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Native American Stories : Little Poucet

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Tales of the North American Indians

Little Poucet

Jack and his elder brother lived with their parents, who had a cook. They were enormous eaters; and when food was put on the table, they rapidly ate it all up, so that their parents had not enough. As they grew, they ate more; and at meal-time, even when the table was loaded with food, their parents had eaten only a few mouthfuls before all the food was finished.
Their parents made up their minds to get rid of them. They told the cook to provide them with a large lunch each, take them to a rough part of the mountains, and leave them. Jack read his parents’ minds, and told his elder brother what was proposed. That day he went to a wise and friendly old woman who lived near by, and asked her for advice. She gave him a large reel of thread and told him what to do. Next
morning the cook provided them with packs of food, and told them he would take them to hunt grouse.
They followed him; and as they went, Jack unrolled the thread unobserved by the cook. When the thread was almost all unrolled, the cook halted in a wild spot, saying, “We will camp here for to-night. I am going over yonder to shoot some grouse, and will be back before dusk.”
As soon as he was out of sight, the lads followed the thread back to their home, and arrived there shortly after the cook, and just as their parents were going to eat. Having left their lunch in the mountains, they were very hungry, and ate up the supper almost before their parents had commenced.
Their parents told the cook to take them farther away next time. Jack knew what they had arranged, and went to see the old woman again. She gave him a sack full of fine powder, which shone both by day and by night, but was brightest at night, and she told him what to do. On the following morning the cook said he would take them hunting. As they followed the cook, Jack sprinkled the phosphorescent dust along the way. When the sack was about empty, the cook said, “We will camp here. I will go to yonder brush and shoot rabbits. Stay here until I return.” As soon as he was out of sight, the boys ran back along the sprinkled trail. When they were about halfway back in a rough piece of country, they ran into a very large flock of small birds, and chased them hither and thither, trying to catch them.
In this way they lost their trail. They searched for a long time, but could not find it. They wandered on, not knowing where they were going. They descended from the mountains, and came to a plain where they saw a butte with a very tall pine-tree growing on top. They went there. The elder brother tried to climb the tree, but he became dizzy and descended again. Then Jack went up, reached the top, and looked around. Far away he saw a column of smoke, and called to his brother to turn his face the way he pointed. Jack descended, and they travelled the way his brother was facing. At night they camped, and sat facing the same way, so that they might not go astray.
The next day they reached a large underground lodge. They were almost famished. Their shoes and clothes were in tatters. They found an old woman within, who fed them and then hid them in the cellar within the house. She told them that her husband was a cannibal. The cannibal and his wife had two children of the same size as Jack and his brother. Being young cannibals, they sniffed around Jack and his brother, and, when they were in the cellar, continued to sniff about, so that their mother had to drive them away. Towards evening the cannibal approached the house, saying, “Nôm, nôm, nôm, where can I get some meat?” On entering, he told his wife that he smelled game within the house; and she, on being threatened with a thrashing, disclosed the fact that the boys were hidden in the cellar. Jack told his brother that he would influence the cannibal’s mind, so that they might be spared.
The cannibal pulled them out of the cellar, and was about to eat them. Then he hesitated, and began to look them over. He said, “They are too thin.” He put them back into the cellar, and told his wife to feed them well and give them a good place to sleep, that they might get fat and tender quickly. The next day the woman made a bed for them. After they had been in the house for some time, the cannibal told his wife the boys were now fit to eat, and he would kill them in the morning.
Jack knew his intention. He made the cannibal and his family sleep very soundly that night. The lads arose, and placed the cannibal’s children in the bed in which they themselves had been, and put logs of rotten wood in the bed of the cannibal’s children. They took the cannibal’s magic staff of gold, four stones which, as he learned afterwards, were gold nuggets, and the key of his door.
When any one attempted to open the house-door except with the proper key, a bell would ring.
In the morning, when the cannibal awoke, he immediately went to the bed in which the boys used to sleep, and killed his own children, whom he mistook for the captive boys. When about to eat them, he noticed their fingers, and thus realized that he had killed his own children. He uncovered what seemed to be children in the other bed, and found the logs of rotten wood.
The cannibal gave chase to Jack and his brother, who by this time were far away. When the lads saw that they would be overtaken, they hid themselves in the roots of a patch of tall grass. The cannibal, who had lost track of the boys, returned in another direction. As soon as he was out of sight, the lads ran on. Then the cannibal found their tracks again. The boys had just reached a broad lake, when he hove in sight. Jack
threw his staff down on the water, and they crossed it as on a bridge. When they reached the opposite shore, he lifted it up, and the cannibal could not cross. He shouted, “I will forgive you, I will not harm you, if you will only give me back my staff!” but Jack stuck the staff in the ground at the edge of the lake, and left the cannibal crying.
Not far from here they came to a large town of whites, where there was a chief and many soldiers, also many houses, stores, and farms. The cannibal used to prey on these people, who were much afraid of him. Here Jack and his brother separated, each getting work on a different farm.
Jack’s brother became jealous of him, and sought to accomplish his death by putting him in danger. He told his master that Jack intended to steal the large bell belonging to the cannibal. Jack’s master heard of this, and asked him if it were true, adding that his elder brother had said so. Jack said, “Very well. I will go and get the bell. You will all see it.” The cannibal kept the bell on a wheeled vehicle alongside his house. It was very large. Jack went at night, and, crossing the lake by means of the staff, he soon reached the cannibal’s house. He caused a deep sleep to fall on the cannibal, his wife, and the bell. This bell could hear a long way off, and warned the cannibal of danger by ringing. Jack ran off with the bell, hauling it in a wagon. Just as he had reached the opposite side of the lake, the cannibal arrived at the shore. Jack drew in the staff, and stuck it in the ground. The cannibal begged for the staff, saying, “You may keep the bell, but give me back my staff, with which I cross water.” Jack left him crying, and proceeded, to town, where he displayed the bell to all the people.
After this, Jack’s brother circulated the story that Jack intended to steal the cannibal’s light. His master asked him about it, and he said he would do it. He took with him three small sacks of salt. When he came to the cannibal’s house, he looked down the smoke-hole. He saw the cannibal busy boiling a large kettle full of human flesh, which was now almost ready to be eaten. Jack emptied one sack full of salt into the
kettle. The cannibal had a large spoon with which he was tasting the broth. When he took the next spoonful, he found the taste so agreeable that he forgot to eat any of the meat, and drank only of the soup.
He said, “This must be delicious game I am boiling, to make the broth so nice.” Jack wanted to make him go to drink, so that he could steal the light. He threw in the other sack of salt. The cannibal went to the creek to drink, but, instead of leaving the light, took it with him attached to his forehead. Jack ran down to the trail and hid. When the cannibal was returning, he suddenly jumped up, and threw the salt in the cannibal’s face and on the light, so that neither of them could see. The cannibal was so much startled that he ran away, and in his hurry and blindness struck his toe on a tuft of grass and fell down heavily. The light rolled off his head. Jack seized it and ran off. This light could see a long way off, and told the cannibal what it saw. It saw farthest at night. The cannibal could not follow Jack, because it was very dark and he had no proper light. Jack carried the light to town, and displayed it to the people.
Next Jack’s brother told that Jack was going to bring in the cannibal himself. His master asked him regarding it, and he said he would do it. He went to the blacksmith and had a large trunk made of iron, with a lid which shut with a spring. When it was finished, Jack went into it and tried it with all his strength. He found the box was too weak. Therefore he ordered the blacksmith to re-enforce it with heavy iron bands. He placed the trunk on a wagon, to which he harnessed a fine team, and drove to the cannibal’s house, crossing the lake on the magic staff. The cannibal came out and admired the team, wagon, and trunk. He did not recognize Jack, and thought he would kill the visitor and
take his wagon, trunk, and team. The cannibal admired the trunk, which was polished and looked like steel. Jack opened the lid to show him the inside, which was decorated with carvings, pictures in colors, and looking-glasses. Jack proposed to sell the trunk to the cannibal, and asked him to go in and try it. The cannibal told Jack to go in first. Jack went in, lay down at full length, and claimed that it was very
comfortable. The cannibal then went in and Jack shut the lid on him.
The cannibal struggled to free himself, and at times nearly capsized the trunk; but Jack drove him into town, where he stopped in the square. The chief and soldiers and all the people flocked to see the cannibal who had been killing them. They lifted him off the wagon, and asked Jack to liberate him. Jack said if he liberated him, he would kill all the people, and proposed to them to light a fire, and to roast him to death in the trunk. Jack’s brother asked him to open the trunk, but he would not consent. Jack’s brother said, “There is no danger. See these hundreds of armed soldiers.” Jack said, “It matters not, for neither arrows, nor bullets, nor knives, can penetrate him. He will kill everybody.” His brother laughed. Jack said, “I will give you the key of the trunk, and you may open it in four hours from now.” The whites wanted to have some fun with their enemy. When Jack had been gone four hours, and while he was sitting on the top of a distant hill overlooking the town, his brother opened the trunk. The cannibal, who was in a violent rage, killed every one of the people, including Jack’s brother. There were none left. After this Jack traveled. Some say he turned foolish, and became Jack the Trickster.

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