Upon the banks of the broad Ogechee River there once stood a little Indian village. The people who lived there were prosperous and happy. There were fish in the river and game in the forest, and no one lacked for anything.
But after a time a terrible misfortune fell upon the people. An ogre named Mudjee Monedo came to live near them. Upon an open plain he laid out a racecourse, and it was his amusement to challenge the young men of the village to race with him there. None dared to refuse, for the ogre was cruel and revengeful, and they feared what he might do to the old men and children if they should refuse; and yet to race with him meant death.
“Life against life,” the ogre would cry, laying his hand on the goal-post. “My life in wager against yours. This post is the goal, yonder charred stump the turning-point. The loser pays the forfeit with his life.”
But none of the Indian warriors ever could win in that race with Mudjee Monedo. The ogre had the power to turn himself at will into any four-footed animal that he might choose. If he found he was being outstripped in the race he would change himself into a wolf, a deer, or a buffalo, and so easily win the race against the swiftest runner of them all. So, one after another, the finest young men of the village were slain at the goal-post.
A deep gloom settled over those who were still left alive. They would have taken their wives and children and gone elsewhere to live, but they knew the ogre would follow on their tracks. Their only hope was that some time a warrior might rise among them who would be able to outwit the ogre and win the race.
Somewhat away from the other lodges, and in the shadow of the forest, lived a widow with a daughter and a young son. This son was a boy of twelve named Manedowa. The widow’s husband and her ten eldest sons had all raced with the ogre at one time or another, and all had paid the forfeit with their lives. Now Manedowa was fast growing tall and manly. Instead of being glad of this the widow was terrified. She dreaded the time when the ogre might think the boy old enough to race with him. Already Mudjee Monedo had his eye upon him. Often he would make some excuse to come to the lodge when the boy was busy there. Then the ogre would look him up and down.
“You are growing fast,” he would say. “You will make a famous runner. Some time you must come and look at my racecourse. Perhaps we may even run a friendly race together—though I am growing too old and stiff to have any chance against young limbs like yours.”
Then the widow would shudder and make some excuse to send the boy away out of sight. She knew that when he was fully grown it would not be for long that the ogre would spare him.
One day the boy was away fishing and the widow and her daughter were busy in the lodge together. Suddenly a shadow fell across the floor. They looked up in terror, expecting to see the ogre peering in. Instead, a handsome young warrior stood there in the doorway. He was a stranger. They had never seen him before. The sunshine played upon his shining limbs like fire. His eyes were bright and piercing, and above his forehead waved a plume of gorgeous feathers. For a moment he stood looking in upon them. Then he laid a deer down upon the threshold, and silently turned and disappeared in the green depths of the forest.
Wondering, the mother and her daughter stared after him. They did not know who he could be. They waited for some time, and then, as he did not return, they cut up the deer and hung it up to dry.
Two days after this the stranger again came to the lodge. As silently as before he laid a bear down before them, and again disappeared among the thickets; but that night they heard the sound of his pipe not far from the lodge; it was a love song to the girl that he was playing.
The next evening he came again, bringing more game, but this time he entered and sat down. After that he stayed in the widow’s lodge, and the girl became his wife. She was very happy, for no other hunter brought home such fine game as he, and no other was as handsome and as noble-looking.
Every morning he went away, gliding off silently into the depths of the forest and disappearing from their sight. Where he went they did not know, but every night he came again, bringing to them the choicest of game and fish. The plume above his forehead shone with strange colours, and sometimes it seemed as though the light about him came from himself, and not from the sunshine or the firelight. Neither the girl nor her mother dared to question him as to who he was or whence he came.
With so much game hanging about the lodge it was not long before Mudjee Monedo grew suspicious. He suspected that some warrior had come to live with the widow and her daughter and that they were hiding it from him. Often he stole up silently to the lodge hoping to find the hunter there, but he never saw him. At last he questioned the widow openly.
“All this game,” he said, trying to smile at her pleasantly, “where does it come from?”
The widow began to tremble. “My son—” she began.
“Your son!” interrupted the ogre. “Do you mean to tell me that your son could shoot a bear or a buffalo such as I have seen here?”
“He is very large and strong for his age,” said the poor widow.
“If he is old enough to shoot such game he is old enough to race with me,” cried the ogre. “I will come again when he is at home, and he and I will talk of it.”
The Mudjee Monedo turned on his heel and strode away through the forest, breaking the young trees and muttering to himself as he went.
The widow and her daughter were almost dead with fright. If they told the ogre of the strange warrior who had come to live in their lodge he would without doubt challenge the stranger to race with him. If they did not, it would be the boy who would be slain.
That night when the hunter returned as usual with his game the widow told him of all that had happened—of how Mudjee Monedo had come to the lodge and questioned her, of how she had pretended it was her son who had shot the game, and of the threat that the ogre had used.
The warrior listened to all she had to say in silence. When she had ended he answered calmly, “It is well. I will run a race with this Mudjee Monedo. To-morrow he will come this way again. Then ask him to stop and eat with you, and I too will be here.”
His wife and her mother began to beg and implore him not to let the ogre see him, but he silenced them. “Let it be as I say,” said he. “To-morrow do you put corn meal and herbs in a pot to cook, and add to it three birch buds. Mudjee Monedo and I will eat of it together.”
The next morning very early the ogre appeared at the lodge door, but the stranger had already gone into the forest. Mudjee Monedo looked about him and saw all the fresh meat. “Truly your son has become a mighty hunter,” he sneered.
“No, Mudjee Monedo,” answered the widow. “I knew it was useless to try to deceive you. It is not my son, but my son-in-law, who has shot all this game. He is a mighty warrior. He will soon return from the forest. Sit down, and when he comes you can eat together.”
“Did I not know it?” cried the ogre triumphantly. “No one may hope to deceive Mudjee Monedo for long.”
He entered the lodge and sat down. He had not been there long before the stranger appeared in the doorway. The brave was in the full dress of a warrior. Across his forehead was a broad band of red paint, and the feathers above his forehead were red and blue. The ogre’s eyes glistened at the sight of him. The hunter greeted Mudjee Monedo, and sat down not far from him.
Presently, while his wife and mother-in-law made ready the food, he and the ogre talked. Soon Mudjee Monedo asked the warrior whether he would not run a race with him upon his racecourse.
Calmly the stranger agreed.
“But I am growing old,” said Mudjee Monedo slyly. “I am not strong and tireless as I was once. Because of that, if I race with you you must let me set the wager.”
To this, also, the stranger agreed. Then the food was ready, and he courteously asked Mudjee Monedo to eat with him. The ogre could not refuse, but when he saw the dish that was set before them he became very uneasy. Well he knew that for him there was evil in that food. The strange warrior, however, took no notice of his confusion. He dipped into the dish and ate of it, and Mudjee Monedo was obliged to do likewise, though the herbs that were in it tickled his throat and set him coughing.
Finally the warrior lifted the dish, drank deep of it, and handed it to the other. The ogre hesitated a moment. The broth was hateful to him, but he was afraid to refuse. In haste to be done with it he raised it to his mouth and swallowed what was left of it at one gulp.
Suddenly he coughed and choked. One of the birch buds at the bottom of the pot had lodged in his windpipe. His face turned purple and his eyes seemed starting from their sockets. He got to his feet and staggered out into the open air. A moment he turned and tried to speak, but a violent fit of coughing stopped him, and he hurried away through the thickets, still wheezing and choking as he went.
By the next day the news had gone through the village that a strange warrior was to run a race with Mudjee Monedo, and a great crowd gathered on the hills near by to see the race.
When the stranger appeared upon the course a murmur of wonder arose. Never had the people seen such a warrior before. He was taller by a head than the tallest youth in the village, and his feet scarce seemed to touch the earth, so lightly did he walk. Then hope sprang up in the people’s hearts. Might it not be that this wondrous stranger would in some way win the race and free them from the power of the ogre.
Mudjee Monedo looked about him at the waiting people, and seemed to read what was in their hearts. His lips drew back in a cruel smile. Then he laid his hand upon the goal-post.
“You have let me choose my own wager,” he cried aloud, so that all might hear what he said to the stranger. “It is this: life against life; my life against yours. This post is the goal, yonder charred stump the turning-point. The loser pays the forfeit.”
“So be it,” answered the stranger in a clear ringing voice. “I will abide by the wager, as must you.”
At a signal he and the ogre sprang forward on the course. Mudjee Monedo ran well, but the stranger soon outstripped him. So swiftly he ran his feet scarce seemed to touch the ground. The light played about him, and his feathers streamed behind him in the wind. Never had the ogre been so easily outrun. Sooner than usual he was obliged to turn himself into a wolf or he would have been left too far behind. In that shape he tore past the warrior, but as he passed the stranger heard a wheezing in his throat and knew that the birch bud was still there.
A low moan sounded from the crowd of watching Indians on the hill-side as they saw the grey wolf leading in the race. But the next moment, the moan changed to a shout of surprise. The strange warrior had changed himself into a partridge; he rose swiftly in the air, flew past over Mudjee Monedo, and lighted on the course far ahead of him. Then he resumed his natural form and again ran forward.
The ogre did not know what had happened. He heard the shout and the whirr of wings above him, and now he saw the stranger far ahead. He was very much surprised, but again he used his magic and turned himself into a deer. With long leaps and bounds he overtook and passed beyond the running warrior.
Again there was a whirr of wings. The partridge flew past overhead, and a mocking voice cried in the ogre’s ear, “Mudjee Monedo, is this the best you can do?” A moment later the ogre saw the stranger once more far ahead, and running as lightly and gracefully as ever.
The charred stump was passed and Mudjee Monedo’s heart began to beat hard against his sides. Never had he had to strive so hard. For the third time he used his magic, and turned himself into his third and last form, that of a buffalo. It was in this shape that he generally won the race. With his great shaggy head down, his eyes as red as blood and his tongue lolling from his mouth, the ogre thundered past the stranger.
Once again there was a whirr of wings. The partridge rose from the ground and flew past over the head of the straining buffalo. “Mudjee Monedo,” he called from above, “is this the best you can do? I fear you will lose the wager.”
With despair the ogre saw that the stranger had once more flown far ahead of him, and was now almost within reach of the goal-post. Suddenly stopping, Mudjee Monedo resumed his natural form. “Hold! hold!” he called to the warrior. “A word with you.”
The stranger gave a mocking laugh. Springing forward he laid his hand upon the goal-post, and a mighty shout burst from the watching people on the hill. Then a stillness fell upon them. In silence they watched the ogre as he slowly went forward toward the goal-post.
As he drew near the stranger Mudjee Monedo tried to smile, but his pale lips trembled. “It was all a joke,” he muttered. “You will spare my life, as I would have spared yours. You run well and we must have many races together.”
“Wretch!” cried the stranger. “What was the wager? Life against life; the loser pays the forfeit.”
Swift as lightning he caught up the club that hung from the goal-post, and with one blow he struck the ogre to the earth. Then again a great shout arose from the people, and like a stream they flowed down from the hill-side and gathered around the warrior.
For a time there was great rejoicing. Fires were lighted and a great feast made. When night came and the stranger went back to his lodge a vast crowd followed him. It was growing dark, but suddenly a pale light shone about the warrior. He turned to them, and as they looked at his face they suddenly knew it was no human warrior who stood before them, but the Good Genius, Minno Monedo. Silent and in awe they drew back from him. He motioned them to leave him, and they obeyed him, still in awe and silence.
After they had all gone Minno Monedo turned to his wife and took her by the hand. “The time has now come,” he said, “when I must return to the Spirit-land. It is for you to choose whether you will come with me or stay here with your own people. Which shall it be?”
“I will go with you,” answered the wife.
So it was; she and the Good Genius disappeared from the earth, and her tribe saw them no more.
For a while her mother grieved for her, but Manedowa grew up strong and brave, and in time brought home a wife who bore him many children.
Grass grew over the course where the ogre had run his races; his lodge fell into ruins, but still around the camp-fires the Indians tell the story of Minno Monedo, and of how he came to save their tribe from Mudjee Monedo.
AMERICAN INDIAN BEDTIME STORY BY KATHERINE PYLE
Header illustration by AlienCat.
LET’S CHAT ABOUT THE STORIES ~ IDEAS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS
1.Did the Mudjee Monedo deserve what happened to him? Why or why not?
2. Can you think of any ways that the villagers could have beaten the Mudjee Monedo without using violence?