The Fairy Bride
There was but one thing that made them uneasy. Neen-i-zu was a favorite with the other young girls of the village and joined them in their play. But she liked best of all to walk by herself in the forest, or to follow some dim trail that led to the heart of the little hills. Sometimes she would be absent for many hours and when she returned, her eyes had the look of one who has dwelt in secret places, and seen things strange and mysterious. Nowadays, some persons would have called Neen-i-zu "romantic." Others, who can never see a thing that is not just beneath their noses, would have laughed a little, in a superior sort of way, and said she was a "dreamer." What was it that Neen-i-zu saw and heard, during these lonely walks in the secret places of the hills? Was it perhaps the fairies? She did not say. But her mother, who wished her to be more like other girls, and who would have liked to see her marry and settle down, was much disturbed in mind.
The mischievous little fairies known as Puk-Wudjies were believed to inhabit the sand dunes where Neen-i-zu so often went to walk. These were the sand-hills made by Grasshopper, when he danced so madly at Man-a-bo-zho's wedding, whirling the sand into great drifts and mounds that may be seen to this very day. The Puk-Wudjies loved these hills, which were seldom visited by the Indians. It was just the place for leap-frog and all-hands-'round; in the twilight of summer days they were said to gather here in little bands, playing all manner of pranks. Then, as night came, they would make haste to hide themselves in a grove of pine-trees known as the Manito Wac, or the Wood of the Spirits.
No one had ever come close to them, but fishermen, paddling their canoes on the lake, had caught glimpses of them from afar and had heard the tiny voices of these merry little men, as they laughed and called to one another. When the fishermen tried to follow, the Puk-Wudjies would vanish in the woods, but their footprints, no larger than a child's, could be seen on the damp sand of a little lake in the hills.
If anything more were needed to convince those doubters who did not believe in fairies, the proof was quickly supplied by fishermen and hunters who were victims of their tricks. The Puk-Wudjies never really harmed anyone, but they were up to many kinds of mischief. Sometimes a hunter, picking up his cap in the morning, would find the feathers plucked out; sometimes a fisherman, missing his paddle, would discover it at last in a tree. When such things happened it was perfectly plain that Puk-Wudjies had been up to their pranks, and few persons were still stupid enough to believe it could be anything else.
Neen-i-zu had her own ideas concerning these little men; for she, like Morning Glory, had often listened to the tales that old Iagoo told. One of these stories was the story of a Happy Land, a far-off place where it was always Summer, where no one wept or suffered sorrow.
It was for this land that she sighed. It filled her thoughts by day, when she sought the secret places of the hills and sat in some lonely spot, listening to the mysterious voices that whispered in the breeze. Where was this Happy Land—this place without pain or care?
Tired out at night, she would sink into her bed. Then from their hiding places would come stealing the small messengers of Weenz, the Spirit of Sleep. These kindly gnomes—too small for the human eye to see—crept quickly up the face of the weary Neen-i-zu and tapped gently on her forehead with their tiny war-clubs, called pub-ga-mau-guns. Taptap—tap!—till her eyelids closed, and she sought the Happy Land in that other pleasant land of dreams.
She, too, had seen the footprints of the Puk-Wudjies on the sandy beach of the little lake, and had heard their merry laughter ring out in the grove of pines. Was it their only dwelling place, she asked herself, or were they not messengers from the Happy Land, sent to show the way to that mortal who believed in it, and longed to enter?
Neen-i-zu came to think that this must be really so. Oftener than ever, she made her way to the meadow bordering on the Spirit Wood and sat there gazing into the grove. Perhaps the Puk-Wudjies would understand and tell the fairies whom they served. Then some day a fairy would appear at the edge of the pines and beckon her to come. That would surely happen, she thought, if she wished it long enough, and could give her wishes wings.
So, sitting there, she composed the words of a song and set it to the music the pines make when the south wind stirs their branches. Then she sang:
Spirit of the laughing leaves,
Fairy of the forest pine,
Listen to the maid who grieves
For that happy land of thine.
From your haunt in summer glade
Hasten to your mournful maid.
Was it only her fancy that she seemed to hear the closing words of her song echoed from the deep woods where the merry little men had vanished? Or was it the Puk-Wudjies mocking her?
Next: The Fairy Bride (cont.)