There never was anyone so wise and knowing as old Iagoo. There never was an Indian who saw and heard so much. He knew the secrets of the woods and fields, and understood the language of birds and beasts. All his life long he had lived out of doors, wandering far in the forest where the wild deer hide, or skimming the waters of the lake in his birch-bark canoe.
Besides the things he had learned for himself, Iagoo knew much more. He knew the fairy tales and the wonder stories told him by his grandfather, who had heard them from his grandfather, and so on, away back to the time when the world was young and strange, and there was magic in almost everything.
Iagoo was a great favorite with the children. No one knew better where to find the beautiful, colored shells which he strung into necklaces for the little girls. No one could teach them so well just where to look for the grasses which their nimble fingers wove into baskets. For the boys he made bows and arrows — bows from the ash-tree, that would bend far back without breaking, and arrows, strong and straight, from the sturdy oak.
But most of all, Iagoo won the children’s hearts with his stories. Where did the robin get his red breast? How did fire find its way into the wood, so that an Indian can get it out again by rubbing two sticks together? Why was Coyote, the prairie wolf, so much cleverer than the other animals; and why was he always looking behind him when he ran? It was old Iagoo who could tell you where and why.
Now, winter was the time for story-telling. When the snow lay deep on the ground, the North. Wind came howling from his home in the Land of Ice, and the cold moon shone from the frosty sky, it was then that the Indians gathered in the wigwam. It was then that Iagoo sat by the fire of blazing logs, and the little boys and girls gathered around him.
“Whoo, whoo!” wailed the North Wind. The sparks leapt up, and Iagoo laid another log on the fire. “Whoo, whoo!” What a mischievous old fellow was this North Wind! One could almost see him — his flowing hair all hung with icicles. If the wigwam were not so strong he would blow it down, and if the fire were not so bright he would put it out. But the wigwam was made on purpose, for just such a time as this; and the forest nearby had logs to last forever. So the North Wind could only gnash his teeth, and say, “Whoo, whoo!”
One little girl, more timid than the rest, would draw nearer and put her hand on the old man’s arm. “O, Iagoo,” she said, “Just listen! Do you think he can hurt us?”
“Have no fear,” answered Iagoo. “The North Wind can do no harm to anyone who is brave and cheerful. He blusters, and makes a lot of noise; but at heart he is really a big coward, and the fire will soon frighten him away. Suppose I tell you a story about it.”
And the story Iagoo told we shall now tell to you, the story of how Shin-ge-bis fooled the North Wind.
Iagoo won the childrenʼs hearts with his stories.
Long, long ago, in the time when only a few people lived upon the earth, there dwelt in the North a tribe of fishermen. Now, the best fish were to be found in the summer season, far up in the frozen places where no one could live in the winter at all. For the King of this Land of Ice was a fierce old man called Ka-bib-on-okka by the Indians — meaning in our language, the North Wind.
Though the Land of Ice stretched across the top of the world for thousands and thousands of miles, Ka-bib-on-okka was not satisfied. If he could have had his way there would have been no grass or green trees anywhere; all the world would have been white from one year’s end to another, all the rivers frozen tight, and all the country covered with snow and ice.
Luckily there was a limit to his power. Strong and fierce as he was, he was no match at all for Sha-won-dasee, the South Wind, whose home was in the pleasant land of the sun-flower. Where Sha-won-dasee dwelt it was always summer. When he breathed upon the land, violets appeared in the woods, the wild rose bloomed on the yellow prairie, and the cooing dove called musically to his mate.
It was he who caused the melons to grow, and the purple grapes; it was he whose warm breath ripened the corn in the fields, clothed the forests in green, and made the earth all glad and beautiful. Then, as the summer days grew shorter in the North, Sha-won-dasee would climb to the top of a hill, fill his great pipe, and sit there — dreaming and smoking. Hour after hour he sat and smoked; and the smoke, rising in the form of a vapor, filled the air with a soft haze until the hills and lakes seemed like the hills and lakes of dreamland.
Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky; a great peace and stillness over all. Nowhere else in the world was there anything so wonderful. It was Indian Summer.
Now it was that the fishermen who set their nets in the North worked hard and fast, knowing the time was at hand when the South Wind would fall asleep, and fierce old Ka-bib-on-okka would swoop down upon them and drive them away. Sure enough! One morning a thin film of ice covered the water where they set their nets; a heavy frost sparkled in the sun on the bark roof of their huts.
That was sufficient warning. The ice grew thicker, the snow fell in big, feathery flakes. Coyote, the prairie wolf, trotted by in his shaggy white winter coat. Already they could hear a muttering and a moaning in the distance.
“Ka-bib-on-okka is coming!” cried the fishermen. “Ka-bib-on-okka will soon be here. It is time for us to go.”
But Shin-ge-bis, the diver, only laughed.
Shin-ge-bis was always laughing. He laughed when he caught a big fish, and he laughed when he caught none at all. Nothing could dampen his spirits.
“The fishing is still good,” he said to his comrades. “I can cut a hole in the ice, and fish with a line instead of a net. What do I care for old Ka-bib-on-okka?”
They looked at him with amazement. It was true that Shin-ge-bis had certain magic powers, and could change himself into a duck. They had seen him do it; and that is why he came to be called the “diver.” But how would this enable him to brave the anger of the terrible North Wind?
“You had better come with us,” they said. “Ka-bib-onokka is much stronger than you. The biggest trees of the forest bend before his wrath. The swiftest river that runs freezes at his touch. Unless you can turn yourself into a bear, or a fish, you will have no chance at all.”
But Shin-ge-bis only laughed the louder.
“My fur coat lent me by Brother Beaver and my mittens borrowed from Cousin Muskrat will protect me in the daytime,” he said, “and inside my wigwam is a pile of big logs. Let Ka-bib-on-okka come in by my fire if he dares.”
So the fishermen took their leave rather sadly; for the laughing Shin-ge-bis was a favorite with them, and, the truth is, they never expected to see him again.
When they were gone, Shin-ge-bis set about his work in his own way. First of all he made sure that he had plenty of dry bark and twigs and pine-needles, to make the fire blaze up when he returned to his wigwam in the evening. The snow by this time was pretty deep, but it froze so hard on top that the sun did not melt it, and he could walk on the surface without sinking in at all. As for fish, he well knew how to catch them through the holes he made in the ice; and at night he would go tramping home, trailing a long string of them behind him, and singing a song he had made up himself:
“Ka-bib-on-okka, ancient man,
Come and scare me if you can.
Big and blustery though you be,
You are mortal just like me!”
It was thus that Ka-bib-on-okka found him, plodding along late one afternoon across the snow.
“Whoo, whoo!” cried the North Wind. “What impudent, two-legged creature is this who dares to linger here long after the wild goose and the heron have winged their way to the south? We shall see who is master in the Land of Ice. This very night I will force my way into his wigwam, put his fire out, and scatter the-ashes all around. Whoo, whoo!”
Night came; Shin-ge-bis sat in his wigwam by the blazing fire. And such a fire! Each backlog was so big it would last for a moon. That was the way the Indians, who had no clocks or watches, counted time; instead of weeks or months, they would say “a moon” — the length of time from one new moon to another.
Shin-ge-bis had been cooking a fish, a fine, fresh fish caught that very day. Broiled over the coals, it was a tender and savory dish; and Shin-ge-bis smacked his lips, and rubbed his hands with pleasure. He had tramped many miles that day; so it was a pleasant thing to sit there by the roaring fire and toast his shins. How foolish, he thought, his comrades had been to leave a place where fish was so plentiful, so early in the winter.
“They think that Ka-bib-on-okka is a kind of magician,” he was saying to himself, “and that no one can resist him. It’s my own opinion that he’s a man, just like myself. It’s true that I can’t stand the cold as he does; but then, neither can he stand the heat as I do.”
This thought amused him so that he began to laugh and sing:
“Ka-bib-on-okka, frosty man,
Try to freeze me if you can.
Though you blow until you tire,
I am safe beside my fire!”
He was in such a high good humor that he scarcely noticed a sudden uproar that began without. The snow came thick and fast; as it fell it was caught up again like so much powder and blown against the wigwam, where it lay in huge drifts. But instead of making it colder inside, it was really like a thick blanket that kept the air out.
Ka-bib-on-okka soon discovered his mistake, and it made him furious. Down the smoke-vent he shouted; and his voice was so wild and terrible that it might have frightened an ordinary man. But Shin-ge-bis only laughed. It was so quiet in that great, silent country that he rather enjoyed a little noise.
The North Wind was a fierce old man.
“Ho, ho!” he shouted back. “How are you, Ka-bib-onokka? If you are not careful you will burst your cheeks.”
Then the wigwam shook with the force of the blast, and the curtain of buffalo hide that formed the doorway flapped and rattled, and rattled and flapped.
“Come on in, Ka-bib-on-okka!” called Shin-ge-bis merrily. “Come on in and warm yourself. It must be bitter cold outside.”
At these jeering words, Ka-bib-on-okka hurled himself against the curtain, breaking one of the buckskin thongs; and made his way inside. Oh, what an icy breath! — so icy that it filled the hot wigwam like a fog.
Shin-ge-bis pretended not to notice. Still singing, he rose to his feet, and threw on another log. It was a fat log of pine, and it burned so hard and gave out so much heat that he had to sit a little distance away. From the corner of his eye he watched Ka-bib-on-okka; and what he saw made him laugh again.
The perspiration was pouring from his forehead; the snow and icicles in his flowing hair quickly disappeared. Just as a snowman made by children melts in the warm sun of March, so the fierce old North Wind began to thaw! There could be no doubt of it; Ka-bib-on-okka, the terrible, was melting! His nose and ears became smaller, his body began to shrink.
If he remained where he was much longer, the King of the Land of Ice would be nothing better than a puddle.
“Come on up to the fire,” said Shin-ge-bis cruelly. “You must be chilled to the bone. Come up closer, and warm your hands and feet.”
But the North Wind had fled, even faster than he came, through the doorway.
Once outside, the cold air revived him, and all his anger returned. As he had not been able to freeze Shin-ge-bis, he spent his rage on everything in his path. Under his tread the snow took on a crust; the brittle branches of the trees snapped as he blew and snorted; the prowling fox hurried to his hole; and the wandering coyote sought the first shelter at hand.
Once more he made his way to the wigwam of Shin-ge-bis, and shouted down the flue. “Come out,” he called. “Come out, if you dare, and wrestle with me here in the snow. We’ll soon see who’s master then!”
Shin-ge-bis thought it over. “The fire must have weakened him,” he said to himself. “And my own body is warm. I believe I can overpower him. Then he will not annoy me any more, and I can stay here as long as I please.”
Out of the wigwam he rushed, and Ka-bib-on-okka came to meet him. Then a great struggle took place. Over and over on the hard snow they rolled, locked in one another’s arms.
All night long they wrestled; and the foxes crept out of their holes, sitting at a safe distance in a circle, watching the wrestlers. The effort he put forth kept the blood warm in the body of Shin-ge-bis. He could feel the North Wind growing weaker and weaker; his icy breath was no longer a blast, but only a feeble sigh.