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Big Magwis and Little Magwis

Long ago, in a Wabanaki village, there lived two young braves, both with the name of Magwis. One was called Big Magwis, because he was big and rich and lived in a very large wigwam; the other was called Little Magwis, because he was poor and little and lived in a very small wigwam.

Now Big Magwis looked down on Little Magwis because he was a pauper. Yet in spite of having so much himself, he was still envious of what little his neighbour had. In particular, he was jealous of the small Indian's wigwam, which was very well made and stood in a shadier spot than his own. In the long hot days of summer, he hated his fine big lodge and looked with envy and greed at his neighbour. If only there was some way he could have Little Magwis' wigwam as well as his own. Then, one day, he chuckled as he thought of a plan.

He strolled over to Little Magwis' wigwam and kicked idly at a large log which lay near the fire.

"Kwah-ee, my brother," said Big Magwis. "Tell me, could you jump over this log and land on both feet?"

"Certainly," said Little Magwis in surprise. "That would be easy."

"I bet you these two cakes of corn," said the larger Indian craftily, "that you can't do it and I can!"

Little Magwis smiled.

"That's a foolish bet, my friend. Look now--" and he jumped the log with the greatest of ease.

"Well, well," said Big Magwis, appearing crestfallen, as he handed over the cakes, "I didn't think you could do it, a little chap like you. But I tell you one thing, I bet you can't land on one foot across the river!"

Little Magwis looked at the wide river flowing alongside the camp.

"Of course I can't," he said. "Nobody could."

"I can," boasted Big Magwis and the smaller Indian looked at him with amazement. "Moreover," said Big Magwis, "I'll bet my wigwam against yours, with everything in them, that I can do it and you can't."

Little Magwis looked at the river again, measured the distance with his eyes, and said, "It's surely impossible, but I'm willing to try if you are."

"Very well," said Big Magwis with a sly grin. "You go first."

So Little Magwis ran very fast towards the river, took a flying leap off the bank and landed--splash--in the middle. As he swam slowly back to shore, he saw Big Magwis doubled over with laughter.

"It's all very well to laugh," said Little Magwis as he came ashore, "but now let's see you try it."

"Certainly," said the big fellow. "Watch me." And he jumped into his canoe and paddled rapidly across the river.

"Wait!" cried Little Magwis. "That's not right!"

But just then Big Magwis jumped out of his canoe, landing on one foot on the opposite shore.

"You see?" he shouted. "I bet you I could land on one foot, and I did! Nothing was said about jumping over! So now your wigwam and everything in it is mine!"

Poor Little Magwis. Tricked out of his home and all he owned, with nothing in the world but two small cakes of corn, he was so ashamed at being taken in by a foolish trick that he ran away from the village that same day.

At sunset, weary and hungry, he sat down under a tree and prepared to make a poor supper of the two small cakes of corn. A sound made him start to his feet. There stood an old Indian in a long brown cloak, eyeing his cakes hungrily.

"Oh dear," thought Little Magwis, "I haven't really enough for myself," but, being a kindhearted lad, he held out one cake saying, "You seem hungry, grandfather. Eat."

The old man thanked him and eagerly devoured the food.

"It is clear," sighed Little Magwis, "that he is much hungrier than I am, and he is old." So he offered the old man the other cake.

Now I can tell you something the little Indian did not know. The old man was really Glooscap. And this was his way of testing Little Magwis, to see if he was the sort of person who deserved his help. He now saw that Little Magwis was an honest, generous- hearted lad, in spite of the trouble he had brought upon himself. So he said:

"Follow this path. Turn off to the right at the river, go on a little way, and you will see an oak tree under which the ground is dry and hard. When the evening star is seen in the sky, you must climb that tree and stay in it overnight. If you do as I say, you will have great good fortune." And before Little Magwis could open his mouth to ask any questions, suddenly the old man was not there any more!

Little Magwis guessed at once that this was big magic and resolved to do as the old man had said. He found the oak tree without difficulty and as soon as it was dark climbed up into its branches.

The ground underneath looked the sort of place used by travellers to camp overnight, for the earth was packed down hard. And sure enough, just as the moon rose, two boooins, or Indian wizards, came into the clearing and set up camp for the night. Little Magwis began to shiver and shake, knowing what would happen if he were discovered. Boooins would be sure to kill anyone who spied on them. Holding himself as still and small as possible, Little Magwis watched the boooins prepare their evening meal, and heard them talking to each other.

"You know that blind Chief in the village at the river's bend," said one.

"Yes," said the other, "what about him ?"

The first one laughed in an ugly sort of way.

"How stupid those medicine men are! They are trying to cure his blindness with all sorts of remedies except the right one!"

The other boooin shouted so loud with laughter that Little Magwis nearly fell out of the tree.

"All he needs," said the first, "is a few drops of sweat from the hide of a white caribou."

When the two boooins had done laughing and eating, they fell asleep.

Little Magwis was still too frightened to move, so he stayed where he was, thinking how cruel the wizards were and how sad it was that the old Chief did not know their secret. He thought to himself that if he lived through the night and escaped the wrath of the boooins, he would give the blind Chief the proper remedy. Well, Little Magwis did live through the night without harm, though when the wizards awoke and went on their way, he was so stiff at first he could hardly move. He got down from the tree at last and set out for the village at the bend of the river.

There he learned that the wizards had spoken truth. The old Chief was blind and the medicine men had given up hope of curing him. Now when Little Magwis offered to restore the Chief's sight, the medicine men laughed in his face, but the Chief was desperate and willing to try any thing.

"Help me," he said to the little Indian, "and I'll give you anything you ask."

"I will help you if I can," said Little Magwis, "but I want nothing in return. First, bring me a white caribou."

Today there are no caribou at all in the Maritime woodlands, only the deer, which were brought in some thirty or forty years ago, but in the Old Time they were very plentiful. However, the white ones were rare, and it was some time before one could be found and driven into the village. Little Magwis caught and held it by the antler while he wet his hair string in the caribou's sweat. Then he squeezed the moisture into the Chief's sightless eyes.

After a long breathless moment, the Chief's staring eyes grew bright.

"I can see!" he cried. "I can see!"

Then all the people cheered, and the Chief ordered a large toboggan brought to him. He loaded it with venison and furs and fine weapons and decorated baskets, and gave it all to Little Magwis.

When Little Magwis arrived home in his own village with all these wonderful things, Big Magwis nearly choked with jealousy.

"How did you get it? Where--what--how?"

Little Magwis willingly told him the whole story.

"The oak by the camping ground?" cried Big Magwis. "I know it well!"

That night he stole off quietly and hid himself in the tree, hoping to overhear something that would bring him a fortune like his neighbour. Crouched in the fork of the tree, hiding his big body as well as he could, he heard the boooins approach the spot underneath and listened eagerly to what they had to say.

"You remember our talk not long ago about the blind Chief?" asked one.

"I remember it well," said the other.

"I have just learned," said the first with a scowl, "that we were overheard by someone up in this tree--someone who got rich by curing the Chief with our secret remedy!"

"Perhaps," said the second in a hard voice, "perhaps he is up in that tree now, hoping to hear more of our secrets!" And he suddenly hurled a stone into the tree, knocking Big Magwis to the ground and killing him instantly.

Little Magwis never went to the tree again. He had more sense! And he was content with what he had.

There, once again--kespeadooksit.

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.