There was in the Old Time a great rogue named Badger. The Wabanaki storytellers, who talk of men as though they were animals and animals as though they were men, sometimes spoke of Badger as a man and sometimes as an animal. It was agreed, however, that he had something of Lox in him--Lox, you remember, who was the son of Evil and who sometimes took on the form of a badger. And that is how this Indian known as Badger got his name.
Now this fearless and impudent rascal lived a carefree life on the labour of others, having no time from merrymaking to spend on hunting. In time, however, his neighbours grew tired of supporting him. One summer when food was scarce, the Chief of Badger's tribe said to him:
"You take all and give nothing. We can no longer afford to share our meat with you. This is what we have decided. You will be given food for half a moon's journey. You will then be too far away to trouble us, and must live as you can."
For once, Badger's face lost its grin.
"Who will take care of Little Brother when I'm gone?" he demanded. Now you see, Badger was not all bad. He had a small brother who was gentle and shy and not very clever, and ever since the boys had lost their parents, Badger had looked after Little Brother and treated him with affection.
"He will be given a home with foster parents," said the Chief, but Little Brother burst into tears.
"I want to go with my elder brother," he wailed.
"Very well, come along," said Badger, and grinned saucily at the
people. "Thanks, my friends, for giving us a chance to see the
world!" Then, with all their possessions in a blanket slung over
Badger's shoulder, the two set jauntily off into the woods.
However, they did not go far. Badger stopped before the mouth of
a small cave and told Little Brother to go inside.
"This food will last you until the full of the moon, when I shall return," he said. "I must play one last trick on our late friends! "
Then Badger dressed himself in the beads and feathers of a medicine man and put a mask on his face. Medicine men, you know, were the doctors of the Indians. Some of them understood how to make medicine from herbs and how to cure people; but others, like Badger, were frauds.
He knew that his former tribe had no medicine man at present, so he went back to the village and announced that he was a powerful man of magic. Not recognizing Badger behind the mask, his old neighbours treated him with great respect. They gave him a wigwam to live in and shared their food with him, begging him to treat their sick and use his magic to make meat more plentiful.
For a while, Badger played the medicine man with glee. He beat his drum and shook his rattle, and pretended to summon spirits. He sold charms and fell into trances, and all the time behind his mask, he was laughing. However, game in the district grew scarcer and scarcer, and as the people grew hungrier, they began to lose faith in the medicine man. If he was really a magician, why did he not make hunting better?
One day, near the full of the moon, a long loud wail came from the forest. The Indians shook with fear, but not Badger, who knew at once what it meant. It was Little Brother crying because he was lonely and his food was gone. The wail came again.
"It is the giant, Famine," said Badger with a long face. "He says he is coming to this village."
Then all the people began to groan with dismay, for when Famine comes, he brings death by starvation.
"Never fear," said Badger calmly, "for I, your medicine man, will go out to meet him and drive him away."
The people exclaimed with gratitude and admiration.
"Give me a bag of tallow," said Badger, "to take with me, for I shall need plenty of strength to defeat that fellow."
Tallow was a kind of fat, a great delicacy with the Indians in olden times. It was made by pounding and breaking the bones of a moose, then boiling the bones until the grease came to the top. The grease, a white substance as hard as wax, was then skimmed off with a wooden spoon. It was so nourishing, hunters used to take it with them on long hunting expeditions as their only provision.
So the people gave Badger a large bag of tallow, the last they had, and off he went, crying out in a commanding voice, "Ahhh Chowwwaaa!" The Indians thought this a cry of defiance against the giant, but it was really the secret name Badger had for his brother, to let him know he was coming.
They waited and listened, but heard no sound of battle. They waited long--and in vain--for the return of their medicine man.
Meanwhile, deep in the forest, Badger and Little Brother were feasting on the tallow, laughing together at Badger's cleverness, when suddenly they heard a rushing sound in the forest. Badger jumped up, alarmed, as huge feet came crashing through the underbrush. The trees swayed as a great hand flung them aside, and all at once a fearsome giant stood before the brothers. His face was as green as the grass, and his hair sprang out from his huge head like needles on pine boughs. Before Badger knew what was happening, the Green Giant had seized Little Brother in his mighty green hand and had stuffed him into the bag he carried on his shoulder.
"Save me," shrieked Little Brother.
Badger rushed upon the giant furiously, biting and punching and kicking, but the giant only laughed.
"What is tickling my legs?" he asked.
"Give me back my Little Brother," stormed Badger.
"Certainly," said the Green Giant, "as soon as you bring me the magic food of Glooscap which never grows less, no matter how much of it is eaten."
Poor Badger stared at the giant in dismay. It was a long way to Blomidon where Glooscap lived, and the path to it was full of danger. Moreover, there was no certainty of Glooscap giving him the food when he got there.
"I shall wait for you here," the Green Giant shouted, "but only for the space of time it takes the sun to run its full course. If you do not bring the food by then, I shall have to eat Little Brother instead."
Without a word, Badger turned and set off through the trees at top speed. Late that same day, tired and breathless, he reached the shore of Minas Basin and looked up at Blomidon's red slopes, immense against the darkening sky. He knew, in order to find Glooscap's lodge, he must climb to the very top. He was terribly tired, and yearned to rest, but the thought of Little Brother in the hands of the Green Giant drove him up the red slope as fast as possible.
The red stone was slippery and covered him with red dust, but he kept on. Branches of low spruce and juniper scratched his face and tore his hands, but he paid no attention. His lungs pained, his head throbbed. His throat was hot and dry as he dragged himself the last few yards, and tumbled over full length on the grass at the summit. Too worn out for a moment to move, Badger lay still, recovering his breath. Then he got wearily to his feet. There stood Glooscap's great wigwam, a fire glowing dimly within. The Great Chief himself was nowhere in sight, nor was there any sign of Noogumee, Glooscap's grandmother, or of Marten his servant. Badger could not wait for their return to ask for the food--there was no time. Besides, the Great Chief might refuse to give it to him. Badger must get the food somehow and hurry back to the Green Giant.
He crept into the lodge and looked around, then cried out softly with triumph. A dish of Glooscap's magic food stood beside the fire. He had only to reach out and take it; but as his fingers curved around the dish they were struck aside.
"Stop, thief!" a stern voice commanded. And Badger looked up to see the great Glooscap towering over him. But his fear for Little Brother was even greater than his fear of the Great Chief.
"Please, Master!" he cried. "Give me the magic food. I must save my brother from the Green Giant."
"Why should I give you anything," asked Glooscap, "you who have robbed and made fun of your neighbours?"
"You can't let Little Brother die," Badger cried. "It wasn't his fault. If you don't help me, the giant will eat him!"
"Will he?" asked Glooscap mysteriously, and before Badger's surprised eyes, his shape began to change. His skin became green, his hair stood out from his head in green spikes, and his green face assumed a ferocious expression.
"The Green Giant was you all the time!" gasped Badger.
"And I hope he has taught you a lesson," said Glooscap, resuming his own appearance. "Are you sorry for the way you have behaved?"
"Yes, indeed," cried Badger.
"And will you promise to give up your silly tricks and do your share of the hunting?"
"I will, I will, if only--"
"Then look behind you."
Badger turned and saw Little Brother, smiling and un harmed, standing beside the fire. So great was Badger's relief, he nearly cried. For the first time, too, he realized how tired he was, and how hungry. The old impudent grin reappeared.
"I don't suppose," he suggested, "you could spare me a taste of that food?"
"Certainly not!" said Glooscap indignantly, "not until you can share it with the people you robbed of their tallow. Take this food to them at once. It will never grow less, no matter how much is eaten, until game is again plentiful in the forest."
When the people of Badger's old village saw him bringing the magic food of Glooscap, they forgave him and welcomed him back into the tribe. Famine no longer troubled the Indians, and Badger behaved himself for quite some time.
But if you think he had played his last trick, you are much mistaken, for you will hear again in time of Badger--and his mischief-making.
Until then, kespeadooksit!
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