There once was a woman who lived alone with her two daughters. Both girls were good-looking and clever and their mother was sure they would do well when the time came for them to find husbands.
When the older daughter was sixteen, the mother said, "My child, we have lived here for many years and have eaten well, thanks to our friends, the corn, the beans and the squash, but it has been a long time since we have tasted meat. You are now old enough to find a husband who is a good hunter and can take care of us. I know just the man. The son of a woman called Big Earth. They live a day's journey away from here."
"What is this man like, Mother?" asked the older daughter.
"You will like him very much. He is handsome and strong as well as being a good hunter. But now we must start making some marriage bread which you will be carrying with you on your journey."
The two girls began to work with their mother, shelling corn, pounding it and baking it into cakes of bread. It took a long time but when they were finished, they had twenty-four cakes of marriage bread which they placed in a pack basket.
"Now, my daughter," said the mother as she painted the older girl's face and combed her long black hair, "listen carefully. Do not stop to talk to anyone you meet along the way. If it grows dark before you reach the long house of Big Earth, do not go into anybody else's lodge. Sleep in the woods instead."
"I hear your words, Mother," said the older daughter, but her thoughts were already racing ahead to the handsome young man she hoped to marry. She lifted her basket and adjusted the carrying strap across her forehead very carefully, so as not to disturb her beautifully combed hair. Then she set out with her sister on the narrow path through the forest.
After they travelled for a time, the younger sister thought she heard footsteps following them. "Who is that?" she asked.
"Oh, that is only the wind in the pine trees," said the older sister. And they continued walking.
Before long it was afternoon and the sun was beginning to bend toward the place where earth and sky meet. The younger sister listened and was certain she heard the sound of quiet feet. "What is that I hear?" she asked.
"Oh, it is only a bird," said the older sister. And they continued walking.
The younger sister, however, kept on listening. She continued hearing footsteps which were now ahead of them. At times, she could barely make out the shape of an old man in the bushes near the path.
Before long, they came to a small clearing where they saw an old man holding a bow and arrow. He was looking up into a tall hickory tree. "Come here," called the old man, pointing up into the tree. "I need your help. I am trying to shoot that squirrel up there in the top of the tree, but my eyesight is weak and I am afraid I will lose my arrow."
The younger sister said, "Remember the words of our mother. We must not stop to talk with anyone along the way."
But the older sister did not listen. "This old man seems to be a very pleasant person. Let us do as he says."
"Please do," said the old man. "Put down your pack and watch my arrow. If I miss the squirrel, chase after the arrow and bring it back to me." He drew his bow and let the arrow fly. It arched high up through the top of the tree and landed many paces away in the forest. The two girls ran to get the arrow, but when they came back the old man was gone and so was the pack filled with marriage bread.
The younger sister said, "We must return home for we have disobeyed our mother."
So the girls went home and told their mother what had happened. "Ah," she said, "you must not love me very much or you would have obeyed me." She did not say anything else that night.
The next day she told the girls, "We must make marriage bread again, but this time it is you, my younger daughter, who will be the one seeking a husband." So the mother and her two daughters made more cakes of marriage bread but this time they filled the pack of the younger sister. Once more the two sisters set out on their way.
Once again the younger daughter thought she heard footsteps following them but she said nothing. Instead she kept thinking of her mother's words. Late in the afternoon they came to the same clearing in the forest where the old man had tricked them. There, sitting on a log, was the old man.
"I am glad to see that you are well," he said. "Where are you going?"
The younger sister said nothing, but the older sister answered immediately, "We are going to the long house of a woman called Big Earth. My sister is going to ask the son of Big Earth to be her husband."
"Oh," said the old man, "you are lucky you saw me. You are going in the wrong direction. You must pass through the woods over here to reach the lodge of Big Earth."
The younger daughter was still suspicious but her sister would not listen. "This old man is trying to help us," she said. "Let us do as he says." So they went the way the old man had pointed.
As soon as they were out of sight, the old man hurried to his lodge which was at the end of the path he had shown them. "Quick," he shouted to his wife, "cover your face with ashes and sit on the other side of the fire. You must pretend to be my mother. Two girls are coming with a pack of marriage bread and I mean to have it."
The old man changed his clothes and painted his face so that he looked very young and handsome. He sat down in the shadows of his lodge. Soon he heard the sound of the two girls coming toward his door. "Enter," he called. "Come in to the longhouse of Big Earth and her handsome son."
The two girls came in and when they saw the old man in his fine clothes with his face painted, they thought he was certainly the man they were seeking. They sat down beside him and put down the pack filled with marriage bread.
Just then, however, someone came to the door of the lodge and shouted. "Old man, old man, they want you at the long lodge."
"Go away!" shouted the old man and then turned to the two girls. "Someone has come to the wrong place - there is no old man here."
Before long, however, the voice returned, "Father, Father, you must come."
"Go away!" shouted the old man. He turned to the two girls. "Ah, that poor boy. His father died yesterday, and he is still wandering around the town calling for him."
It was only a short time before the voice returned again. "Please, Father, they have sent me to bring you. You must come."
The old man turned to the two girls and smiled. "I am afraid I must go and tell this child who I am. It is late and you should rest. Just lie down and I will be back soon." He went outside and the younger sister thought she heard harsh words and the sound of blows being struck.
Soon the old woman across the fire from them fell asleep. "My sister," said the younger daughter, "something is wrong. We must not stay here. This is surely the house of the old man who tricked us before. We must obey the words of our mother." She slipped out of the lodge and returned with two rotten logs. "We must wrap these logs in his blankets so that the old woman will not know we have gone."
As soon as they left the lodge, they heard the sound of dancing coming from another part of the village. Carrying the rescued pack of marriage bread, they came to a his longhouse. They looked inside and saw the old man who had tricked them, dancing in the middle of the floor while all the people watched. And there, on the other side of the fire, sat a very handsome man with his mother.
"Ahah" said the younger daughter, "that is the man we are really looking for. Covering their faces with their blankets, the two sisters slipped into the lodge and went to sit by Big Earth and her son. They placed the basket of marriage bread in front of the woman who was very pleased.
"Yes," Big Earth said to the younger sister, "you will be a fine wife for my son."
When the dancing was ended, the two sisters, still wrapped in their blankets, left with Big Earth and her son. Meanwhile the old man, very pleased with his own cleverness, went back to his lodge and saw what he thought to be the forms of the two girls covered by his blankets.
"I have returned. They asked me to come to a meeting. They can't make any decisions without me." He sat down beside his blankets and felt something pinch him. Thinking it was one of the girls, he laughed. "Be patient, I will lie down soon." Then he took off his clothes and, slipping into his blankets, found himself in bed with two rotten logs crawling with large biting ants!
The next day the two sisters returned with the son of Big Earth to the lodge of their mother. There he hunted and brought meat to the family of his new wife, the clever younger daughter who had followed the advice of her mother.
They all lived together happily.
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