The White Stone Canoe

: The Myth Of Hiawatha

There was once a very beautiful young girl, who died suddenly on the

day she was to have been married to a handsome young man. He was also

brave, but his heart was not proof against this loss. From the hour she

was buried, there was no more joy or peace for him. He went often to

visit the spot where the women had buried her, and sat musing there,

when, it was thought, by some of his friends, he would have done better

try to amuse himself in the chase, or by diverting his thoughts in

the war-path. But war and hunting had both lost their charms for him.

His heart was already dead within him. He pushed aside both his

war-club and his bow and arrows.

He had heard the old people say, that there was a path that led to the

land of souls, and he determined to follow it. He accordingly set out,

one morning, after having completed his preparations for the journey.

At first he hardly knew which way to go. He was only guided by the

tradition that he must go south. For a while he could see no change in

the face of the country. Forests, and hills, and valleys, and streams

had the same looks which they wore in his native place. There was snow

on the ground, when he set out, and it was sometimes seen to be piled

and matted on the thick trees and bushes. At length it began to

diminish, and finally disappeared. The forest assumed a more cheerful

appearance, and the leaves put forth their buds, and before he was

aware of the completeness of the change, he found himself surrounded by

spring. He had left behind him the land of snow and ice. The air became

mild; the dark clouds of winter had rolled away from the sky; a pure

field of blue was above him, and as he went he saw flowers beside his

path, and heard the songs of birds. By these signs he knew that he was

going the right way, for they agreed with the traditions of his tribe.

At length he spied a path. It led him through a grove, then up a long

and elevated ridge, on the very top of which he came to a lodge. At the

door stood an old man, with white hair, whose eyes, though deeply sunk,

had a fiery brilliancy. He had a long robe of skins thrown loosely

around his shoulders, and a staff in his hands. It was Chebiabos.

The young Chippewa began to tell his story; but the venerable chief

arrested him, before he had proceeded to speak ten words. "I have

expected you," he replied, "and had just risen to bid you welcome to my

abode. She whom you seek, passed here but a few days since, and being

fatigued with her journey, rested herself here. Enter my lodge and be

seated, and I will then satisfy your inquiries, and give you directions

for your journey from this point." Having done this, they both issued

forth to the lodge door. "You see yonder gulf," said he, "and the wide

stretching blue plains beyond. It is the land of souls. You stand upon

its borders, and my lodge is the gate of entrance. But you cannot take

your body along. Leave it here with your bow and arrows, your bundle,

and your dog. You will find them safe on your return." So saying, he

re-entered the lodge, and the freed traveller bounded forward, as if

his feet had suddenly been endowed with the power of wings. But all

things retained their natural colors and shapes. The woods and leaves,

and streams and lakes, were only more bright and comely than he had

ever witnessed. Animals bounded across his path, with a freedom and a

confidence which seemed to tell him, there was no blood shed here.

Birds of beautiful plumage inhabited the groves, and sported in the

waters. There was but one thing, in which he saw a very unusual effect.

He noticed that his passage was not stopped by trees or other objects.

He appeared to walk directly through them. They were, in fact, but the

souls or shadows of material trees. He became sensible that he was in a

land of shadows. When he had travelled half a day's journey, through a

country which was continually becoming more attractive, he came to the

banks of a broad lake, in the centre of which was a large and beautiful

island. He found a canoe of shining white stone, tied to the shore. He

was now sure that he had come the right path, for the aged man had told

him of this. There were also shining paddles. He immediately entered

the canoe, and took the paddles in his hands, when to his joy and

surprise, on turning round, he beheld the object of his search in

another canoe, exactly its counterpart in everything. She had exactly

imitated his motions, and they were side by side. They at once pushed

out from shore and began to cross the lake. Its waves seemed to be

rising, and at a distance looked ready to swallow them up; but just as

they entered the whitened edge of them they seemed to melt away, as if

they were but the images of waves. But no sooner was one wreath of foam

passed, than another, more threatening still, rose up. Thus they were

in perpetual fear; and what added to it, was the clearness of the

water, through which they could see heaps of beings who had perished

before, and whose bones lay strewed on the bottom of the lake. The

Master of Life had, however, decreed to let them pass, for the actions

of neither of them had been bad. But they saw many others struggling

and sinking in the waves. Old men and young men, males and females of

all ages and ranks, were there; some passed, and some sank. It was only

the little children whose canoes seemed to meet no waves. At length,

every difficulty was gone, as in a moment, and they both leaped out on

the happy island. They felt that the very air was food. It strengthened

and nourished them. They wandered together over the blissful fields,

where everything was formed to please the eye and the ear. There were

no tempests--there was no ice, no chilly winds--no one shivered for the

want of warm clothes: no one suffered for hunger--no one mourned the

dead. They saw no graves. They heard of no wars. There was no hunting

of animals; for the air itself was their food. Gladly would the young

warrior have remained there forever, but he was obliged to go back for

his body. He did not see the Master of Life, but he heard his voice in

a soft breeze. "Go back," said this voice, "to the land from whence you

come. Your time has not yet come. The duties for which I made you, and

which you are to perform, are not yet finished. Return to your people

and accomplish the duties of a good man. You will be the ruler of your

tribe for many days. The rules you must observe will be told you by my

messenger, who keeps the gate. When he surrenders back your body, he

will tell you what to do. Listen to him, and you shall afterwards

rejoin the spirit, which you must now leave behind. She is accepted,

and will be ever here, as young and as happy as she was when I first

called her from the land of snows." When this voice ceased, the

narrator awoke. It was the fancy work of a dream, and he was still in

the bitter land of snows, and hunger, and tears.