It was late winter or very early spring, for snow still lay on the ground, when Ableegumooch the Rabbit entertained two friends at a maple syrup feast.
The two friends were Keoonik the Otter and Miko the Squirrel.
As they happily licked the last of the syrup off their paws, they exchanged news.
"Last night," said Miko, "the moon looked into my den and woke me, and I heard wolves talking outside. I heard them offer Lusifee the Wild Cat two strings of wampum to kill somebody!"
"Really?" asked the rabbit, with interest. "Who?"
"They didn't mention any name," said the squirrel, "but only spoke of him as a servant and friend of Glooscap, one full of tricks, who knows his way through the forest."
"Whoever he is," said Keoonik darkly, "he is as good as dead, for that Lusifee is a cunning tracker and absolutely cold-blooded."
"A friend of our Master's," mused Ableegumooch, "could be any of us."
"Someone full of tricks," remarked the otter uneasily. "It could even be me!"
"Hah!" snorted the rabbit, "you know very well that I am the one most full of tricks hereabouts." And Keoonik did not deny it, for he had suffered much in the past from the rabbit's mischief. Miko gave a little shiver.
"You know, when they spoke of one who knew his way through the forest, I couldn't help wondering if they meant me, for I can find my way through the trees better than most."
"Nonsense!" snapped Ableegumooch. "Anything a squirrel can do, a rabbit can do better. After all, I am Glooscap's official forest guide. And his very good friend," he added proudly.
"The thing is," said Keoonik, his eyes dwelling unconsciously on the rabbit, "to find someone who fits all three requirements-- someone full of tricks, one who knows the forest, and one who is a servant and friend of the Great Chief."
The rabbit jumped as if a bee had stung him.
"Oh my! It's me he's after!"
Keoonik tried to comfort the stricken rabbit.
"We'll stand by you," he said. "Won't we, Miko?"
"Y-yes," said the squirrel doubtfully, for he feared that even the three of them together would be no match for the ferocious cat.
"Thanks, my friends," said Ableegumooch, heartened by their loyalty, "but I may not need your help. I have a plan."
Miko asked what he had in mind.
"Strength and speed are on Lusifee's side, so I must rely on craft," said Ableegumooch and grinned mysteriously. "When a rabbit's skin falls short, he must borrow another's. Well, he's sure to come here to find me. I'm off!" And the rabbit sprang into the air, landing a long distance from his lodge, so as to leave no track near his home. Ableegumooch kept jumping in this way until he thought he was out of scent and sight, then scampered away like the wind.
Keoonik and Miko scurried to a hiding place nearby and waited to see what would happen. Presently, sure enough, Lusifee the Wild Cat appeared, slinking along with nose to the earth, his yellow eyes gleaming and his great paws padding silently over the snow.
Finding the rabbit's wigwam empty, he snarled with disappointed fury. However, taking the wigwam for a centre, he kept going round and round it, making each circle a little wider than the one before, until at last he found the rabbit's scent. He kept on circling until he reached the spot where the rabbit had stopped jumping. Then, swearing by his tail to catch Ableegumooch and kill him, he set out swiftly on a clear trail.
As the day passed, Lusifee knew by the freshness of the track that he was overtaking the rabbit, but he did not catch sight of his prey while daylight lasted. As night fell, Lusifee came upon a wigwam all alone on the open marsh, and he poked his head inside. There sat a grave and dignified old fox, whose white hair stuck up oddly on either side of his head. When asked if he had seen Ableegumooch, the old fellow shook his head, but invited Lusifee to pass the night with him.
"You can continue your search in the morning," he said in a helpful manner. So, being tired and hungry, Lusifee accepted the invitation, and after a good supper, lay down by the fire and slept soundly.
Towards morning, however, he began to shiver and feel most uncomfortable. Waking at last, he looked around in amazement. He was no longer in the warm lodge but lying on the open marsh with snow blowing over him. Then Lusifee saw dimly the marks of a rabbit's feet and knew Ableegumooch had fooled him. The rabbit, artful at disguise, had masqueraded as the fox and had removed himself and the wigwam while Lusifee slept.
Resuming the chase in a great rage, the cat swore by his teeth, as well as by his tail, that Ableegumooch would die before nightfall. But when darkness came again, he had still not caught sight of the rabbit.
Stopping at the first village he came to, which was that of a porcupine tribe, he asked the first young porcupine he met if he had seen a rabbit pass this way.
"Hush!" said the porcupine. "Can't you see we are listening to the storyteller?" Then Lusifee noticed that the whole tribe was gathered around the fire listening to an old porcupine with white whiskers and oddly-shaped ears. In the land of the Wabanaki, the storyteller is greatly respected, and it is considered most impolite to interrupt him. So the cat was obliged to wait until the stories were over. Then he turned once more to the young porcupine.
"But have you seen a rabbit?"
"Hundreds of them," answered the other impatiently, "are racing about in the cedar swamp near here. You can have as many as you want."
"Those aren't the ones I'm after," complained the cat. "I want Ableegumooch, Glooscap's forest guide."
The young porcupine said he knew of no other sort of rabbit save the wild wood ones, but perhaps the storyteller who was old and wise could tell him something.
So Lusifee went to the storyteller and asked if he had seen a rabbit pass by.
"Rabbit?" The storyteller rattled his quills as he thought, and the cat moved back prudently. "No, I've seen no rabbit. But, my friend, you look tired. You may pass the night with me, if you like, in my lodge outside the village."
The cat was glad of the invitation and went to sleep in a warm bed. Much later, he awoke, all a-shake and a-shiver in a wet cedar swamp, the wind blowing ten times worse than the night before, and all around him the tracks of a rabbit.
Lusifee sprang up more enraged than ever and, swearing now by his claws, as well as by his teeth and his tail, to be revenged on the rabbit, he set out again on the trail. He ran all day and at night came to another village, inhabited by a tribe of bears. He was so weary he could only gasp out:
The bears said they had not, but invited him to join in a feast with them, and when they had done eating, they politely asked him for a song. Now the cat was very vain about his voice, and right willingly he lifted up his voice in a song of hate against rabbits. The bears applauded and invited him to join in the dancing, but the cat begged to be excused on account of weariness and sat to one side, watching.
Now one of the bears was smaller than the others and his ears were somewhat longer than bears' are usually. How ever, he was a great dancer and leaped higher in the air than any other. As he passed by Lusifee he accidentally, it seemed, gave the cat a fierce kick, cutting his head and knocking him senseless.
When the cat came back to consciousness, he found him self in a wigwam outside the village. A medicine man of the bear tribe was bending over him and the cat noticed that he wore long white feathers on either side of his head. By now Lusifee was growing more suspicious and he looked at the medicine man with narrowed eyes.
"I was asking if any rabbits had been around here," said Lusifee, "and truly you look very much like one yourself. How did you get that split lip?"
"Oh, that is very simple," said the medicine man, who was no other than Ableegumooch, of course. "Once I was hammering wampum beads, and the stone on which I beat them broke in halves and one piece flew up and split my lip."
"But why are the soles of your feet so yellow, like a rabbit's?"
"Simple, again," said the medicine man. "I was once preparing some tobacco and as I needed both hands to work, I held it down with my feet--so the tobacco stained them yellow."
Then Lusifee suspected no more and allowed the medicine man to doctor his cuts with salve, after which he fell asleep. But, alas, once more the unhappy cat awoke in dreadful misery, his head swollen and aching, his wound stuffed now with hemlock needles instead of salve.
Now Lusifee swore by his body and soul, as well as by his teeth and his claws and his tail, to kill the next thing he met, rabbit, or any other!
Forgetting pain and cold, he rushed off, exulting when he found the track of Ableegumooch very fresh. Evidently the rabbit too was tiring from the race and could not be far off. Yes, there was the tricky follow just ahead! In fact Ableegumooch had been obliged to stop short as he came to the edge of a broad river. The cat grinned with triumph, for he knew that rabbits are no good at swimming. "You can't escape me now," he shouted. Poor Ableegumooch. He could run no further.
Far away on Blomidon's misty summit, Glooscap saw all that had happened and knew the rabbit had done all he could by himself. The Great Chief began to smoke his pipe very hard, puffing black rings into the blue sky, where they changed at once into birds.
Down in the forest, Ableegumooch had turned at bay and Lusifee was prepared to spring--when, suddenly, down from the sky hurled a great flock of giant hawks screaming their war cries. Lusifee snarled and turned to meet them, but they bore him down by force of numbers--picking at his eyes and beating him with their wings- -until at last, screaming with fear, the cat turned tail and fled into the forest, where if he is not dead he is running still!
Trembling with fright, Ableegumooch sank down to rest at last. He was not half so cocky as he had been when he started out, for he knew that but for the hawks he would have been a dead rabbit. A flute was playing far off, and the rabbit listened. Then he knew who had sent the hawks to him in the nick of time.
"Thank you, Master," he whispered. Glooscap, far off on Blomidon, nodded--and played a triumphant tune to the returning birds.
Now, kespeadooksit--the story ends.