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

How Turtle Came

O N the shores of a great water in Canada is a land where Indians once dwelt. In the days of French rule it was a garrisoned fort. The remains of the old moat and ramparts and stockade are still seen in the centre of what is now a large green meadow; but they are now overgrown with grass, and should you go there, on summer days you can see children playing upon them, picking wild flowers and making daisy chains, unmindful of the past fortunes of the spot on which they play. Behind you across the river which empties here is a city in modern dress. Before you is the sea with two little islands not far away resting in the summer haze upon its bosom. Moaning gas-buoys toss about in the gentle roll of the waters; by night red beacon lights lift their bright heads all about to light the sailor's road; summer cottages nestle on the beach before you; the hum of modern life is in your ears and the sight of it is in your eyes as you stand to-day upon the cliff.

But it was not always so. Long before the coming of the white race, before beacon lights and cities and summer cottages were known, this land was the home of Indians. Many of their descendants live there still, at peace with the white folk who took their lands and their forests. They are the remnants of Glooskap's people. It was here, on the beach in the little cove, that the Turtle was first created and where he first dwelt. Long ago, after the white men came, he fled from these waters; and although his descendants are still sometimes caught by fishermen off the coast, neither he nor his children nor any of his tribe ever went back to the place of his creation. But the place of his birth is still pointed out.

It was in Glooskap's time that the Turtle came into being. There dwelt in the land an old Indian, a lazy, poor, and by no means beautiful man. As a hunter he had been of no value; he lived alone, and now he had come to the end of his life with little of the world's goods to his credit. But although he was poor, he was of a merry heart and a good nature, and he was well liked by all. Now, the chief of the tribe had three beautiful daughters who were much sought for by the young men of the village, all of whom wished to win their love. The eldest was the loveliest in the land; her name was Flower of the Corn. The old Indian would gladly have made one of these girls his wife for he was tired of living alone, but she on her part thought him worthless, and he on his part feared that if he wooed her, her many other suitors would be jealous and would perhaps take his life. So the old man kept his secret to himself and continued his sad existence.

It happened that one day Glooskap came into the land to see his people. Of all the tents in the village he chose that of the old man as his resting place, for he had known him a long time and liked him because of his good nature and his merry heart. He was not with him long before he knew his secret, that he loved Flower of the Corn; and he also learned of his fear to woo her. Glooskap encouraged him and urged him to make his wishes known to the chief. But the old Indian said, "I am old and poor and I have no good clothes to wear, and I know that I should meet only with scorn." But Glooskap placed upon him his magic belt, and at once the old man became young and handsome; he also gave him fine clothes. Then he sent him to the chief's home. And the old man said, after the fashion of Indians when they wish to marry, "I am tired living alone. I have come for your eldest daughter." And the old chief, when he saw him so beautiful because of Glooskap's magic power, could not refuse his request and Flower of the Corn became his bride.

As the old man had feared, the young men of the village were very angry because he had won so beautiful a wife, and they resolved to do him harm. At first they tried to take vengeance on Glooskap, for as they had seen little of him they did not know of his great power. A great wedding feast was held for the old man and his bride, to which all the young men were invited. Two of the most jealous sat next to Glooskap, one on each side, and during the feast they plotted to kill him. But Glooskap heard them plotting against his life and he knew that the time had come for him to show his strength. So at the end of the wedding feast, as he arose from the table he turned to each one and tapped him gently on the nose. When each rubbed the spot that Glooskap had touched, he found that his nose had disappeared. In great shame and anger they fled from the feast, and never afterwards dwelt among men. One of these was Toad; the other was Porcupine. And since that time neither Toad nor Porcupine has ever had a nose and their faces have always been flat because of Glooskap's touch at the banquet long ago.

Some days after the wedding feast, a great festival was held in the village. Glooskap knew that here again an attempt would be made upon the old Indian's life by his jealous enemies. He feared too that after he had gone from the village his old friend would surely be treacherously killed, and, as the time of his going away was at hand, he resolved upon a plan to save him from danger. He told the old man that at the festival his enemies would try to trample him under their feet during a game of ball. And he gave him a magic root which, if he ate it before the game, would give him power to jump high when they crowded in upon him. Sure enough, in the game of ball the young men surrounded the old man and watched for a chance to crush him. Twice he jumped high over their heads and escaped unhurt. But the third time when he jumped he stuck upon the top of a tent and could not get down.

Inside the tent sat Glooskap quietly smoking his pipe and waiting for this very thing to happen. He made a smouldering fire from which the smoke rose in great clouds and passed out at the top of the tent around the old man, and he smoked and smoked great pipefuls of tobacco until far into the night. And the old man hung to the tent poles, dangling in the smoke until midnight. He hung there so long that from the smoke of the smouldering fire and that of Glooskap's pipe, his old skin became as hard as a shell. And Glooskap said to him, "I have done this thing for your own good. I fear that if I leave you here, after I have gone your enemies will kill you. I make you now chief of the Tortoise race and your name shall be called Turtle; hereafter you may roll through a flame of fire and you will not be burned nor will you feel pain, and you may live in water or on land as you prefer. And you shall have a very long life; and although your head be cut off you shall live nine days afterwards. And when your enemies throw you into the fire or into the water you need have no fear." Then he took him down from the tent pole.

The next day the old Indian's enemies, angry because he had escaped at the festival, built a great fire in the forest, and seizing him as he walked alone in the woods, they threw him upon it. But he went to sleep in the flame and when he awoke he called for more wood, telling them that he was very cold. They wondered greatly, and after plotting together they resolved to throw him into the sea. They carried him far out in a canoe and dropped him overboard, and went ashore well pleased with their work, for they believed that at last they had taken vengeance. The next day was a day of great heat. At low tide when some of his enemies looked out to sea they saw basking in the sun on a sand-bar far away a strange figure. They were curious, and they rowed out to see what it was that shone so brightly in the sun. When they reached the sand-bar after paddling a long time they saw that it was the old Indian. There he was, sunning himself on the sand-bar, his hard smoked back shining in the bright light. As they came near, he said, "Good day," and grinning at them mischievously, he rolled lazily off the sand-bar and disappeared in the water.

Glooskap before he left the island, used his magic power to change Flower of the Corn in the same way and he sent her into the sea to live with her husband. And he gave her power to lay eggs in the sand. And the two lived happily for many long years, and raised up a mighty race. But still the Turtle rolls sideways into the sea like his old ancestor if men come near him as he suns himself on the sand. And you can still see on his back the marks of Glooskap's smoke. When the white men came, he left the land of his creation, but his descendants to this day live to a great age and grow to a great size along the Atlantic coast.

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