THE LOST DAUGHTER LEELINAU
(Original story: The Indian Fairy Book
From the Original Legends
Author: Cornelius Mathews)
Rewritten by BoSt
A long time ago a mighty hunter and his family lived in a modest dwelling alongside the lake near the base of the lofty highlands called Kaug Wudjoo. His favorite daughter, named Leelinau, was a beautiful girl who from the earliest age seemed sensitive, thoughtful, and imaginative. Being rather introverted, she unfortunately, passed much of her time in solitude, preferring nature and the company of plants, birds and animals to that of humans.
Whenever she could, she snuck out of the lodge and sought the remotest recesses of the woods. There was one particular section that had an irresistible draw and, oftentimes, she would sit in lonely reverie there upon some high promontory of rock overlooking the lake. Manitowok (otherwise known as the Sacred Wood) was truly an enchanting place. Resting there amid all the leafy haunts of forest pines, she lent an ear to the melodious ripples of the waves lapping against the open shore. This hallowed ground was of course shunned by all others who feared they might fall under the spell of its mystical inhabitants: the little wild men of the woods, the turtle spirits, or plant fairies that were believed to be consistently frolicking in mischievous revelry.
So fearful were some of the common folk that, whenever they were compelled to make a landing on this sacred coast, they always left behind an offering or token to appease any ill will and ward off malevolence from the indigenous fairy folk.
Leelinau, being the pure spirit of youth, had no such fear or adverse experience despite the many times she visited this place. She had no qualms visiting this enchanting place that welcomed her and made her feel as though she belonged.
Leelinau began finding her way here from a very young age. She would often go missing for many hours at a time as she gathered strange flowers and plants. Upon her safe return, she presented these delightful gleanings to her parents along with intriguing accounts of all her adventures that had transpired in her rambles.
Although her parents harbored a secret worry about her frequent visits to this sacred ground, they were unwilling to prohibit it to her, or even in any way deter her from going there. She’d always been very gentle and delicate in temperament and nature; therefore, they could not openly articulate their opposition for fear of making her sick; and so her visits to Manitowok persisted as she grew up in years to early teens.
Oh, but how she loved sitting in her favorite spot with her face turned upward, gazing at the sky or at the languid, shimmering ripples on water. Often she would linger long in contemplation, as though in communion with her guardian spirit seeking divine guidance and solace. Sometimes she would beseech the spirit to lighten her soul and alleviate the sadness that seemed of late to grip her heart. On other visits she would solicit the spirits to procure pleasant dreams or other innocent maiden’s favor.
On occasion, when her father remained afar on the hunt later than usual, and it was feared that he could be overwhelmed by a tempest, or encountered some misfortune, Leelinau would fast and then spend time in contemplation and a prayer in Manitowok while she implored the spirits’ help to speed his safe return.
As the years advanced, she, now an exquisite beauty in her mid-teens, frequented the fairy pines at greater length and, on her return appeared even more absorbed by it. Her increasingly strange detachment from the accepted norm greatly concerned her parents who began suspecting that some evil spirit had enticed her into its clutches, and had cast upon her a charm which she had not the power to resist.
This belief was confirmed when, one day, Leelinau’s mother, rising at dawn, secretly trailed her daughter into the woods. There, concealed by a huge trunk, she overheard her daughter, quietly seated at a rock, murmuring to some phantom companion, with appeals such as these:
“ Oh spirit of the dancing leaves!” whispered Leelinau, her heart palpitating with intense emotion. “Dear, sweet and gentle specter of the foaming stream. do not forsake me but visit thou my nightly pillow once more, shedding over it silver dreams of mountain brook and pebbly rivulets. Spirit of the starry night; lead my foot-prints to the blushing, burning passion-flower that shines with a carmine hue. Spirit of the greenwood plume,” she concluded, turning with passionate gaze to the beautiful young pines which lightly swayed their green leafy limbs over her head, gently brushing her face “ embrace me, your Leelinau, with thy intoxicating perfume, liken to the ones spring unfolds from its sweetest flowers, or hearts that to each other show their inmost adoration. I entreat you to hear this maiden’s prayer!”
Gradually with the passing of each day these strange communions with the phantom beings stole the heart of Leelinau away. Now she appeared detached and walked among her people in quiet melancholy, as though she was a passing spirit not belonging to that world. And this was not all, for she grew gradually more remiss with her daily routines, failing to complete even the simplest tasks of the lodge.
Before this time she used to frolic and engage in joyful interactions and play with her young companions as the girls of the neighboring lodges all assembled as usual before the lodge-door to participate in their favorite games of block and string. In contrast Leelinau would sit vacantly, dismissing these pastimes as trivial, unworthy of her attention, or she would feebly make the effort to join if only to articulate her thoughts that this activity was rather irksome to her.
Moreover, on those warm evenings when she was compelled to join in the group of young people as they formed a ring around the lodge and the leather and bone passed rapidly from one to the other she handed it along offhandedly with dispassionate indifference about winning.
Eventually summer turned into autumn and there came the joyful time of the corn harvest. The air was permeated with excitement as all members of the tribe congregated to participate in harvesting the ripened maize from the fields. They had not been at this long when one of the girls, coincidentally the one noted for her beauty, joyfully cried aloud having found a red ear. Everyone rushed over at once to congratulate her for this rare and most fortunate find; for it foretold a brave admirer who would soon be on his way to her father’s lodge. The girl blushed as crimson as the corn and, tucking the trophy to her bosom, awkwardly intoned her thanks for their well wishes then inwardly offered her sincere gratitude to the Great Spirit that the red ear was straight and true rather than being crooked and bent.
Just then one of the young men noted Leelinau’s unease as she stood aloof off to the side and, on looking more intently, spied in Leelinau’s hand another red ear she had just plucked, but this one was crooked. At once the word “Wa-ge-min!” rang out from him and the whole gathering gave a loud roar.
“The thief is in the corn-field!” shouted the young man, whose name was Lagoo and who happened to be a mischievous person well-known in the tribe for his mirthful powers of story-telling. “Beware all! Watch out for the old man stooping as he enters the field. Watch out for the one who crouches as he creeps in the dark. Is it not plain enough by this mark on the stalk that he was heavily bent in his back? Old man, be nimble or someone will take thee while thou art taking the ear.” Lagoo continued in his exaggerated tones, accompanying his words with the mimicked action of one bowed with age stealthily entering the corn-field. “See how he stoops as he breaks off the ear. Nushka! He seems for a moment to tremble. Walker, be nimble! Hooh! It is plain the old man is the thief.” He turned abruptly and, facing Leelinau as she sat in the circle, pensively regarding the crooked ear which she held in her hand, and then loudly screeched, “Leelinau, the old man is thine!”
Rounds of laughter rung merrily through the corn-field, but Leelinau, casting the crooked ear of maize down upon the ground, simply walked away without a word.
The subsequent morning at dawn the eldest son of a neighboring chief called at her father’s lodge. He was quite advanced in years; but he enjoyed such renown for his aptitude, dexterity and courage in battle, to say nothing of his expertise in the hunt, that Leelinau’s parents accepted him at once as a suitor for their daughter. They also held the firm belief that it must have been the chief’s son whom Lagoo had pictured as the corn-taker. Their decision was also based on the dire hope that he, with his proficiency as a warrior, would perhaps win back the affections and thoughts of Leelinau from the harmful phantoms in the spirit-land.
Leelinau did not express any objections to his age or give any other plausible reason; she simply shook her head in the negative, clearly rejecting his proposal. Her parents spent the night arguing the point between them. By the following day, with their mind set, ascribing the young daughter’s hesitancy to maidenly fear, they went ahead anyway and fixed the date for the upcoming nuptials.
Knowing her daughter’s whims better, Leelinau’s mother harbored a secret worry that she kept from her husband. She chose to busy herself for the next couple of days with the customary preparations, refusing to deal with the nagging question that haunted her peace: The marriage-visit to their lodge, when the old warrior would present himself at the door was arranged and the day was fast approaching. What if Leelinau refused to admit him? She’d already definitely informed her parents that she would never acquiesce to this match. Would she relent?
They had no way of knowing of course that in her heart of hearts Leelinau had already avowed fidelity to another.
When she was much younger she had confessed to her mother some, but not all, the details. The fancies that filled her young mind during all those absentee hours spent under that broad-topped young pine whose leaves whispered in the gentle murmur of the air in the evening hours when the twilight steals by with night on its heels.
During one of those times while reclining pensively against the young pine-tree, she’d fancied that she had heard a voice addressing her. At first it had been scarcely more than a sigh, but gradually it had grown more pronounced:
“Sweet maiden,” Said the melodious whisper. “Pray think of me not just a tree; but as one who is fond to be with thee; I, with my tall and blooming strength, with my bright green nodding plume that wave above thee. Thou art leaning on my breast, Leelinau; lean forever there and be at peace. Fly from men who are false and cruel, and quit the tumult of their dusty strife and instead embrace this quiet, lonely shade. Over thee my arms I will always spread, sturdier than the lodge’s roof. I will breathe a perfume like that of flowers over thy happy evening rest. In my bark canoe I’ll waft thee o’er the waters of the sky-blue lake. I will deck the folds of thy mantle with the sun’s last rays. Come, and on the mountain free rove in bright Fairy with me!”
These riveting, enchanting words were drunk in with an eager ear by Leelinau and in time the tiny buds of love in her heart transformed into full blossoms.
Her mind made up, she’d sworn then and there to forsake all other. Returning to the spot time after time, she’d listen with intent to hear more but the voice became only an inaudible murmur and then it had ceased altogether. Even so, she felt such solitude and peace there. Meanwhile in her heart the hope persisted and flourished with a sure conviction that one day, one day, it will be so.
On the eve of the day that was fixed for her marriage, Leelinau donned her best garments. She arranged her hair according to the tradition of her tribe, and wore all her maiden ornaments in beautiful array. With a smile, she then came forth and presented herself to her parents.
“I am sorry to have caused you so much worry,” She said, “It is time for me to now to take my leave of you. My place is with the chieftain of the Green Plume, who is waiting for me at the Spirit Grove.”
Her face was radiant with joy, and the parents, taking what she had said as her own fanciful way of expressing acquiescence in their plans, and of her intention to have a clandestine meeting with her intended suitor, wished her good fortune in their happy meeting.
“I leave you with some trepidation in my heart,” she continued, addressing her mother as they left the lodge, “Joyful as this event is, my heart is beset with sadness for I am going from one who has loved and nurtured me since my infancy; one who has guarded my youth; who has given me medicine when I was sick, and taught me to cook and sew.” Turning to take one last teary eyed look at the lodge, she added. “I am going from a father who has ranged the forest to procure the choicest skins for my dresses, and kept his lodge supplied with food and warmth. He kept us all safe from all danger. I am going from a lodge which has been my shelter from the harsh storms of winter, and my shield from the heat of summer. My gratitude is boundless for all that you’ve both done for me. But now I must leave you. Farewell, my beloved mother, my respected father, farewell!”
So saying, she sped faster than any could follow to the margin of the fairy wood, and in a moment she was lost to sight.
As she had often thus taken her leave of the lodge with such sentimental and solicitous words, her parents opted not to worry but instead confidently awaited her safe return. Time passed. Hour followed yet another hour, as the clouds of evening rolled up in the west; darkness came on, but no daughter returned.
They jumped from their seat at a loud knock on the door and rushed to open it. But instead of Leelinau, they came face to face with the forlorn and decidedly angry face of the bridegroom who demanded an explanation for this insult. Soon, armed with torches, they hastened to the wood in search of Leelinau. Although they lit up every dark recess and probed each leafy gloom, their search was in vain. Leelinau was nowhere to be seen. In lamentation they called her name, but she answered not.
Many suns rose and set, but nevermore in their light did the bereaved parent’s eyes behold the lost form of their beloved child. Soon they had to come to grips with a harsh reality: their beloved daughter was lost to them forever. Wherever she had vanished, it was to a place no mortal eyes could see and no mortal tongue could tell.
Some years later however, it chanced that a company of fishermen, who were spearing fish in the lake near the Spirit Grove, saw an apparition. Back in the village they excitedly descried their encounter as they sat by the fire under the moonlight night; how they had spotted, only for an instant, an enchantingly beautiful apparition resembling a female figure clad in flowing, flowery garments standing on the shore. As the afternoon was mild and the waters calm, they had cautiously pulled their canoe in toward the bank, but the slight ripple of their oars invoked alarm. The phantom beauty had fled in haste, but not before they recognized in the shape and dress as she ascended the bank, the lost daughter, and they saw further her most handsome fairy-lover, green plumes waving over his forehead as he glided lightly through the forest of young pines.