Passing of Glooskap
The Passing of Glooskap
GLOOSKAP, the magic master of the Indian tribes along the Atlantic coast of Canada, had very great power for many ages. But as he grew old, his power gradually grew less. He had done in his long lifetime many great and noble deeds. He had freed his land of all the mighty monsters that had inhabited it before his coming. No evil beasts nor serpents nor dragons were now found near his home, and there were no longer cruel giants in the forest hard by. He had made his people happy. But, strangely enough, his people showed him but scanty gratitude. When he grew old they became evil, and they were not as faithful as in the days of his youth and strength. Even the animals grew treacherous. His dogs, once loyal, were no longer eager to do his bidding, and one stormy day as he fished for porpoises they stubbornly refused to obey his command to head off the fish. Thereupon, in anger, he changed his dogs into a stone island, now a rocky light-housed island on the Atlantic coast. All around him he saw signs of faithlessness, and often he was in great sorrow because of his people's ingratitude.
One afternoon in the autumn, Glooskap walked alone by the ocean, thinking silently of his people's evil ways and of his own vanished strength. Behind him the tall trees rose on the hills, their leaves now turned to a mass of many colours, yellow and red under the autumn sun. Here and there clusters of red autumn berries peeped through the dying leaves. On the high bank long stalks of golden-rod nodded their faded heads; the grass was withered brown, and from its depths came the doleful sounds of crickets. Before him lay the sea, still and idle and grey in the soft mellow light. Subdued noises came from the tents near by, where his people, busy and expectant, were making arrows for the great annual autumn hunt, for the hunter's moon had come. Otherwise, a strange silencethe silence of Nature's deathfilled the air. Glooskap knew, as he moodily walked along the beach, that Summer had gone, that she had fled from the Northland, following the moose-hide cord he had placed for her along the Rainbow Road to the Wilderness of Flowers. Closing his eyes, he could see her again in all her beauty as he had really seen her many years before when he had first found her dancing among her children, the Fairies of Flowers and Light. All the incidents of his long journey in search of her came back to him,the sail with old Blob the whale; the Southern Cross in the sky; the song of the clams under the golden sands; the lilac country with its magnolia and jessamine; the fair maiden dancers on the green; and Summer herself with her brown hair and her blossoms. Even his lost youth and his vanished strength seemed to come back to him. He could feel on his old cheeks again the soft air of the Southland; he could hear the music of its tiny streams; and he opened his nostrils wide in fancy to pleasant odours from scented flowers. And as he dreamed of the old days, he was lonely for Summer his Fairy Queen; for although he was a great warrior he had a woman's tender heart. Somehow, on this autumn day he was filled with a strange feeling of melancholy such as he had never known before. He could not shake the feeling from him. It brought him a deep sense of coming danger which he could not explain.
Suddenly he was aroused from his dreaming by the appearance of his messengers, the Loons, who were still loyal to him. They had been away many days in search of news, and now they came to him over the water uttering strange cries that sounded like foolish laughter. Glooskap knew from their cries that they brought unwelcome tidings. When they met him on the beach they said, "Oh, Master, we bring you a sad message. From away across the ocean a race of strange pale-faced men is coming, smaller in size than our people but more powerful. One of their number is more than a match for a score of your best warriors, for they carry with them many deadly weapons the like of which you have never seen. They are coming in wonderful ships greater than your canoes. They will take all your lands, and will kill those of your people who refuse to submit to their rule." The Loons would have continued their story, but Glooskap wished to hear no more. He understood now the cause of his melancholy dread. He knew that the pale race of which the Loons had spoken was the race of which he had long heard, and that the white men were coming at last. He knew too that it would be useless to stay to give them battle. His reign on earth, he knew well, was ended for a time and now he must go away. Far out to sea was another hunting ground to which he must sail to join his fathers. It was a place, he had been told, pleasanter by far than his old home on the shores of the great water,a place to which good warriors went when their work on earth was done. So he returned silently to his tent to get ready for his long journey.
That night he called all his people to the gathering-place. He told them that he was going away, far away, miles and miles over the sunlit sea. Not one of them should go with him. He would be away, he said, many long years, but some day he would come back. He told them nothing of the message of the Loons, nothing of the white men's coming. But he offered as a parting gift to grant them each one last wish. And at once all the people wished for what they most desired, and all their requests were granted; for Glooskap's great power returned for a brief space before he went away.
The people's wishes were very strange and varied. An old man who had been of little value as a hunter asked that he might be great in the killing of game. And Glooskap gave him a magic flute, which when played upon won the love of women, and brought the moose and caribou to his side to meet their death. And the old man, with not a care in his heart, went his way, for he knew now that he should always have food. A young Indian asked that he might have the love of many people. Glooskap gave him a bag very tightly tied; he told him not to open it until he reached his home, and then his wish would be granted. But the youth, being curious, opened the bag on the way. At once there flew from it numberless girls, all of whom strove for his affection, until in the struggle they trampled him to death. What became of the people no man knows. Another, a gay and frivolous fellow, asked that he might always amuse people. Glooskap gave him a magic root from the forest which would cause anyone who ate it to amuse all whom he met; he told him not to eat it until he reached his home, and then his presence would always be like sunshine to all. But he, being curious, ate the root on the way. For a time he amused all who met him, so that they all laughed and were of a merry heart. But soon, because he had not heeded Glooskap's command, the people grew tired of him and no longer laughed at him. And he grew weary of himself and found no pleasure in his power, which now no longer moved people to laughter. And his life became a burden until in despair he killed himself in the forest. And Old Night Hawk, the evil spirit of the night, came down from the clouds and carried him away to the dwelling place of Darkness and he was never afterwards heard of among men. Another wished to become a Fairy of the Forest. Glooskap washed him in the sea, and put a magic belt around his waist, and at once he became a Fairy Prince dwelling among the Elves. And he gave him a small pipe which made wondrous music, and to this day you can hear his pipe on sunny days in the meadows.
But the wish that was most difficult to gratify, for it tried Glooskap's greatest power, was that of a youth who wanted to win a beautiful girl for his wife. She was the daughter of a powerful chief, who placed such hard work and cruel tasks on all who desired her that they died in attempting them. Glooskap gave him his stone canoe and bade him sail away to the chief's home; he gave the Fairies of the Deep charge over him, and he tied the wings of the Great Eagle, the Wind Bird, so that there might be no wind during his voyage. He gave him also a magic belt and taught him a magic song, both of which should help him in his need.
Soon the youth came without mishap to a large island, the home of the girl he loved. He hid the canoe in the trees and set out inland. At the end of a long road he reached the village where the cruel chief and his daughter lived. He said to the chief, after the fashion of Indians when they want to marry, "I am tired of the lonely life; I have come for your daughter." The chief replied that the youth might have his daughter if he could do certain feats of strength. The youth knew that these were the feats the attempt of which had cost many before him their lives, but trusting to Glooskap's help, he consented. The chief told him he must slay a great horned dragon that lived in the forest hardby, and that he must bring the dragon's head to his tent on the following morning.
In the night the youth went to the dragon's den. Over the mouth of it he placed a great log; then standing near it he sang the magic song that Glooskap had taught him. Soon the dragon came out in answer to the magic call; he waved his head all about looking for the sound; then he placed his head over the log to listen. At once the youth severed the creature's head with a blow of his axe, and taking it by one of its great horns he brought it in the morning to the chief's camp. And the chief, greatly surprised, said to himself, "I fear he will win my daughter." There were other difficult feats to try the young man's courage, but all of them he did without harm to himself, and with great wonder to the old chief.
Finally, the chief used one of his last and hardest tests. He said, "There is a man of my tribe who has never been beaten in running; you must race with him and beat him if you would win my daughter; you must both run around the world." The old man was sure that here at last the youth would fail. But the youth put on the magic belt that Glooskap had given him, and when all the people were gathered to watch the contest, he met his rival without fear. He said to the chief's runner, "What do men call you?" And he answered, "I am Northern Light; and what do men call you?" The youth answered, "I am Chain-Lightning."
The starting signal was given by the chief, and the two rivals set out on their race. In a moment they were out of sight, away behind the distant hills. The people all waited patiently for their return. Soon the youth, Chain-Lightning, appeared; he had been around the world, but he was not breathing hard and he was not even tired from his long run. There was yet no sign of his rival. Late in the evening Northern Light came in; but he was very weary, and as he came near he trembled and tottered. He confessed that he had not been all around the world; he had turned back, for Chain-Lightning had gone too fast for him, yet he was very tired. He admitted his defeat. The people wondered greatly at the power of the victorious youth. And the old chief said, "I fear he has won my daughter."
There was still a final test. The chief said, "There is a man of my tribe who has never been overcome in diving and swimming under water. You must strive with him and defeat him if you would win my daughter." And the youth agreed. Again he put on the magic belt and met his rival without fear. When they met by the sea the youth asked the chief's swimmer, "What do men call you?" And he replied, "I am Black Duck; and what do men call you?" He answered, "I am Loon."
When the chief gave the signal they dived and swam under water. In a few minutes Black Duck rose again, for he was out of breath; but the people waited in wonder many hours before Loon rose; and when he came up he was not tired, but laughed heartily. And the old chief, well content, said to him, "My tests are ended; you have won my daughter." That night the great wedding feast was held; and the youth taking with him his bride, set sail for his home in Glooskap's canoe.
A few of those who asked gifts, Glooskap punished before he went away, because of their foolish requests. One who came was very tall and proud of his good looks. He always covered his moccasins with bright beads, and wore coloured coats, and sprinkled himself with strange perfumes, and on the top of his cap he wore a long feather. He asked Glooskap to make him taller and straighter than any of his fellows. And when Glooskap heard his wish, to punish him for his pride he changed him at once to a pine tree. He made him very tall and straight until his head rose above the forest. There he stands to this day, the high green feather in his cap waving always in the wind. And when the wind blows you can still hear him singing with a moaning voice, "I am a great man, I am a beautiful Indian, taller than my fellows." Many others Glooskap punished, but all who had diseases he healed, and sent away happy.
When Glooskap knew that the wishes of all the good people who had obeyed his commands had been granted, he was ready to set out on his last journey. One day on the shore of the wide ocean he made a great feast to which all his people came and all the animals with them. But it was not a merry gathering, for they knew that they met with Glooskap for the last time before his long absence. In the late autumn afternoon, when the feast was ended, Glooskap prepared to leave them. He threw his kettle into the sea, for he would need it no more, and it became an island. And he tied one wing of the Wind Bird, so that after he had gone away the gales would not blow so strong on the Atlantic coast as they had blown in his lifetime. And he talked long to his people and smoked his last pipe with them and gave them good advice; he spoke of his going away, but of the land to which he was going he would say nothing; he promised that some day after many years had passed he would come again among them. Then in the evening a great stone canoe came over the ocean, guided by two of the Children of Light. And Glooskap, seeing it, said, "It is now the sunset hour, and I must leave you." Many of his people, his good followers who throughout his lifetime had been faithful to him, begged him to allow them to go with him. But he answered, "No; this last great journey I must make alone, for no man can come with me or help me." And just at the turn of the tide as the sun set behind the distant hills, he embarked in the great stone canoe and sailed far out to sea with the ebbing tide, singing as he went a strange sad song. His people and all the beasts looked after him until in the deepening twilight they could see him no more; but long after they had lost sight of him, his song came to them, weird and doleful, across the water; gradually the sounds grew fainter and fainter, until when night came they died entirely away. Then a strange silence fell upon the earth. The beasts mourned until they lost the power of speech; they fled into the forest in different ways, and since that time they have never met together in peaceful council as in the olden days, and they have never spoken like men. The Great Owl departed in sorrow, and hid himself in the deep forest; since that time he has seldom appeared by day, but at night he always cries, "Koo-koo-koo," which in the Indian language means, "I am sad, I am sad." And the Loon, Glooskap's old messenger, wanders up and down upon the beach calling for his master with loud wild cries. And Glooskap's people grow smaller and smaller in number because of their Master's absence, and they slowly waste away until some day they too shall vanish from the earth.
So Glooskap sailed away over the sea to the distant hunting grounds of his fathers. There he lives still in a great long tent, where he is making arrows, preparing for his last Great Battle. And when the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes those of his people who still remain on earth know that he is angry; where the sea sparkles most brightly in the sunlight or moans most dismally in the storm, they know that Glooskap is there; when the phosphorescent lights appear at night upon the sea, they know that he is working late by the strange light; and when there are no stars, they know that Glooskap lies asleep, taking his rest. But when his great tent is filled with arrows, Glooskap will come back to fight his last battle and overcome the evil creatures of the world; he will then bring back the Golden Age of happiness to earth; and his people in hope and patience still await his coming.
Cyrus. Canadian Wonder Tales. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head,