Robin Redbreast, An American Indian Story

There was once a hunter who had only one son, and when his son grew up he said to him: “My son, I am growing old, and you must hunt for me.”

“Very well, father,” said his son, and he took his father’s bow and arrows and went out into the woods. But he was a dreamy boy, and forgot what he had come for, and spent the morning wondering at the beautiful flowers, and trees, and mosses, and hills, and valleys that he saw. When he saw a bird on a tree, he forgot that he had come to shoot it, and lay listening to its song; and when he saw a deer come down to drink at the stream he put down his bow and arrows and began to talk to the deer in the deer’s own language. At last he saw that the sun was setting. Then he looked round for his bow and arrows, and they were gone!

When he got home to the wigwam, his father met him at the door and said: “My son, you have had a long day’s hunting. Have you killed so much that you had to leave it in the woods? Let us go and fetch it together.”

The young man looked very much ashamed of himself, and said: “Father, I forgot all about the hunting. The woods, and the sky, and the flowers, and the birds, and the beasts were so interesting that I forgot all about what you had sent me to do.”

His father was in a terrible rage with him, and in the morning he sent him out again, with new bow and arrows, saying: “Take care that you don’t forget this time.”

The son went along saying to himself: “I mustn’t forget, I mustn’t forget, I mustn’t forget.” But as soon as a bird flew across the path he forgot all about what his father had said, and called to the bird in the bird’s own language, and the bird came and sat on the tree above him, and sang to him so beautifully all day that the young man sat as if he was dreaming till sunset.

“Oh dear!” said the young man, “what shall I do? My father will kill me if I go back without anything to eat.”

“Never mind,” said the bird; “if he kills you, we shall give you feathers and paint, and you can fly away and be a bird like ourselves.”

When the young man reached the village he scarcely dared to go near his father’s wigwam; but his father saw him coming, and ran to meet him, calling out in a hurry; “What have you brought? What have you brought?”

“I have brought nothing, father; nothing at all,” said the boy.

His father was angrier than ever, and in the morning he said: “Come with me. No more bow and arrows for you, and not a bite to eat, till I have taught you to be a hunter like any other good Indian.” So he took his son into the middle of the forest, and there built for him a little wigwam, with no door, only a little hole in the side.

“There!” said his father, when the young man was inside, and the wigwam was laced up tight. “When you have lived and fasted in this wigwam for twelve days, the spirit of a hunter will come into you.”

Every day the young man’s father came to see him, and every day the young man begged for food, till at last, on the tenth day, he could only beg in a whisper.

“No!” said his father. “In two days more you can both hunt and eat.”

On the eleventh day, when the father came and spoke to his son, he got no answer. Looking through the hole, he saw the lad lying as if he was dead on the ground; but when he called out aloud his son awoke, and whispered: “Father, bring me food! Give me some food!”

“No,” said his father. “You have only one day more to wait. To-morrow you will hunt and eat.” And he went away home to the village.

On the twelfth day the father came loaded with meal and meat. As he came near to the  wigwam he heard a curious chirping sound, and when he looked through the hole in the wigwam he saw his son standing up inside, and painting his breast with bright red paint.

“What are you doing, my son? Come and eat! Here is meal and meat for you. Come and eat and hunt like a good Indian.”

But the son could only reply in a chirping little voice: “It is too late, father. You have killed me at last, and now I am becoming a bird.” And as he spoke he turned into the o-pe-che—the robin redbreast—and flew out of the hole and away to join the other birds; but he never flew very far from where men live.

The cruel father set out to go back to his wigwam; but he could never find the village again, and after he had wandered about a long time he lay down in the forest and died; and soon afterward the redbreast found him, and buried him under a heap of dry leaves. Every year after that, when the time of the hunter’s fast came round, the redbreast perched on his father’s empty wigwam and sang the song of the dead.