Nanapush continue his story to Lulu, telling her that his name loses power each time the government uses it, and so he refuses to give it to Father Damien and the Agent. A Captain comes to deliver a ration payout for the first treaty, but Nanapush refuses to sign his white man’s name for that either. He believes that holding onto the land is his only hope, distrusting both cash and government promises and holding out like the Pillagers. Nanapush reveals that he received a Jesuit education as a child and so he can read and write English, uncommon amongst the tribe, and that his name is a tribute to a trickster who stole fire and girls’ hearts.
Nanapush knows to protect himself from the influence of the government and the church, aware that if he is recorded on paper by these organizations, then they might hold some power over him. Nanapush’s reasoning for this is based at least partly in his education. Because he can read the words on the contracts he is being asked to sign, he more fully understands the repercussions of entering agreements with these organizations. His affinity for his trickster namesake shows that he fancies himself clever and able to outwit those who try to take advantage of him, as in the case of his refusal to sign either his tribal name or white man’s name on these documents.
Fleur both embraces and resists Nanapush like any daughter would a father after he saves her. Nanapush hints that Fleur has ended up complicit in keeping his own name alive, though he didn’t know that would be the case when he saved her. He notes that much of what people experience and see can only be understood in hindsight.
Fleur’s appreciation of Nanapush is not overpowered by her urge to remain strong and independent. Nanapush talking about Fleur keeping his name alive prompts the reader to wonder if they could possibly have a romantic or adopted-familial relationship later in the book. His comment about the benefit of hindsight indicates the importance of treating everyone fairly, especially in a close-knit community.
Fleur returns from Argus holding a black umbrella and wearing a dress that is too small for her, and Nanapush says that he didn’t think, at the time, about whether the dress was tight because she carried a child or a pile of money. Nanapush invites her to catch up in his cabin, but Fleur just smiles and walks on. Pauline returns to the reservation soon after, as well. The people on the reservation know something is wrong, but they cannot tell what. A black dog guards the turnoff to Matchimanito, attacking a woman and her children when they hold up a cross to scare the dog off, but they remain unhurt because it was “odjib,” a thing of smoke.
The umbrella that Fleur holds on her return stands as a symbol of the protection she believes she has from the fallout of her stay in the town. The townspeople notice that Fleur’s dress is tight, and wonder if she is pregnant, but Nanapush realizes in hindsight that it might have just been the cash she won from the men in the poker game stuffed into her clothing for safekeeping. The spirit dog guarding Matchimanito is also a symbol of Fleur’s protection via her connection to the spirit world.
The lake monster seems to have calmed down with Fleur’s return; the fish are plentiful, and no boats are lost. Fleur’s presence in the woods also seems to have stirred up some of the spirits of the dead there, but the other members of the tribe can’t help but still hunt there because the animals and berries are of better quality. The people are even more afraid of meeting Fleur or her cousin Moses, who it is said has turned half animal as a way of defeating consumption. When Moses was a child, Nanapush had tried to help him fool the spirits into thinking he had already died, and Nanapush wonders if this bit of trickery is what initially confused Moses and set him off course as a child.
While the community fears Fleur’s relationship to the lake monster, they also are grateful for it when her presence ensures their own safety, showing the dual nature of such superstitious beliefs. Similarly, while they know the woods can be a place of danger, they can’t deny that it is also a place of plenty, and the risk proves itself worth it. Nanapush wonders if he is complicit in Moses’s half-spirit existence, showing that he is a thoughtful, responsible character who acknowledges the power of the culture’s spirits.
It’s Moses who visits town to buy supplies for both himself and Fleur, and to pay off the Pillager allotments. He pays with coins and bills, when the Pillagers had always traded goods before, and so the villagers know the money has come from Fleur’s time in Argus, and that it is far more than a single summer’s wages. Fleur visits Nanapush at his cabin, and he asks Fleur if something is wrong. She tells him that she shouldn’t have left the reservation. They play cards together and Nanapush mentions that Pauline has also returned home with a story. Fleur counters with the comment that Puyat people (Pauline’s family) lie.
The community realizes that Fleur managed to earn a significant amount of money while living in Argus, drawing more speculation as to how she was living there—if she might have been selling her body or stealing. Fleur’s willingness to admit to Nanapush that she should have stayed on the reservation shows the closeness between these two characters, and shows that Nanapush trusts Fleur more than the story that Pauline, who he believes is a liar, has already told.
Nanapush explains to Lulu that Pauline was always unclassifiable as a person and uncomfortable to be around, so they tried to ignore her. He confirms that Pauline has a tendency to lie. He even wonders if Pauline is afflicted with mental illness of some sort, because her aunt says that Pauline has had visions. The people of the reservation speculate about how Fleur earned the money and why they never see her, and predict that she is pregnant—perhaps paid to disappear with the evidence of an affair inside of her, or even stolen from the father.
Despite the tribe’s embrace of spiritual connection, Pauline’s possible “visions” are rejected as suspect because they are not in line with what the others are familiar with. Pauline’s liminal status in relation to the tribe makes it difficult for either Natives or whites to fully embrace her. More explanations for Fleur’s money now appear, all of them seemingly easier to believe than the idea that a woman came by the money honestly.
Nanapush then introduces Eli Kashpaw, who he describes as not the most industrious or educated of young men. Eli’s mother Margaret tries to get him to go to church, but he’s uninterested in that, too. Eli approaches Nanapush to teach him to hunt, though, and he grows so comfortable in the wild that he loses the basic skills to interact with humans, especially women. Eli asks Nanapush to teach him, also, how Nanapush was able to satisfy three wives in the days before the church banned such relationships. Eli has become interested in courting Fleur Pillager.
While Eli is not judged as being conventionally ambitious, he does know what he wants, and he asks Nanapush to teach him how to get it. His embrace of the traditional hunting techniques is so all-consuming that he forgets the importance of human relationships, too. When he meets Fleur, who he believes lives a life similar to the traditional one he seeks for himself, he believes in the necessity of learning how to interact with humans.
Eli tells Nanapush a story of hunting a doe in the woods, and injuring it, so that he must track the crippled animal. He follows the animal all day, eventually growing tired and failing to leave a trail back for himself, until eventually he is led to a fire where the deer has been already hung and split. Fleur stands there, gutting the deer herself. Eli tells Fleur that the doe is his, and Nanapush tells Eli that was the wrong decision. Eli insists on taking at least half, but Fleur ignores him as she works. Eli tells Nanapush how beautiful Fleur was to him despite her wildness, and mentions that the only curve on her gaunt body was her breasts, which surprises Nanapush, what with the rumors about her pregnancy. Nanapush warns Eli that Fleur is dangerous, and that Eli is not immune to her like Nanapush is.
Eli’s commitment to following the footsteps of the doe mirrors the way he is then willing to track Fleur. He displays patience and openness with both, allowing the animal and Fleur to take the lead. When Fleur at first ignores Eli and his requests for the meat, this prompts him to take charge instead of waiting for her permission. Nanapush reprimands Eli because he believes in Fleur’s powers to punish those who threaten her existence. Eli’s mention of the lack of curve to Fleur’s body that day suggests that she was not pregnant when she returned to the reservation, only that her dress was full of the money she’d earned and won in Argus.
Eli refuses this idea and tells of how he joined Fleur in butchering the animal. He finishes the job, hoists much of the meat into a tree, and then takes the choice parts into Fleur’s cabin to prepare a meal for her. Fleur eats the whole heart of the deer by herself. Eli helps her to bed and then sleeps alone on the other side of the room. Nanapush tells Eli he should be happy he survived this encounter, but Eli says now he wants Fleur. Nanapush tells Eli to find a woman in town instead. Eli says he wants instructions instead of warnings, and Nanapush tells him that he’ll need a love medicine to woo Fleur, but Eli says he doesn’t want anything that can wear off.
Eli treats Fleur with respect from the beginning, offering her the best parts of the deer, and the way Fleur devoured the deer’s heart shows her intense and powerful nature. Eli’s display of respect continues when he opts to sleep on the other side of the room rather than taking advantage of being alone in the cabin with Fleur. Nanapush continues in his warnings about Fleur, suggesting that a love medicine could get Eli a short tryst with her, but Eli wants a companion for life, not a single night—and he might be punished by Fleur for taking advantage of her in any way.
Nanapush breaks down and tells Eli of his romantic history and what pleased his wives, but he does not mention his dead daughter, who was also named Lulu. Nanapush talks for a long time, telling all his stories, all connected so that there is no logical end. Nanapush says that this is the way he stayed alive in the year of sickness, by talking so much that death could not get a word in edgewise. Speaking of Fleur, Nanapush tells Eli, “It’s like you’re a log in a stream. Along comes this bear. She jumps on. Don’t let her dig in her claws.” Eli returns to Fleur and Nanapush assumes Eli is using his advice to keep Fleur off balance.
Nanapush’s talent for talking and telling the culture’s stories proves useful to him throughout the book, though Nanapush recognizes that his audience often grows tired of listening. Nanapush sees this as his last vice, something common to old men who have lived through a lot and heard many stories. His advice to Fleur calls back to the Pillager clan marker, which featured a bear. The comparison of Eli to a log, aka a fallen tree, connects the men in the tribe to the slow deforestation happening around them.
Eli’s mother, Margaret, shows up to Nanapush’s cabin to inform him of the rumors she’s heard about her son’s behavior. Nanapush attempts to ignore Margaret by continuing to read his newspaper. She swipes at the paper, but Nanapush knows she can’t read and is shy of the “tracks” the newsprint will leave on her skin, because of the mystery inherent in the text.
The dynamic between Nanapush and Margaret at this point is playfully hostile. Margaret knows that Nanapush is the one who taught Eli to hunt, and so she assumes he is responsible for the other skills Eli has learned. While she doesn’t have knowledge of these more traditional skills her son has learned from Nanapush, she also hasn’t been formally educated as Nanapush has, and so is skeptical of all of the types of knowledge he bears, including the news from white civilization he gathers from his paper.
Eventually Nanapush puts down the paper, and Margaret asks him where Eli learned all of the advanced lovemaking techniques her son was witnessed performing in the open woods (with Fleur). Margaret says she was told this information by Boy Lazarre, and Nanapush realizes that Margaret has paid Boy to spy for her. Margaret stalks off, furious, and Nanapush wonders if Fleur might be weaving a spell to attract Eli, as well.
The balance of power in this situation relies on Nanapush putting down his paper to allow Margaret to speak. Margaret is reluctant to admit she paid one of the untrustworthy Lazarres to spy on her son, but Nanapush pushes her to admit the source of her information. Though the assumption is that Eli has seduced Fleur, Nanapush realizes that Fleur is powerful enough to have manipulated Eli in the same way.
Fleur and Eli continue with their bold displays of affection until the whole reservation is talking. Boy Lazarre returns from the woods one day, speaking gibberish, and people assume that Fleur saw him watching and punished him. Margaret returns to Nanapush to demand he take her to Fleur’s cabin in his boat. Nanapush repairs his boat and he and Margaret set out at dawn. The water is cold, and Nanapush expresses trepidation because he is not a good swimmer. Margaret is resolved to make the journey, though, saying the lake monster can have her if he wants her so much. As Nanapush rows, Margaret must bail the water leaking into the boat the whole way to Fleur’s cabin.
Boy Lazarre’s incapacitated state is blamed on Fleur, but there are other reasons that might be the cause of Boy’s disorientation. His lack of knowledge of the natural world could easily have allowed him to eat something that had an adverse effect. Margaret relies on Nanapush to transport her to her son, so she can see the situation for herself. She is unwilling to believe the word of another, especially another who seems so clearly separated from his wits. She tempts fate by suggesting that the lake monster can have her, so necessary is their journey to save her son, proven again in the fact that they don’t turn around even when the leaky boat threatens to drown them in the freezing water.
Nanapush and Margaret repeatedly insult each other, but their interaction also grows flirtatious. Nanapush takes it too far and Margaret yanks his ears, sending him into a daze that lasts until Margaret returns from her visit to Fleur’s cabin. Margaret throws some tobacco into the fitful waters as an offering and they head back, bailing and praying to the Manitous and the Blessed Virgin in alternation. They return to Nanapush’s house and Margaret tells him that Fleur is clearly pregnant.
The nature of the insults Nanapush and Margaret exchange are mostly about the other’s sexual activity and prowess, prompted by Margaret’s concern over Eli’s romantic overtures to Fleur and who he learned from (Nanapush). Margaret shows her balance of belief in both the native spirits and Christian God in the way she balances her prayers and offerings to both these entities. While no one was sure Fleur was pregnant before, Margaret is now certain, having observed Fleur’s body. The possibility that it is Eli’s child causes Margaret to search harder for an answer one way or another.
In the ensuing weeks, while Eli sets traps out on Pillager land, Margaret lays a trap of her own in her house, keeping the table well set until finally, in the winter, Pauline shows up while Nanapush is visiting. Pauline tells Margaret all that happened in Argus, though Nanapush is uncertain what is a lie, and notes that, for Pauline, lies almost become a kind of truth. Nanapush and Margaret spar again, making sexual innuendo that scares off Pauline before she’s done talking.
The imagery of trapping draws parallels between the physical and mental skills needed to get by on the reservation. While Eli hunts for food and skins he might trade for other supplies, Margaret hunts for the truth, using food as bait. Margaret, hungry for more information and eager to learn that her son has no obligation to the powerful Fleur, wants to believe the story Pauline tells, but Nanapush is aware of Pauline’s tendency to manipulate the truth. The attraction between Margaret and Nanapush is building in their exchanges here, turning insults into milder jokes.
Pauline has recently become Bernadette’s assistant in preparing the dead for burial, and sometimes Pauline also sits with the dying, but Nanapush says he would rather die alone in the woods, like a dog, than have Pauline attend to him.
Nanapush’s discomfort around Pauline is expressed in his statement that he wouldn’t even want her company on his deathbed. Nanapush would prefer to die in nature rather than having someone like Pauline, who seems to perform this task under false pretenses, attend to him.
Pauline seems relieved to have finally shared her story. Margaret is happy to study all of the information, and is sure that Fleur’s child must not be Eli’s. She predicts the child will be born a demon of some sort, and that Eli will then return to Margaret.
Pauline’s story seems to have temporarily convinced Margaret that the baby is not Eli’s, though her theory still seems confused, as Margaret assumes the child will look like a demon with lake monster parentage, rather than a “half-blood” as Pauline’s story implies.
One day Nector arrives home with a crippled heron that he says is a gift for Eli’s wife. Margaret takes issue with the designation, but Eli says that what he has with Fleur is as good as marriage, and mother and son fight. Margaret’s hope in keeping Eli close to her is driven by her need to be cared for in her old age, and Nector seems too drawn to the ways of the town to be reliable in this way. Margaret worries that she will not be able to boss Fleur around as she would like.
Nector believes that Eli and Fleur are living as man and wife, but Margaret’s conversion to Catholicism does not acknowledge their relationship in this way. The communal nature of elder care in the tribe requires one of their sons to remain on the reservation to care for her, and Margaret wants to maintain her power, ruling over a daughter-in-law. She can see that Nector will leave the reservation, as he is interested in the ways of white civilization, and she can see that Fleur will not defer to Margaret when making decisions, so Fleur is not an ideal match for Eli.
Fleur’s labor begins. Pauline runs to fetch Margaret, as she might be the grandmother. Nanapush paddles Margaret across the just-melting lake, as Margaret argues that she is not helping because of kinship, but only to see proof that the child is not Eli’s. Nanapush later tells Lulu that the appearance of the child provided no proof of her parentage, though. He informs Lulu that she was born on the day Pauline shot the reservation’s last bear, which was drunk on trader’s wine.
Pauline, though now educated in preparing bodies for death, lacks knowledge in helping babies be born. Margaret and Nanapush again risk their lives trying to row across the lake in the hopes of helping Fleur’s baby to be born. Despite Margaret’s belief that the baby does not belong to Eli, she still wants proof, and so is willing to assist in the birth. In the telling of this story, though, Lulu’s appearance does not prove her parentage. Lulu, a Pillager whose clan marker contains a bear, is born on the day the last bear dies, a comment on the way life continues even with the decimation of the tribe. The fact that the bear is drunk when he is shot is a clear symbol of the balance between both self-destruction and outside dangers.
Eli and Nanapush wait outside the cabin for over a day, and hear nothing from inside. They make a fire and fail to eat from worry and courtesy, respectively. Finally, on the afternoon of the second day, they hear the sound of the Manitous in Fleur’s cries, and Nanapush speculates that perhaps the bear heard these calls as well. Eli, who has gotten drunk in his anxiety, slashes his arm and runs into the woods. Nanapush finally helps himself to some food, just as the bear shows up. Nanapush, weaponless, calls for help, but he only attracts the bear. Margaret marches up to the bear to intimidate it, but realizes she has no weapon either and returns inside, the bear following her.
Eli and Nanapush are not directly involved in the birth of the baby because they are men, and birth is considered a woman’s job. Fleur’s connection to the natural world is heard in her cries of pain, and Nanapush believes this is what summons the appearance of the bear, a sign of Fleur’s clan. Eli is scared of the responsibilities of fatherhood, and so injures himself to absolve him of his responsibility in this moment. Nanapush, being a masculine figure, would be assumed to be the protector in this situation, but when the bear appears, he is caught weaponless, unable to defend the women inside the cabin. Margaret’s confidence also proves ineffective.
Nanapush says he can only pass on what he hears happened in the house because he was not there. The bear rears on its hind legs and Fleur, filled with fear and power at the sight, gives birth. Pauline takes the gun down off the wall and shoots the bear point blank, but the lead of the shot only gives the bear strength, and the bear turns around and runs out of the house into the woods, leaving no trail, suggesting that it might have been a spirit bear. After this, it seems as though Fleur has died, but when the baby cries, Fleur opens her eyes and breathes again.
The reliability of stories is again called into question here, suggesting that while what Nanapush says might be the truth, it might also be apocryphal because he did not witness it himself. The bear’s threat to Fleur perhaps reminds her of the need to continue her family line, again forcing into stark contrast the significance of both birth and death. The fact that the bear leaves no trail and that it might be a spirit builds on the idea that Fleur is able to conjure the spirits to provide her what she needs in times of struggle.
Father Damien appears the next day to secretly baptize the child, but Fleur hears what’s happening and takes the baby before it can be named. Left outside with the priest, Nanapush says to name the child Lulu Nanapush.
Fleur’s rejection of Catholicism allows Nanapush to name the baby, continuing his family line and honoring his own dead daughter. In her stark refusal to participate in Catholicism, Fleur accidentally allows her child to be signed away from her own family line. We now see why Nanapush had mentioned that Fleur played a crucial role in the continuation of his name.