of a mortal, and
your wife is wanting in our eyes; but it is not alone for you we weep,
it is for the fate of mankind.
"Often, very often, has the widower exclaimed, 'O Death, how cruel,
how relentless thou art to take away my beloved friend in the spring
of her youth, in the pride of her strength, and in the bloom of her
beauty! If thou wilt permit her once more to return to my abode, my
gratitude shall never cease; I will raise up my voice continually to
thank the Master of Life for so excellent a boon. I will devote my
time to study how I can best promote her happiness while she is
permitted to remain; and our lives shall roll away like a pleasant
stream through a flowing valley!' Thus also has the father prayed for
his son, the mother for her daughter, the wife for her husband, the
sister for her brother, the lover for his mistress, the friend for his
bosom companion, until the sounds of mourning and the cries of the
living have pierced the very recesses of the dead.
"The Great Spirit has at length consented to make a trial of the
sincerity of these prayers by sending us upon the earth. He has done
this to see how we should be received,--coming as strangers, no one
knowing from where. Three moons were allotted to us to make the trial,
and if, during that time, no impatience had been evinced, no angry
passions excited at the place where we took up our abode, all those in
the land of spirits, whom their relatives had desired to return, would
have been restored. More than two moons have already passed, and as
soon as the leaves began to bud our mission would have been
successfully terminated. It is now too late. Our trial is finished,
and we are called to the pleasant fields whence we came.
"Brother, it is proper that one man should die to make room for
another. Otherwise, the world would be filled to overflowing. It is
just that the goods gathered by one should be left to be divided
among others; for in the land of spirits there is no want, there is
neither sorrow nor hunger, pain nor death. Pleasant fields, filled
with game spread before the eye, with birds of beautiful form. Every
stream has good fish in it, and every hill is crowned with groves of
fruit-trees, sweet and pleasant to the taste. It is not here, brother,
but there that men begin truly to live. It is not for those who
rejoice in those pleasant groves but for you that are left behind that
"Brother, take our thanks for your hospitable treatment. Regret not
our departure. Fear not evil. Thy luck shall still be good in the
chase, and there shall ever be a bright sky over thy lodge. Mourn not
for us, for no corn will spring up from tears."
The spirits ceased, but the hunter had no power over his voice to
reply. As they had proceeded in their address he saw a light gradually
beaming from their faces, and a blue vapour filled the lodge with an
unnatural light. As soon as they ceased, darkness gradually closed
around. The hunter listened, but the sobs of the spirits had ceased.
He heard the door of his tent open and shut, but he never saw more of
his mysterious visitors.
The success promised him was his. He became a celebrated hunter, and
never wanted for anything necessary to his ease. He became the father
of many boys, all of whom grew up to manhood, and health, peace, and
long life were the rewards of his hospitality.
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