Duck with the Red Feet
The Duck with the Red Feet
A HUNTER in old times lived on the bank of a river far away in the Canadian forest. He passed all his days in the deep woods where he had great success in catching and killing game. There was no better hunter than he in all the country. Every evening he returned to his home, bringing his day's catch with him. His father and mother were both dead and he had no sister. He had only one brother. This brother was very small. He was so small that the hunter kept him in a little box; when he went away in the morning to hunt, he always closed the box up tight so that his little brother could not get out, for he feared that if he got out harm would come to him. Every night he took him out of the box to give him food, and the little man was so hungry that he always ate a great lot of food. The little man slept always with his brother, but every morning he was carefully locked up in the box. And in time he grew very tired of his prison.
One evening as the hunter came down the river from his hunting journey he saw a very beautiful girl sitting on the bank of the stream. He decided he would catch her and take her home to be his wife, for he was lonely. He paddled to the beach as silently as he could, but she saw him coming and she jumped into the water and disappeared. She went to her home at the bottom of the river and told her mother that the hunter had tried to catch her. But her mother told her that she should not have run away. She said, "The hunter who tried to catch you was intended to be your husband. You must wait for him to-morrow and tell him you will be his wife."
The next night as the hunter came down the river the girl was again sitting on the bank. He paddled over as he had done on the evening before, but this time she did not run away. She said, "I have been waiting for you. You may take me for your wife." And the man, well pleased with his beautiful prize, placed her in his canoe and took her home. He did not tell her of his little brother in the box. He cooked a beaver for the evening meal. He and his wife ate half of it, but he placed the other half away in the cup-board. Then he told his wife to go to sleep, and she went to bed and soon fell asleep. When she awoke in the morning her husband had gone for his day's hunting, for he had to leave early to go a long distance into the forest. She found too that the half of the beaver he had put in the cup-board was gone. And she wondered what had become of it.
That evening when her husband came home, he cooked another beaver for their meal. Again they ate one half of it, and the man placed the other half of it to one side. But not a word did he say of his brother in the box. Then the man sent his wife to bed as on the previous night, and soon she was fast asleep. When she awoke in the morning, her husband was gone for his day's hunting. The half of the beaver which he had placed to one side was also gone, but she knew he had not taken it. She was afraid, and all day she wondered where the meat had gone. She decided that she would find out what had happened to it.
That night when her husband came home, he cooked half a small moose for their evening meal. They ate part of it, and the man placed the remainder of it to one side as usual. Then he told his wife to go to sleep. She went to bed and pretended to sleep, but she stayed wide awake, peeping through half-closed eyelids. When her husband thought she was sleeping soundly, he unlocked a little box that stood on a low shelf, and took out a little man and gave him the moose meat he had put aside. The little man ate every bit of it. He looked very strange. He was all red from head to heels, as if he were covered with red paint, and he said not a word. When he had greedily eaten all the meat, the man washed him and combed his hair and then put him back in the box and locked him up. The woman wondered greatly at this strange happening, but she could not keep from laughing heartily to herself because of the funny appearance of the little red man.
The next day the man left early for his day's hunting. When she was sure he was far away, she thought she would take a peep at the queer little red man in the box. She found the key hanging on the wall, and opened the box and called to the little man to come out. But he would not come. He seemed to be very much afraid of her. She coaxed him to come out, but he refused. Then she caught him and pulled him out. He looked at her for a long time, but he would say not a word. Then he ran to the door, which was open, and with a sudden jump he sprang into the air and disappeared. The woman called to him, but he would not come back. He was never seen again. The woman was very much afraid. But she was more frightened when she looked at her hands. They were all red because she had caught the little red man, and many red spots were on her arms and on her feet where the red colouring from the man had dropped. She tried to wash off the red spots, but she could not remove them. She washed and rubbed her hands all day, but the stains would not come off. When her husband came home in the evening, he knew when he saw her red hands what had happened. He knew that his brother of the box had gone. And he was very angry. He seized a rod and ran at her to beat her. She was afraid he would kill her, and she ran to the river and jumped in to go back to her old home. But as she reached the water, she was changed from what she was. At once she became a Sheldrake Duck. The red spots remained on her, and the sea could not wash them off. And to this day the Sheldrake Duck has red stains on her feet and feathers, because she was curious and took the funny little red man from the box in the olden days.
Cyrus. Canadian Wonder Tales. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head,