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

very much;
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.