The Child of the Evening Star
Thus it was that many suitors came to court them—brave and handsome young men, straight as arrows, fleet of foot, who could travel from sun to sun without fatigue. They were sons of the prairie, wonderful horsemen who would ride at breakneck speed without saddle or stirrup. They could catch a wild horse with a noose, tame him in a magical way by breathing into his nostrils, then mount him and gallop off as if he always had been ridden. There were those also who came from afar in canoes, across the waters of the Great Lake, canoes which shot swiftly along, urged by the strong, silent sweep of the paddle.
All of them brought presents with which they hoped to gain the father's favor. Feathers from the wings of the eagle who soars high up near the sun; furs of fox and beaver and the thick, curly hair of the bison; beads of many colors, and wampum, the shells which the Indians used for money; the quills of the porcupine and the claws of the grizzly bear; deerskin dressed to such a softness that it crumpled up in the hands—these and many other things they brought.
One by one, the daughters were wooed and married, until nine of them had chosen husbands. One by one, other tents were reared, so that instead of the single family lodge on the shores of the lake there were tents enough to form a little village. For the country was a rich one, and there was game and fish enough for all.
There remained the youngest daughter, Oweenee—the fairest of them all. Gentle as she was beautiful, none was so kind of heart. Unlike her proud and talkative elder sisters, Oweenee was shy and modest, and spoke but little. She loved to wander alone in the woods, with no company but the birds and squirrels and her own thoughts. What these thoughts were we can only guess; from her dreamy eyes and sweet expression, one could but suppose that nothing selfish or mean or hateful ever came into her mind. Yet Oweenee, modest though she was, had a spirit of her own. More than one suitor had found this out. More than one conceited young man, confident that he could win her, went away crestfallen when Oweenee began to laugh at him.
The truth is, Oweenee seemed hard to please. Suitor after suitor came—handsome, tall young men, the handsomest and the bravest in all the country round. Yet this fawn-eyed maiden would have none of them. One was too tall, another too short; one too thin, another too fat. At least, that was the excuse she gave for sending them away. Her proud sisters had little patience with her. It seemed to be questioning their own taste; for Oweenee, had she said the word, might have gained a husband more attractive than any of theirs. Yet no one was good enough. They could not understand her; so they ended by despising her as a silly and unreasonable girl.
Her father, too, who loved her dearly and wished her to be happy, was much puzzled. "Tell me, my daughter," he said to her one day, "Is it your wish never to marry? The handsomest young men in the land have sought you in marriage, and you have sent them all away—often with a poor excuse. Why is it?"
Oweenee looked at him with her large, dark eyes.
"Father," she said at last. "It is not that I am wilful. But it seems somehow as if I had the power to look into the hearts of men. It is the heart of a man, and not his face, that really matters; and I have not yet found one youth who in this sense is really beautiful."
Soon after, a strange thing happened. There came into the little village an Indian named Osseo, many years older than Oweenee. He was poor and ugly, too. Yet Oweenee married him.
How the tongues of her nine proud sisters did wag! Had the spoiled little thing lost her mind? they asked. Oh, well! They always knew she would come to a bad end, but it was pretty hard on the family.
Of course they could not know what Oweenee had seen at once—that Osseo had a generous nature and a heart of gold; that beneath his outward ugliness was the beauty of a noble mind, and the fire and passion of a poet. That is why Oweenee loved him; knowing, too, that he needed her care, she loved him all the more.