THE village was starving, there was no running away from the fact; the men's eyes were big and hungry-looking, and even the plumpest girl was thin. What was to be done? The maidens must go out to find roots. Perhaps the spirits would take pity on their starved looks and guide them to where the roots grew; so early in the morning all the maidens, led by the chief's two daughters, left the village to seek for food; they walked two by two, a maid and a little girl, side by side. Long they journeyed, and weary were their feet, yet they found nothing, and darkness was creeping over the land. So they laid themselves down to rest under the Great Above, with no shelter or covering over them, to wait for the coming dawn. Next day as they journeyed, behold one of the children espied a root, another, and yet another, until all were busy digging up the precious food. Now a strange thing happened, for, while the maidens only found long thin roots, the children gathered only thick large ones. At length enough had been found to last the village for a time, so the girls set off to return home. As they came near the river they saw it was terribly flooded, and an old, old woman sat crooning upon the bank.
As they approached they began to distinguish the words she was chanting:--
"The Water Spirit loves not the thin roots,
They are the food of swine--
There is no safety for them.
But the large root, how good it is--
It is the food of spirits, even of the
Great Water Spirit.
Safety and strength are in it;
The water flows on, flows on."
"Mother," said the elder of the chief's daughters, approaching the old woman, "tell us of your wisdom how we shall cross this swollen river, for we are in haste to reach our home."
Without lifting her eyes from the water, the dame replied, "To the swollen river a swollen root; in each maid's right hand a root that is large, then cross and fear not."
Accordingly the girls chose their largest root, which they threw upon the water, and then each child of her store of fat roots chose two; one she gave to one of the elder maidens, the other she held in her own right hand, then two by two they stepped into the river and in safety gained the opposite bank. But when it came to the turn of the chief's two daughters, the child refused to give her sister one of her large roots, nor were threats or entreaties of any avail. The night was fast approaching, their companions were almost out of sight, and the river rolled at their feet, dark, swift, and deep.
At length the child relented, and soon the two girls were speeding after their friends; but it was too dark to see, and they missed their road and wandered far in the darkness. When midnight was fast approaching they saw a light shining near, and upon going up to it, found themselves at the door of a hut, over which a mat hung. "Let us ask for shelter for the night," said the elder girl, and shook the mat.
"Get up! get up! son of mine, and see if people are at the door; for I am hungry and would eat meat." The voice was that of a man, who was seated in front of some red-hot cinders in the middle of the hut.
The little boy ran to the door, and, upon seeing the two girls standing there, implored them to run away at once, as his father was a cannibal and would eat them up; but before they had time to do so, the old man appeared and dragged them into the hut.
Early the next morning the old cannibal left the hut to call two of his friends to share his feast. Before he left he securely fastened the two girls together, and told his son to watch them carefully.
Now, as soon as he was out of sight, there appeared at the door the old woman who yesterday had been sitting on the river bank. She at once set the girls free, but told them she must cut off all their hair. When this was done, she took a little and buried it under the floor of the hut, another bunch she buried under the refuse heap outside, another near the spring, and yet another half way up the hill. She then returned to the hut and burnt the remaining hair.
"Now, my children," said she, "you must fly to your home. I shall follow you under the ground, but your guide shall be a bee. Follow where it leads, and you will be safe." So saying, she led them to the door and drew down the mat.
"Run!" said the boy; "make haste! There is the bee grandmother told you of. Follow quickly, lest my father find you and kill you."
Seeing a bee hovering near, the girls followed where it led. Presently they met two men, who stopped them, and asked, "Who are you? Are you not the two girls our friend has told us of? Did you not stay last night in a hut with an old man and a boy?"
"We know not of whom you speak," replied the girls. "We have seen no old man, nor little boy."
"Ho, ho! is that true? But yes, we see it is true. He told us his victims had plenty of hair, but you have none. No, no; these are not they; these are only people." So saying, they allowed the girls to continue their journey.
Now when the old man and his friends found the girls had escaped, they were very angry; but the little boy said he did not think they could be very far away. The old man went out and began calling, but, as he called, there answered him a voice from the hair under the hut, another voice from the hair by the spring, another from the mountain, and so on from each spot where the old woman had buried the hair, until he became mad with rage and disappointment; then, guessing that witchcraft had been used, and that the two girls his friends had spoken to were indeed his intended victims, he set off in pursuit; but when he caught sight of them, they were almost at their father's village, and a large swarm of bees was between him and them, which, when he tried to overtake the girls, stung him so terribly that he howled with agony, and dared not approach any nearer. Thus the girls escaped, and returned to bring the light of day to their parents' eyes.