|by James Baldwin|
|Far away in the Frozen Land in the long ago time a master wizard forged the wonderous sampo or mill of fortune, which ground out all sorts of treasures and gave wealth and power to its owner. This story, retold in from the Finnish Kalevala, tells of the making of this mill and the adventures of the heroes who sought to gain possession of it. Ages 11-14 |
THE BARKING DOGS
PRINGTIME had dawned in the Frozen
Land. The sun was riding high in the
sky, and the air was balmy with the
breath of the south. The snow had melted on
the meadows, and the ice had floated out of the
inlets. The sea was no longer gray and shivering,
but pale blue and motionless. The wild
geese honked noisily in the marshy lakes and
sought their nesting places by the creeks.
Swallows twittered under the eaves and cuckoos
called to each other among the budding bushes.
On her couch beside the door Dame Louhi,
the Wise Woman of the North, sat reclining.
Very ugly she was, toothless and grim, wrinkled
with age and altogether unlovely. The Maid
of Beauty was busy at her housework, sweeping,
spinning, baking, weaving. The doors were
open and warm breezes from southern seas
breathed through the low-raftered hall, playing
with the deerskin curtains and with the maiden's
 Suddenly an uproar was heard, a sound feeble
at first but every moment growing louder. It
was not an unusual sound, but it was unusually
disturbing, unusually persistent and annoying.
"What is that, my daughter?" inquired Dame
Louhi, sitting up and listening.
"Oh, it is naught but the dogs barking," answered
the maiden. "They are over at the
fishermen's huts by the shore. Perhaps they
see some beggar or wild man coming down the
path from the forest."
The noise increased, it was spreading. It
sounded as though a score of watchdogs were
barking in concert.
The Wise Woman was disturbed and growing
nervous. "Daughter," she said, "I never heard
such barking. Surely something strange is happening.
Go out to the gate, look down the road,
and see what is the matter."
The Maid of Beauty heeded not, but kept
right on with her household duties.
"Mother," she said, "I am too busy to bother
with barking dogs. The bread must be baked,
and this pile of wool must be spun, and from its
yarn six new blankets must be woven this very
 day. I have no time to stand gaping at the
gate, listening to the noise of barking curs."
The uproar increased. The ancient housedog,
infirm and toothless as his mistress, rose
from his place in the ashes; he dragged himself
to the door and set up a mournful howling.
"O my daughter, what indeed can be the
matter?" cried the Wise Woman.
"I know not," answered the maiden.
In his hut beside the reindeer paddock the
keeper of the herds was sitting. He was old
and fat and lazy, and the noise of the dogs
awakened him from pleasant reveries.
"Wife, wife!" he cried. "Do you hear that
barking? Go quickly to the door and see what
is the matter!"
But the aged woman kept on with her knitting.
"I am too busy to run to the door every time
a dog barks," she said. "I must earn
something to feed our children, to clothe them,
to keep them neat. I have no time to listen to
the prattle of dogs."
Still the clamor grew and grew. The black
watchdog in the courtyard of Louhi's dwelling
joined his voice to the general uproar. He
pulled at his chain and howled most dismally.
 By the smouldering fire in his own small hut
the head serving-man was sitting; his eldest
son was working beside the door. "My son,"
said the older man, "do you hear the black
watchdog? Surely some stranger is coming this
way. Run out to the road and see what manner
of man he is."
The youth kept on with his work. "I am too
busy to listen to watchdogs," he said. "My
axe is dull and I must grind it. The wood must
be brought for the kitchen fire; and who will split
it if I go running after dogs? Let old Growler
howl; I have no time to bother with dogs."
Louder and still louder waxed the tumult.
All the puppies, all the house-curs, all the sledgedogs,
all the watchdogs were barking, baying,
The head serving-man was greatly disturbed,
and yet he liked not to rise from his seat, for he
was old and his limbs were stiff.
"In my lifetime I have heard much barking,"
he said, "but never such barking as this. Perhaps
the dogs have scented a bear escaped from
an ice-floe; perhaps they see a band of robbers
coming up from the shore. Kuli, my little
daughter, listen to me!"
 "What is it, papa?" answered the child,
sitting still on the floor.
"Run out to the turf pile, Kuli," said her
father, "climb up on the very top of it and look
around. See what the dogs are barking at, and
then run back quickly and tell your tired father."
"O papa, I am too busy," answered Kuli.
"I want to play with my dolly; I want to put
her to sleep. I have no time to run after dogs."
The head serving-man was perplexed, he was
uneasy and half-way angry.
"Everybody is busy to-day," he said. "Nobody
has the time to do anything. Nobody
cares for the dogs and nobody cares for me.
But I must find out what all the noise is about."
He rose from his seat, grumbling because of
the pains in his joints. He drew on his boots,
he pulled his fur cap over his head. Then he
went stamping out of the door and across the
broad yard. The black watchdog was still tugging
at his chain, still howling dolorously. The
old serving-man took notice of his actions.
The brute first pointed his nose towards the
sea, then he looked far away at the meadows
and the misty, mysterious hills. The serving-man
did likewise. He looked seaward, then
 landward—but naught did he behold save, on
this side, the blue water and the sloping shore
and the fishermen's huts, and, on that side, the
brown marsh lands and the long, winding, indistinct
roadway that led nowhere and came from everywhere.
"How now, old Growler?" he said angrily.
"Why is all this clamor? Why is all this tumult?
Hush your barking, I bid you."
But the beast still tugged at his chain, and
all the smaller dogs joined him in a chorus of
howling. Then the serving-man looked again
and with greater care. On the broad face of
the sea he discerned a strange speck, white,
yellow, and scarlet, gliding swiftly landward,
glistening bright on the blue and silent water.
On the winding meadow pathway he saw another
speck, scarlet, yellow, and blue, moving
fleetly towards Pohyola, smoothly gliding like a
"Oh, surely the dogs are right!" said the astonished
man. "Here is cause enough for barking;
plenty of cause for yelping and snarling.
One stranger comes by sea, another comes by
land, and the poor beasts have scented both
while yet they are far away."
 A third time he looked this way, then that.
He put his half-closed right hand to his eye and
looked through it as men sometimes in these
later days look through a spy-glass. Now he
could see quite clearly; soon he could discern
what manner of wayfarers those were that had
caused the doggish clamor.
The speck upon the meadows was a sledge of
many colors drawn by a fleet and tireless racer.
The speck upon the waters was a fairy ship, its
prow all golden, its hull bright scarlet, its sails
blue and red.
"How strange!" said the faithful man. "Be
it war or be it peace, I must hasten and warn
He found the Wise Woman at her door, gazing
sharply at the sky, the sea, the earth, to
learn for herself the reason for the unusual uproar.
To her he told his story quickly, briefly,
adding also a word of warning. The face of the
woman grew grayer, grimmer as she listened,
and in her eyes was a look of puzzled apprehension.
She called loudly, shrilly to the Maid of
Beauty, now busy with her weaving, busy with
the wool and the blankets.
 "Daughter, daughter, do you hear?"
"Truly, mother, I hear the dogs," answered
the maiden. "Let them bark if it pleases them."
"They bark because they have scented some
strangers coming. A ship is approaching by
sea, and a wonderful sledge is bringing some
hero hither by land."
"Oh, how fine!" said the maiden.
"But who can these strangers be? How shall
we receive them? Shall we welcome them as
friends or flee from them as foes?"
"I know not," said the daughter. "I know
not why such strangers should come to Pohyola."
"Try the rowan branch!" croaked a voice
from the dark corner beyond the hearth. It
was the voice of old Sakko, the dwarf, the last
daughter of the race of earth men. No guest
came oftener than she to Dame Louhi's dwelling,
no other was more welcome to the Wise
Woman's table and fireside. "Try the rowan
branch," she repeated. "The rowan branch is
the sure omen that never fails. If drops of red
sap ooze from it, then look for foes and trouble.
If only clear water bubbles, hissing, from its
tiny pores, then be sure that friends are coming
 bringing rich gifts and joyful tidings. Try the rowan branch."
"Yes, let us try the rowan branch," said the
Mistress, anxious, uneasy, trembling with alarm.
Quickly the Maid of Beauty ran to the woodpile
beside the door. With much care she chose
a stick of rowan, straight, smooth-barked, and
full of sap. She carried it to the hearth and
laid it on the coals; then all stood round to
The brown bark crackled with the heat, it
shriveled and began to burn. The smoke curled
lightly upward, the coals grew redder, the heat
of the fire increased.
"O thou magic branch of rowan, tell us truly,
tell us quickly, who those are who come so
swiftly—friends or foes who come so swiftly!"
chanted Sakko, the dwarfish wise one.
"O noble branch of rowan, bring only
friends. Let naught but clearest water ooze
from thy pores so tiny," muttered the Mistress
"O thou pretty branch of rowan, bring good
luck, bring fortune only, bring peace to all who
dwell here—bring joy to our home and home
land," softly murmured the Maid of Beauty.
 The smoke grew blacker, it curled round the
branch of rowan, the green wood was growing
hot amid the heaped-up coals. Then there
came a whistling, sizzling sound, and the sap
began to trickle slowly from the tiny pores.
The dwarf Sakko deftly seized the heated branch
and held it aloft that all might see the oozing drops.
"They are not red!" cried the Mistress, Dame Louhi.
"They are not clear water!" said the Maid of Beauty.
"I see only common sap," said the head serving-man.
"Nay, nay!" muttered Sakko, the dwarf
woman. "They are neither crystal nor crimson,
but sweetest honey. And what do the honey-drops
tell? They tell us that these strangers are better than
friends, that they are suitors and have come hither as wooers."
"Look again and tell me whom they will woo,"
said Dame Louhi.
Sakko lifted the branch again and turned it
this way and that, carefully examining the sizzling
sap. She listened to the shrill little sound
that came from it.
 "Three women are in this house," she said,
"and one of them is she whom the strangers
seek. Is it the Mistress? Her youth has fled.
Is it poor Sakko, the earth woman? Never has
she known a lover. Is it the Maid of Beauty,
the rainbow maiden? All the world adores her."
She twirled the rowan branch once, twice,
thrice in the air above her head, and then cast
it upon the hearth, scattering the ashes to right
and left and sending a cloud of cinders upward
through the smoke hole.
"The strangers will soon be at your door,"
she croaked. "Be ready to welcome them."
"Truly, my daughter," said Dame Louhi,
"it becomes us to give these heroes joy after
their perilous journey."
"Yes, mother," answered the Maid of Beauty.
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