The Maiden Who Loved A Fish
: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian
There was once among the Marshpees, a small tribe who have their
hunting-grounds on the shores of the Great Lake, near the Cape of
Storms, a woman whose name was Awashanks. She was rather silly, and
very idle. For days together she would sit doing nothing. Then she was
so ugly and ill-shaped that not one of the youths of the village would
have aught to say to her by way of courtship or marriage. She squinted
her face was long and thin, her nose excessively large and
humped, her teeth crooked and projecting, her chin almost as sharp as
the bill of a loon, and her ears as large as those of a deer.
Altogether she was a very odd and strangely formed woman, and wherever
she went she never failed to excite much laughter and derision among
those who thought that ugliness and deformity were fit subjects for
Though so very ugly, there was one faculty she possessed in a more
remarkable degree than any woman of the tribe. It was that of singing.
Nothing, unless such could be found in the land of spirits, could
equal the sweetness of her voice or the beauty of her songs. Her
favourite place of resort was a small hill, a little removed from the
river of her people, and there, seated beneath the shady trees, she
would while away the hours of summer with her charming songs. So
beautiful and melodious were the things she uttered, that, by the time
she had sung a single sentence, the branches above her head would be
filled with the birds that came thither to listen, the thickets around
her would be crowded with beasts, and the waters rolling beside her
would be alive with fishes, all attracted by the sweet sounds. From
the minnow to the porpoise, from the wren to the eagle, from the snail
to the lobster, from the mouse to the mole,--all hastened to the spot
to listen to the charming songs of the hideous Marshpee maiden.
Among the fishes which repaired every night to the vicinity of the
Little Hillock, which was the chosen resting-place of the ugly
songstress, was the great chief of the trouts, a tribe of fish
inhabiting the river near by. The chief was of a far greater size than
the people of his nation usually are, being as long as a man, and
quite as thick.
Of all the creatures which came to listen to the singing of Awashanks
none appeared to enjoy it so highly as the chief of the trouts. As his
bulk prevented him from approaching so near as he wished, he, from
time to time, in his eagerness to enjoy the music to the best
advantage, ran his nose into the ground, and thus worked his way a
considerable distance into the land. Nightly he continued his
exertions to approach the source of the delightful sounds he heard,
till at length he had ploughed out a wide and handsome channel, and so
effected his passage from the river to the hill, a distance extending
an arrow's-flight. Thither he repaired every night at the commencement
of darkness, sure to meet the maiden who had become so necessary to
his happiness. Soon he began to speak of the pleasure he enjoyed, and
to fill the ears of Awashanks with fond protestations of his love and
affection. Instead of singing to him, she soon began to listen to his
voice. It was something so new and strange to her to hear the tones of
love and courtship, a thing so unusual to be told she was beautiful,
that it is not wonderful her head was turned by the new incident, and
that she began to think the voice of her lover the sweetest she had
ever heard. One thing marred their happiness. This was that the trout
could not live upon land, nor the maiden in the water. This state of
things gave them much sorrow.
They had met one evening at the usual place, and were discoursing
together, lamenting that two who loved one another so should be doomed
to always live apart, when a man appeared close to Awashanks. He asked
the lovers why they seemed to be so sad.
The chief of the trouts told the stranger the cause of their sorrow.
"Be not grieved nor hopeless," said the stranger, when the chief had
finished. "The impediments can be removed. I am the spirit who
presides over fishes, and though I cannot make a man or woman of a
fish, I can make them into fish. Under my power Awashanks shall become
a beautiful trout."
With that he bade the girl follow him into the river. When they had
waded in some little depth he took up some water in his hand and
poured it on her head, muttering some words, of which none but himself
knew the meaning. Immediately a change took place in her. Her body
took the form of a fish, and in a few moments she was a complete
trout. Having accomplished this transformation the spirit gave her to
the chief of the trouts, and the pair glided off into the deep and
quiet waters. She did not, however, forget the land of her birth.
Every season, on the same night as that upon which her disappearance
from her tribe had been wrought, there were to be seen two trouts of
enormous size playing in the water off the shore. They continued these
visits till the pale-faces came to the country, when, deeming
themselves to be in danger from a people who paid no reverence to the
spirits of the land, they bade it adieu for ever.