Gateway to the Classics: Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus MacMillan
Canadian Wonder Tales by  Cyrus MacMillan

The Strange Tale of Caribou and Moose

T WO widows lived side by side in the forest. Their husbands had long been dead. Each widow had a little boy. One boy was called Caribou; the other was called Moose. One springtime the widows were gathering maple sap to make sugar. The two boys played at home. They talked of the great forest, and decided to travel, to see the big woods, and the mountains far away. In the morning they set out on their journey. They walked all day, and in the evening they came to a camp far away in the woods. The camp was that of the Porcupines. The Porcupines were kind to the boys, and gave them food. In the morning they gave them new moccasins, and told them the road to follow. The road, they said, had many giants.


in the evening they came to a camp.

The boys travelled all day without mishap. At last they came to the edge of the wood where the giants lived. Here they met a woman. She was half Indian, for her mother was an Indian woman who had been carried off by a giant. Her mother had long been dead. The woman they met knew that the boys were of her mother's people, and she treated them kindly. She told them that ahead of them were three great giants they would have to overcome before they could pass on their way. She gave them a box containing two dogs. The box was very small; it could be hidden in one hand. The dogs were no bigger than a fly, but when they were rubbed with the hand they grew very large and very cross; and the more they were rubbed, the larger and crosser they became. The dogs were to be used, she said, to defeat the first giant. Then the woman told them of the second giant. She said he was very terrible, and that his head was covered with great toads, the poison of which would kill any one who touched them. She told them that the giant would ask them to kill a toad because it hurt his head, hoping thereby to poison them. She warned them not to touch it, and she gave them some cranberries, and told them to crush the cranberries in their hands when the giant made his request and the noise would make the giant think they were crushing the poisonous toad. Then she told them of the third giant; and she gave them a knife with which to overcome him. It was a very wonderful knife that could not be turned aside from anything it attacked.

Then the boys went on their way. Soon they saw the first giant standing by the side of the path. He rushed at them as if to kill them; but they opened their magic box and took out the dogs. They rubbed them until they grew very large and cross, and when the giant came near they let them loose. The dogs soon killed the giant, and the boys went on their way, leaving the dogs to go back to the woman who gave them. Soon they came to the second giant. He was very ugly and terrible, and he had long hair covered with toads. He met the boys kindly, hoping to deceive them. Then, just as the woman had told them, he said, "Something hurts my head. Do you see what it is?" And they said, "Yes, it is a great toad." "Kill it," said the giant. Then the boys put their hands close to his head and crushed the cranberries the woman had given them, and the giant thought the noise was that of the crushing of the toad. The boys then went on their way. The giant was well pleased, for he thought they would drop dead very soon because of the poison, and that next day he would find them and have a good meal. Soon the boys came to the third giant. He was very terrible, and he attacked them at once. But one of the boys drew the magic knife and plunged it into the giant's breast. The giant could not turn it aside; it pierced his heart, and he fell dead. Then the boys knew that they were safe.

The next morning the boys decided to separate, and to go each his own way. Moose went north, and Caribou went south. By-and-by Moose came to a tent where dwelt a woman with one daughter. The daughter wished to be married, but her mother was jealous of her daughter's charms, and she killed every suitor who wooed her daughter. Her mother had the power of a witch, which she had received from the Evil Spirit of the forest. The daughter loved Moose when she saw him. She warned him that her mother would try to kill him. Moose asked the mother if he might have the daughter as his wife, and the mother said, "Yes; but first you must do whatever I bid you." To this Moose agreed. When he went to bed, the daughter warned him to be on his guard. The mother put a thick skin over him for a blanket, covering him all up. Then she went to get another, saying that it was a cold night. Moose knew he would soon smother without air under the thick skins when she piled them over him, and while she was gone he cut a hole through the skin with his magic knife so that his nose would go through it. The woman came back with other skins, and covered him with a great many, but in each skin Moose cut a hole over his nose so that he might get air. The woman left him, believing that he would smother in the night, for she did not want her daughter to wed; but Moose breathed freely and slept soundly.

The next morning the woman uncovered him, thinking that he was dead; but Moose said he had slept well. The woman wondered greatly, and resolved upon another plan to kill him. A great tree grew near the tent. It was hemlock, and bigger than a haystack at the bottom. It had thick bark which was loose at the top. The woman gave Moose a long pole and told him to knock down the bark. Moose took the pole and knocked a piece off, but as it fell he jumped from under it, for he could jump far. The heavy bark fell with a great crash. Then he knocked off all the bark until the tree was stripped, but he was unharmed. The woman wondered greatly. She resolved upon another plan to kill him. The next day she took Moose to an island far off the coast. There were no trees on the island. They left their canoe on the beach and walked inland. The woman said, "Wait here awhile; I will come back soon." Then she went back to the beach. She took the canoe and paddled home, leaving Moose behind. "Now," she said, "he will starve, for he cannot get off the island, and there is nothing there to eat." When Moose came back to the beach, after waiting a long while, he saw the canoe a mere speck on the water far away. He was much troubled, for he thought that now he would surely die, and he cried loudly. But the sea-gulls flying above the beach heard his cries, and two large gulls came down to him. They told him not to cry, for they would save him. One went to each side of him and told him to take hold and hang on. So he put an arm around each gull's neck, and they rose into the air with him and flew over the sea. Moose was very frightened when he looked down at the water. But the gulls took him home safely. He sat a long time on the beach, and then the woman came paddling her canoe from the island. When she reached the land, Moose said, "What kept you so long? I have been waiting for you a long time." But he did not tell her how he had come home. The woman was so surprised she did not know what to say. But she resolved upon another plan to kill him.

The next day she invited Moose to a wrestling match on a high hill. The hill was full of stones. Moose decided that to save his own life he must kill the woman, because he had had enough of her treachery. They wrestled, and Moose let the woman throw him down, but because he was agile he saved himself from a great fall. He let her throw him a second time, but again he was unharmed, to her great surprise. The contest was three falls. The woman was sure she could kill him the third time. But the third time, Moose threw her down so hard that her back was broken on the stones. Then he tossed her high in the air, and she fell so hard that she was broken in pieces. Moose was then free from danger. He married the woman's daughter; but he was not very happy. The daughter was like her mother and caused him trouble, for she was often very wicked. She was a great fisher, and went often to the streams to fish. She could go under the water and stay a long time and bring up fish in her hands. One night in winter she went down through a hole in the ice to fish. It was very cold, and while she was down, the hole froze over and she could not get out. She called to Moose to break the ice, but Moose was glad to be rid of her and he would not let her out. So she was drowned in the stream.

Moose never married again and ever afterwards he lived a lonely life. He did not like company any more. That is why he is usually seen by himself, and why he usually travels alone in the forest. But Caribou, on the other hand, likes company, and that is why he is usually seen with five or six others of his kind, and why he seldom travels alone.

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