Gateway to the Classics: The Red Indian Fairy Book by Frances Jenkins Olcott
The Red Indian Fairy Book by  Frances Jenkins Olcott

Pitcher the Witch and the Black Cats


In the days when the great Magician Glooskap dwelt in the land of the Wabanaki he lived in a magic lodge on a lonely island. His servant was old Dame Bear, who kept his lodge and cooked his food. There lived with him, also, his younger brother, Martin the Fairy, who could change himself into baby or man, just as he wished.

Martin, with his Fairy power, made a Birchbark dish, from which he ate. Whenever he went into the forest alone, he left this dish in the lodge so that Glooskap, looking into it, might see all that Martin was doing, for it was a Fairy dish.

One time, Glooskap returned from a long journey, and entered his lodge. The place was empty, the fire was out, and the ashes were cold. He called Dame Bear, but she did not answer. He shouted for Martin, but the boy did not come. Then he looked into the Birchbark dish and saw a distant seashore, and he could see Dame Bear walking through the sand with a baby on her back, who was Martin the Fairy. And all around her ran and leaped many Black Cats.

Then Glooskap knew that Dame Bear and Martin had been stolen by the order of Pitcher the Witch, who ruled the tribe of the Black Cats.

So Glooskap armed himself with his mighty bow, and hastened after the robbers. He followed their tracks to the shore where he found the Black Cats, with Dame Bear and Martin, just pushing off in a canoe.

Glooskap called out to Dame Bear to send back to him his Dogs, so she took from her robes the little Dogs that were no bigger than Mice, and placed them on a wooden platter. This she laid on the water, and it floated to land and stopped at Glooskap's feet. He took the platter up and placed the Dogs in his bosom, and as he did so the canoe of the Black Cats sailed rapidly away over the sea, and disappeared from his sight.

Standing on the shore, Glooskap began to sing a magic song. Louder and louder he sang, and a small Whale heard him and swam to land. Glooskap set his mighty foot upon her back, and as he did so she sank beneath the water.

Then he sent her away and sang another magic song, and a large and powerful Whale came swimming to land. Glooskap, stepping upon her back, found she bore him well. So he bade her journey on, and she swam fast through the waves.

At last, as she drew near another country, the Clams hidden in the sand called out bidding her throw Glooskap from her back, or else soon she would be stranded high upon the land. But the Whale did not understand their language, and she swam swiftly on until she found herself high and dry on the shore.

And as Glooskap stepped from her back, the Whale, lying gasping on the sand, lamented:—

"Alas! my Grandchild!

If I cannot leave the land,

I shall swim in the sea no more!"

And then Glooskap answered gently:

"Have no fear, Grandmother!

I'll help you from the land,

And you shall swim in the sea once more!"

And so saying, he pushed his mighty bow against her side and sent her out into the deep water. And the Whale, rejoicing, went swimming swiftly away.

After this, Glooskap set out once more to pursue the Black Cats. He walked on for a long time, and when darkness fell he came to an old wigwam and, entering it, saw an ugly hag, in ragged clothes, sitting before a dying fire. She begged him to gather some firewood, and he did so, and kindled the fire to a blaze. Then she prayed him to free her from many little Imps that were tormenting her body.

Now this hag was really Pitcher the Witch, and the Imps were bad Elves. And she knew that if Glooskap tried to harm them, they would sting and kill him. But Glooskap, standing behind her, began to pick the Imps off her body, and as he did so, each turned into a horrible thing,—a slimy Toad or a foul Porcupine. And instead of killing them, he laid them beneath a wooden platter he found at his feet. With his magic power he soothed the hag, so that she soon fell asleep; then he departed.

And when the morning was come, Pitcher the Witch awoke and found Glooskap gone, and the slimy Toads and Porcupines swarming over the floor. She rose in a rage, and hastened after Glooskap, determined to destroy him with her magic power.

Now, Pitcher could change herself into anything she wished. She searched until she found Glooskap by the seashore; then she turned herself into a man. Approaching Glooskap, she invited him to go with her to gather Sea-Gulls' eggs. As he was hungry, he consented.

Getting into a canoe, they paddled off together, going farther and farther from land. After a while they came to a lonely island and stepped out upon the beach.

And while Glooskap was gathering Sea-Gulls' eggs, the evil Pitcher stole away in the canoe, and as she paddled off she sang:—

"I have left Glooskap on the island!

I have left Glooskap on the island!

And I shall be the greatest of Magicians now!"

But Glooskap, when he perceived that Pitcher was gone, began to sing a magic song, and a Fox, that was far away beyond the mountains, heard him. It came running to the shore, and swam to the island, where it found the great Magician waiting. It bade him mount upon its back, saying: "Close your eyes and do not open them until we reach the shore. Hold fast to my tail, and we shall soon be there."

So Glooskap stepped upon its back, and the Fox swam fast through the water. And while they were yet far from the shore, Glooskap, forgetting what the Fox had said, opened his eyes. In a minute the wind began to blow fiercely, and the waves roared and foamed about him; for the evil Pitcher had been able to raise a storm by means of her magic. So the Fox could not reach the land that day, and it swam all through the night. But when morning dawned, it touched the shore. And as Glooskap stepped from its back, the Fox ran away to the forest.

After this Glooskap set out once more to pursue the Black Cats. And as he followed their tracks along a forest trail he saw in the distance old Dame Bear carrying Martin the Fairy on her back. And they were following the Black Cats, who had gone on ahead to prepare their camp for the night.

And Martin looked back, and saw Glooskap. "My Brother! My elder Brother!" he cried, "Oh, Glooskap, help me!"

Just then Pitcher the Witch came hobbling down the forest trail, but she did not see Glooskap. "Cry out for your brother!" said she to Martin the Fairy. "Yes, cry out aloud to him! Much good can he do you, for last night I left him on a lonely island to die!"

Then Martin cried out again, and Glooskap sprang on Pitcher the Witch, shouting: "Now I know you, evil Pitcher! Never again shall you deceive me!"

And with that he bound her by his magic power, and placed her back against a tree, where she stuck fast. Then he led Dame Bear, still carrying Martin, to the camp of the Black Cats. And when the animals knew that Glooskap had overcome Pitcher, they obeyed and served him, for his magic was stronger than theirs.

Now, Pitcher had a hatchet and wedge, and she began to chop herself loose. And all night long the Black Cats heard her chopping and pounding and shrieking with rage. And when morning was come she hobbled into the camp with a piece of the tree stuck to her back. And when the Black Cats saw her, they leaped around her, and laughed, and spit in her face.

Then Pitcher the Witch, when she heard the Black Cats laugh, knew that they would serve her no longer. So she ran through the forest howling like a wild Wolf. At last she came to the shore, and, sitting down upon a log, thought long and fiercely how she might torment men forever.

And as she thought thus, her body began to shrink, and became smaller and smaller, until it was like a thin Fly. Fine wings grew from her sides, and long legs beneath her body, while sharp things like needles protruded from her mouth. She rose buzzing with anger into the air, and became a Mosquito, thirsty for the blood of men.

And ever since that day Mosquitoes have tormented people; and wherever there is a Black Cat, a Witch is sure to be.

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