The Legend of the Arbutus
I N the North Country there once lived an old, old man all alone in his wigwam among the pine trees. His hair and beard were so long and so white that they covered him like a mantle, and he wore a bear-skin to keep him warm. All about his wigwam it was winter. The little brooks were locked fast under their ice, the wind cried in the trees, and not a squirrel or a blue jay was to be seen. The old man crouched over his little bit of a fire and shivered because he was so cold.
But one day there came through the woods a beautiful maiden. Her cheeks were as pink as roses, her eyes were as soft and dark as the skies at twilight, and her hair was as brown as October's nuts. The most beautiful thing of all was this: wherever she stepped on the frozen ground with her white slippers made of lilies, the dew fell and the sweet grasses and ferns grew again.
So she came to the old man's wigwam. Her breath was as sweet as clover, and when she lifted the tent-flap it was not cold any more inside, but warm and fragrant—like a June day.
"Who are you, and why do you come?" asked the old man. "I have breathed on the woods, and it is winter."
"When I breathe," said the maiden, softly, "the violet and the wind-flower blossom."
"I shake my locks," said the old man, "and snow covers the earth."
"I toss my curls," said the maiden, "and the warm rain falls."
"When I walk through the trees, the leaves fall, the squirrels and the beavers hide, and the blue jay and the wild geese fly south."
"When I come," said the maiden, "the branches break into leaves, the brooks sing, and the birds fly back again."
And, as the maiden spoke, the air in the wigwam grew warmer and warmer, and the old man lay down upon the ground, for his eyes were heavy with sleep. The maiden kneeled down beside him and just rested her warm fingers on his forehead. And where the old man had lain there was, all at once, only a mass of green leaves with soft moss growing all about.
"I am stronger than the winter," said the maiden.
Then she took from her dress the loveliest pink and white flowers, and she hid them under the green leaves.
"I will give you my most precious flowers," she said, "and my sweetest breath, but whoever picks you, Arbutus, must kneel, as I do."
Then the maiden floated away over the woods, the hills, and the plains, and wherever she went the flowers sprang up, and summer came upon the earth.