The Fairy Bride (cont.)
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She had lingered later than usual; it was time to go. The new moon swung low in the western sky with its points turned upwards to the heavens. An Indian would say he could hang his powder horn upon it, and that it meant dry weather when the leaves crackled under the hunter's feet and the animals fled before him, so that he was unable to come near-enough to shoot. And Neen-i-zu was glad of this. In the Happy Land, she declared no one would suffer, and no life would be taken.
Yet it was a hunter that her mother wished her to marry, a man who spent his whole life in slaying the red deer of the forest, who thought and talked of almost nothing else.
This came into her mind as she rose from her seat in the meadow and cast a farewell glance at the pines. The rays of the crescent moon touched them with a faint light, and again her fancy came into play. What was it that seemed to move along the edge of the mysterious woods? Something with the dim likeness of a youth—taller than the Puk-Wudjies—who glided rather than walked, and whose garments of light green stood out against the darker green of the pines. Neeni-zu looked again, but the moon hid behind the hills. All was black to the eye; to the ear came no sound but the creepy cry of the whip-poor-will. She hastened home.
That night she heard from her mother's lips what she had long expected and feared. "Neen-i-zu," said her mother, "I named you 'My dear Life,' and you are as dear as life to me. That is why I wish you to be safe and happy. That is why I wish you to marry a good man who will take the best care of you now, and will protect and comfort you when I am gone. You know the man I mean."
"Yes, Mother," answered Neen-i-zu. "I know him well enough—as well as ever I want to know him. He hunts the deer, he kills the deer, he skins the deer. That is all he does, that is all he thinks, that is all he talks about. It is perhaps well that someone should do this, lest we starve for want of meat. Yet there are many other things in the world, and this hunter of yours is content if he does but kill."
"Poor child!" said her mother. "You are too young to know what is best for you."
"I am old enough, Mother dear," answered Neen-i-zu, "to know what my heart tells me. Besides, this hunter you would have me marry is as tall as a young oak, while I am not much taller than one of the Puk-Wudjies. When I stand up very straight, my head comes little higher than his waist. A pretty pair we would make!"
What she said was quite true. Neen-i-zu had never grown to be much larger than a child. She had a graceful, slender body, little hands and feet, eyes black as midnight, and a mouth like a meadow flower. One who saw her for the first time, passing upon the hills, her slight figure sketched against the sky, might have thought that she herself was a fairy.
For all her gentle, quiet ways and her love of lonely places, Neen-i-zu was often merry. But now she seldom laughed, her step was slow, and she walked with her eyes fixed upon the ground. "When she is married," thought her mother, "she will have other things to occupy her mind, and she will no longer go dreaming among the hills."
But the hills were her one great joy—the hills, and the flowery meadows where the lark swayed to and fro, bidding her be of good cheer, as he perched on a mullein stalk. Every afternoon she sat, singing her little song. Soon she would sing no more. The setting sun would gild the pine grove, the whip-poor-will would complain to the stars, but the picture would be incomplete; there would be no Neen-i-zu. For the wedding day was named; she must be the hunter's wife.
On this day set for her marriage to the man she so disliked, Neen-i-zu put on the garments of a bride. Never had she looked so lovely. Blood-red blossoms flamed in her jet-black hair; in her hand she held a bunch of meadow flowers mingled with the tassels of the pine.
Thus arrayed, she set out for a farewell visit to the grove. It was a thing they could not well deny her, but as she went her way, and the hills hid her from sight, the wedding guests looked uneasily at one another. It was something they could not explain. At that moment a cloud blew up from nowhere, across the sun; where light had been there was now a shadow. Was it a sign? They glanced sidelong at the hunter, but the bridegroom was sharpening his sheath knife on a stone. Sunshine or shadow, his thoughts were following the deer.
Time passed; but Neen-i-zu did not return. Then so late was the hour that the wedding guests wondered and bestirred themselves. What could be keeping her so long? At last they searched the hills; she was not there. They tracked her to the meadow where the prints of her little moccasins led on and on—into the grove itself; then the tracks disappeared. Neen-i-zu had vanished.
They never saw her more. The next day a hunter brought them strange news. He had climbed a hill, on his way home by a short cut, and had paused there a moment to look around. Just then his dog ran up to him, whining, with its tail between its legs. It was a brave dog, he said, that would not run from a bear, but this one acted as if he had seen something that was not mortal.
Then the hunter heard a voice, singing. Soon the singing stopped, and he made out—far off—the figure of Neen-i-zu, walking straight toward the grove, with her arms held out before her. He called to her, but she did not hear,and drew nearer and nearer to the Spirit wood. "She walked like one who dreams," said the hunter, "and when she had almost reached the woods, a young man, slender as a reed, came out to meet her. He was not one of our tribe. No, no! I have never seen his like. He was dressed in the leaves of the forest, and green plumes nodded on his head. He took her by the hand. They entered the Sacred Grove. There is no doubt that he was a fairy—the fairy Evergreen. There is nothing more; I have finished."
So Neen-i-zu became a bride, after all.