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THE JUNIOR CLASSICS

 

THE BOY AND THE WOLVES

Retold by Andrew Lang

ONCE upon a time an Indian hunter built himself a house in the middle
of a great forest, far away from all his tribe; for his heart was
gentle and kind and he was weary of the treachery and cruel deeds of
those who had been his friends. So he left them and took his wife and
three children, and they journeyed on until they found a spot near to a
clear stream, where they began to cut down trees and to make ready
their wigwam. For many years they lived peacefully and happily in this
sheltered place, never leaving it except to hunt the wild animals,
which served them both for food and clothes. At last, however, the
strong man fell sick, and before long lie knew he must die. So he
gathered his family round him and said his last words to them.

"You, my wife, the companion of my days, will follow me ere many moons
have waned to the island of the blessed. But for you, 0 my children,
whose lives are but newly begun, the wickedness, unkindness, and
ingratitude from which I fled are before you. Yet I shall go hence in
peace, my children, if you will promise always to love each other and
never to forsake your youngest brother."

"Never!" they replied, holding out their hands. And the hunter died
content.

Scarcely eight moons had passed when, just as he had said, the wife
went forth and followed her husband; but before leaving her children
she bade the two elder ones think of their promise never to forsake the
younger, for he was a child and weak. And while the snow lay thick
upon the ground they tended him and cherished him; but when the earth
showed green again the heart of the young man stirred within him, and
he longed to see the wigwams of the village where his father's youth
was spent.

Therefore he opened all his heart to his sister, who answered: "My
brother, I understand your longing for our fellow-men, whom here we
cannot see. But remember our father's words. Shall we not seek our
own pleasures and forget the little one?"

But he would not listen, and, making no reply, he took his bow and
arrows and left the hut. The snows fell and melted, yet he never
returned, and at last the heart of the girl grew cold and hard and her
little boy became a burden in her eyes, till one day she spoke thus to
him: "See, there is food for many days to come. Stay here within the
shelter of the hut. I go to seek our brother, and when I have found
him I shall return hither."

But when, after hard journeying, she reached the village where her
brother dwelt and saw that he had a wife and was happy, and when she,
too, was sought by a young brave, then she also forgot the boy alone in
the forest and thought only of her husband.

Now as soon as the little boy had eaten all the food which his sister
had left him, he went out into the woods and gathered berries and dug
up roots, and while the sun shone he was contented and had his fill.
But when the snows began and the wind howled, then his stomach felt
empty and his limbs cold, and he hid in trees all the night and only
crept out to eat what the wolves had left behind. And by and by,
having no other friends, he sought their company, and sat by while they
devoured their prey, and they grew to know him and gave him food. And
without them he would have died in the snow. But at last the snows
melted and the ice upon the great lake, and as the wolves went down to
the shore the boy went after them. And it happened one day that his
big brother was fishing in his canoe near the shore, and he heard the
voice of a child singing in the Indian tone:

"My brother, my brother!

I am becoming a wolf,

I am becoming a wolf!"

And when he had so sung he howled as wolves howl. Then the heart of
the elder sank and he hastened toward him, crying: "Brother, little
brother, come to me;" but he, being half a wolf, only continued his
song. And the louder the elder called him, "Brother, little brother,
come to me," the swifter he fled after his brothers the wolves and the
heavier grew his skin, till, with a long howl, he vanished into the
depths of the forest.

So, with shame and anguish in his soul, the elder brother went back to
his village, and with his sister mourned the little boy and the broken
promise till the end of his life.



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