Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton

A Hunter's Story

After the old man, who had related the story of Osseo, had resumed his seat, a young warrior arose, and glancing at the painted maidens, began to tell of the Marshpee maiden.

"Once," he said, "there lived among the Marshpees, a maiden named Arva. She was very silly and very idle. She sat whole days doing nothing. While the other women of the village were busy weeding out the corn, bringing home the fuel, drying the fish, thatching the cabins, or mending the nets, there sat this maiden, doing nothing.

"Then, too, even if she had been thrifty, she was so ugly that no warrior wanted to marry her. She squinted, her face was long and thin, her nose was humped, her teeth were crooked, her chin was as sharp as the bill of a loon, her ears were as large as those of a deer, her long arms were nothing but fleshless bones, her legs were like two pine poles stripped of their bark. She was, indeed, so ugly that everybody nearly died with laughing when they saw her.

"Now, strange to say, this Marshpee maiden had the most beautiful voice in the world. Nothing could equal the sweetness of her singing. There was a low hill at a distance from the village, and here she often sat alone and sang during the long summer evenings. As soon as she began to sing, the branches above her head would be filled with birds, the thickets around her crowded with beasts, and the river, which was not far from the foot of the hill, would be alive with fishes.

"Little minnows and monster porpoises, sparrows and eagles, snails and lobsters, mice and moles, and all the beasts of the forest, came to listen to the songs of the ugly Marshpee maiden.

"Whenever she had finished one song, she was obliged straightway to begin another, for there were growls and barks, hisses and squeals and squeaks from the water and the hillside, where each animal applauded in the very best way he knew how.

"Now, among the fishes that came every night to listen, was a great trout. He was chief of the trout that hid so cunningly among the roots beneath the water, that no snare could ever catch them.

"This chief of the trout was as long as a man and quite as thick. He was so large that he could not approach as near the shore as he wished, and he was so eager to hear the music that he ran his nose more and more into the soft bank of the river.

"Every night he dug farther and farther, till at length he had plowed out a passage very wide and longer than an arrow's flight, which became a brook, called to this very day Coatuit Brook.

"One night he spoke to the songstress. He could not see how ugly she was, for it was always dark when she sang. So he told her how beautiful she was, and said so many flattering things, that in the end the poor girl's head was quite turned. She thought the gurgling speech of her fish" was the sweetest she had ever heard, and she listened to him for hours, and fed him the roots he liked.

"But for all this, the maiden and her lover became very unhappy, for he could not live on the land three minutes at a time, and she could not live in the water. They shed many briny tears. 'If he only might come to my wigwam!' sighed the maiden. 'If she might only swim down to my grotto in the bottom of the sea!' groaned the trout king.

"One night, while thus lamenting, they heard a strange noise. A glowworm lighted up the hillside, and they saw a little man before them. Around his neck was a string of bright shells. His hair was as green as ooze, and woven with the long weeds which grow among the corals of the ocean. His body was covered with scales, and his hands were shaped like the fins of a fish. He was the king of all the fishes, and seemed in a very bad humor indeed.

"He asked, frowning, why they made such lamentation that he could not sleep in his palace of pearls in the depth of the sea.

"At this the maiden was very bashful and hid her ugly face in her doeskin. But the chief of the trout spoke up boldly. 'This charming Marshpee maiden and I love each other to distraction.' he said, I but, alas! neither of us can live where the other does.' 'Grieve not,' said the little green man, 'I will transform the maiden to a fish.' So he led her to the river, and sprinkled water over her head and uttered some very mysterious words.

"Then cries of pain rose on the night air. The body of the maiden became covered with scales. Her large ears, and crooked nose, and sharp chin, and long, bony arms, were gone; her legs had grown together. She had become a trout, and soon the pair glided lovingly off to sea.

"But the Marshpee maiden never forgot her old home, and one night in every year two immense trout play in the waters of Coatuit Brook."

When this story was ended there was great applause, and all fell to talking at once. Some said that they knew this story to be a fact, for they themselves had seen the very spot where it all happened.

Others said they did not believe a word of it. To be sure, there was a brook called the Coatuit, but it had been dug out by the giant, Kwasind, as he pulled his skiff down to the river.

The dispute about the Marshpee maiden was loud and long, and has never been quite settled, even down to the present day.