A Treasury of Eskimo Tales
by Clara Kern Bayliss
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

"What? Will you stay all the time?" asked the man in surprise.

"Yes," replied the boy.

"That is well; come into the house with me," said the man.

He dropped his shovel on the ground and, stooping down, led the way into the underground passage to the house, letting the curtain fall in front of the door as he passed, for he thought the boy was close behind him.

The moment the door flap fell behind the man as he entered, the boy caught up the ball of light and put it in the turned-up flap of his fur coat in front. Catching up the shovel in one hand, he ran away to the north, running until his feet became tired. Then he whipped on his magic coat and became a raven and flew as fast as his wings would carry him. Behind he heard the frightful shrieks and cries of the old man, following fast in pursuit.

When the old man found that he could not overtake the raven he cried to him, "Never mind; you may keep the light, but give me my shovel."

"No; you made our village dark and you cannot have the shovel," called the raven, and flew faster, leaving the man far in the rear.

As the raven boy traveled home, he tore out a chunk from the light ball and threw it away, thus making a day. Then he went on for a long way in the darkness, and threw out another piece of light, making it day again. He continued to do this at intervals until he reached the kashim in his own village, where he dropped the rest of the ball.

Then he went into the kashim and said, "Now, you worthless shamans, you see I have brought back the light, and hereafter it will be light and then dark, making day and night."

And the shamans could not answer.



On the tundra south of the mouth of the Yukon River an orphan boy once lived with his aunt. They were all alone with no house within sight; but the boy had heard that there were people living farther up the river. One summer day he got into his kayak and rowed up the river hoping to find other human beings. He traveled on until he came to a large village where he saw many people moving about. There he landed and began calling to the people expecting to make friends with them.

But instead of being friendly, they disliked all strangers and, running down to the shore, they seized him, broke his kayak to pieces, tore his clothing off him, and beat him badly. Then they took him up into the village and kept him there all summer, beating and ill-treating him very often. In the fall one of the men took pity on him and made him a kayak, and helped him to escape. He went down the river and arrived at home after a long absence.

During the summer other people had built houses near the home of his aunt and there was a small village instead of the one lone hut. He walked among the buildings until he found his aunt's house; but when he entered, he frightened her very much, for at first glance she thought it was a skeleton, he had been starved and beaten so long.

When his aunt recognized him and had heard his story, she said, "Oh, you poor boy! What you must have suffered! I am full of rage at those cruel villagers. I shall find some way to revenge your wrongs!"

She sat thinking a while and then said to him, "Bring me a piece of a small log."

He brought the piece of wood and she whittled and rubbed it into the form of an animal with long teeth and long, sharp claws, and painted it white on the throat and red on the sides. Then they took the image to the edge of the stream and placed it in the water.

"Go now," she said to it, "and kill everyone you find in the village where my boy was beaten."

The image did not move.

She took it out of the water and cried over it, letting her tears fall upon it; and the warm tears brought it to life and made it feel sorry for her and the boy. She put it back into the water.

"Now, go and kill the bad people who beat my boy," she said.

At this the image floated across the creek and crawled up on the other side, where it began to grow, soon becoming a large red bear. It turned and looked at the woman till she called out, "Go, and spare no one."

The bear went away and came to the village on the big river, the one to which the boy had gone. There the first one he met was a man going for water. This one was quickly torn in pieces, and one after another of the villagers met the same fate; for the bear stayed near the village until he had destroyed one-half of the people, and the rest were so terrified that they began moving away.

Then he swam across the Yukon and went over the tundra to the farther side of another river, killing everyone he met. For he had become so bloodthirsty that the least sign of life seemed to fill him with fury until he had destroyed it.

From there he turned back, and one day came to the place on the river where he had first come to life. Seeing the people on the opposite side he became furious, tearing the ground with his claws and growling, and starting to cross the river to get at them. When the villagers saw this, they were much frightened, and ran about saying, "Here is the old woman's dog! We shall all be killed!" "Tell the old woman to stop her dog!" They had never seen a bear and they thought it was a dog she had made.

The woman went to meet the bear which did not try to hurt her, but was passing by her to get at the other people when she caught him by the hair on the back of his neck.

"Do not hurt these people," she said; "they have been kind to me and have given me food when I was hungry."

She led the bear into her house, and still holding on to him, she talked to him kindly.

"You have done my bidding well, and I am pleased with you," she said; "but you must not overdo it. Hereafter you must injure no one unless he tries to hurt or injure you."

When she had finished talking, she led him to the door and sent him away over the tundra. Before she made him there had never been any of his kind, but since then there have always been red bears.



In ancient times a great many giant eagles or thunderbirds lived in the mountains; but in later years they had all disappeared except one single pair which made their home in the mountain top overlooking the Yukon near Sabotnisky. The top of this mountain was round and the eagles had hollowed out a great basin on the summit which they used for a nest. Around the edge of it was a rocky rim from which they could see far across the broad river, or could look down upon the village at the base of the mountain on the water's edge.

From their perch on this rocky wall these great birds would soar away, looking like a cloud in the sky, to seize a reindeer from a passing herd and bring it to their young. Or, again, they would circle out with a noise like thunder from their shaking wings, and drop down upon a fisherman in his kayak on the river, carrying man and boat to the top of the mountain. There the man would be eaten by the young thunderbirds, and the kayak would lie bleaching among the bones and other refuse scattered along the border of the nest. Every fall the young birds would fly away to the northland, while the old ones would remain by the mountain.

After many fishermen had been carried away by the birds, there came a time when only the most daring would venture upon the river. One summer day a brave young hunter was starting out to look at his fish traps and he said to his wife, "Don't go outside the house while I am away, for fear of the birds."

After he was gone she noticed that the water tub was empty, and took a bucket to go to the river for water. As she bent over to fill the vessel a roaring noise like thunder filled the air, and one of the birds darted down and seized her in its talons. The villagers saw the bird swoop down, and they wailed aloud in sorrow and terror as they watched her being carried through the air to the mountain top.

The hunter came home and the villagers gathered about with many lamentations. "Oh, pitiful! pitiful! your pretty wife was carried away by the thunderbirds! Too bad! Too bad! By this time she is torn to pieces and fed to the young demons!"

Not one word did the husband utter. Going into his empty house he took down his bow and his quiver of war arrows and started toward the mountain.

"Don't go! Don't go!" cried the villagers; "of what use is it? She is dead and devoured ere this. You will only add one more to their victims."

Not a word did the hunter reply. He strode on and on and they watched him climbing up and up the mountainside till he was lost to view. At last he gained the rim of the nest and looked in. The old birds were away, but the fierce young eagles greeted him with shrill cries and fiery, flashing eyes. The hunter's heart was full of anger and he quickly bent his bow, loosing the war arrows one after another till the last one of the hateful birds lay dead in the nest.

With heart still burning for revenge, the hunter hid himself beside a great rock near the nest and waited for the parent birds. They came. They saw their young lying dead and bloody in the nest, and their cries of rage echoed from the cliffs on the farther side of the great river. They soared up into the air looking for the one who had killed their young. Quickly they saw the brave hunter beside the great stone, and the mother bird swooped down upon him, her wings sounding like a gale in a spruce forest. Swiftly fitting an arrow to the string, as the eagle came down the hunter sent it deep into her throat. With a hoarse cry she turned and flew away over the hills far to the north.

The father bird had been circling overhead and came roaring down upon the hunter, who, at the right moment, crouched close to the ground behind the stone, and the eagle's sharp claws struck only the hard rock. As the bird arose, eager to swoop down again, the hunter sprang from his shelter and drove two heavy war arrows deep under its wing. Uttering hoarse cries of rage, and spreading his broad wings, the thunderbird floated away like a cloud in the sky, far into the northland, and was never seen again.

Having taken blood vengeance, the hunter went down into the nest where among ribs of old canoes and other bones he found some fragments of his wife, which he carried to the water's edge and, building a fire, made food offerings and libations of water such as would be pleasing to her ghost.



One day Raven was sitting on a cliff near the sea when he saw a large whale passing close along the shore.

"I have an idea!" said he. "I'm going to try something new." Then he called out to the whale, "When you come up again, shut your eyes and open your mouth wide, and I'll put something in it."

Then he drew down his mask, put his drill for making fire under his wing, and flew out over the water. Very soon the whale came up again and did as he had been told. Raven, seeing the wide open mouth, flew straight down the whale's throat. The whale closed his mouth, gave a great gulp, and down he went to the bottom of the sea.

Raven stood up, pushed up his beak, and looking about, found himself at the entrance to a fine room, at one end of which burned a lamp. He went in and was surprised to see a beautiful young woman sitting there. The place was clean and dry, the roof being supported by the whale's spine, while its ribs formed the walls. The lamp was supplied from a tube that extended along the whale's backbone, from which oil constantly but slowly dripped into the lamp.

When Raven stepped in, the woman started up in alarm and cried out, "How came you here? You are the first man who ever came into my house."

"I came in through the whale's throat," said Raven as politely as he knew how, for the woman was young and fair to look upon. Moreover, he had already guessed that she was the inua or spirit of the whale. "I should like to stay a while."

"As you cannot get out at present, it seems that you will have to stay. Whether you like it, or whether I like it, you appear to be my guest, so I must prepare food for you."

She brought food which she served with berries and oil. "These are berries which I gathered last summer," she said.

For four days he remained there as the guest of the whale's spirit, and found it a very pleasant experience; but he continually wondered what the tube was that ran along the roof of the house. Whenever the spirit woman left the room she said, "You must on no account touch that tube," and that only served to make him the more curious.

On the fifth day, when she left the room, he went to the lamp and caught a drop of the oil which he licked up with his tongue. It tasted so sweet that he began to catch other drops as fast as they fell. This soon became too slow to suit him, for he was hungry, so he reached up and tore a piece from the side of the tube and ate it. As soon as this was done a great rush of oil poured into the room and put out the light, while the room itself began to roll wildly about.

This continued for four days, and Raven was nearly dead from exhaustion and the bruises which he received. Then the room became still and the whale was dead, for Raven had torn off part of one of the heart vessels. The inua never came back to the room, and the whale drifted upon the shore.

Raven now found himself a prisoner and was saying to himself, "Now I am in a pretty boat! I have enjoyed the trip, but how is one to get out of a kayak like this?"

Presently he said, "Hark! What is that I hear? As I live, it is someone walking on the roof of the house!"

And he was right, for two men were walking on top of the dead whale and calling to their village mates to come and help cut it up. Very soon there were many people at work cutting a hole through the upper side of the whale's body.

Raven quickly pulled down his mask, becoming a bird, and crouched close in the farthest corner. When the hole was large enough, he watched his chance and while everybody was carrying a load of meat to the shore, he flew out and alighted on the top of a hill close by without being noticed.

"Ah, my good fire-drill; I have forgotten it," he exclaimed, remembering that he had left it behind.

He quickly pushed up his beak and removed his raven coat, becoming a young man again. He started along the shore toward the whale. The people working on the dead animal saw a small, dark-colored man in a strangely made deerskin coat coming toward them, and they looked at him curiously.

"Ho, you have found a fine, large whale," said he as he drew near. "I will help you to cut him up."

He rolled up his sleeves and set to work. Very soon a man cutting on the inside of the whale's body called out, "Ah, see what I have found! A fire-drill inside a whale!"

At once the wily Raven rolled down his sleeves and quit work, saying, "That is a bad sign, for my daughter has told me that if a fire-drill is found in a whale and people try to cut up that whale, many of them will die. I shall run away before the inua of the whale catches me." And away he ran.

When he was gone the people looked at one another and said, "Perhaps he is right; we'd better go too." And away they all ran, each one trying to rub the oil from his hands as he went.

From his hiding-place Raven looked on and laughed as he saw the people running away. Then he went back for his raven coat and when he had put it on and pulled down his beak he flew to the carcass and began to cut it up and fly with chunks of the flesh to a cave on the shore. He did not dare go to it as a man lest the villagers should see him and, discovering the trick he had played them, should come back for the meat. As he chuckled over the feast in store for him he said, "Thanks, Ghost of the whale, both for the boat ride and for the feast."



In a village on Cape Prince of Wales, very long ago, there was a poor orphan boy who had no one to take his part and who was treated badly by everyone, being made to run here and there at the bidding of all the villagers.

One snowy night he was told to go out of the kashim to see if the weather was getting worse. He had no skin boots, and it was so cold that he did not wish to go, but he was driven out. When he came back he said, "It has stopped snowing, but it is as cold as ever."

Just to plague him, the men kept sending him out every little while, until at last he came in saying:

"I saw a ball of fire like the moon coming over the hill to the north."

The men laughed at him and asked, "Why do you tell us a yarn like that? Go out again and see if there is not a whale coming over the hill. You are always seeing things."

He went out, and came in again quickly, saying in agitation, "The red thing has come nearer and is close to the house."

The men laughed, but the boy hid himself. Almost immediately after this the men in the kashim saw a fiery figure dancing on the gut-skin covering over the roof hole, and an instant after a human skeleton came crawling into the room through the passageway, creeping on its knees and elbows.

When the skeleton was in the room it made a motion toward the people which caused them all to fall on their knees and elbows in the same position as it had. Then, turning about, it crawled out as it had come, followed by the people, who were forced to go with it. Outside, the skeleton crept through the snow toward the edge of the village, followed by all the men, and in a short time every one of them was dead and the skeleton had vanished.

Some of the villagers had been absent when the spook came, and when they returned they found dead people lying all about on the cold ground. Entering the kashim, they found the orphan boy, who told them how the people had been killed.

They followed the tracks of the skeleton through the snow, and were led up the side of the mountain till they came to an ancient grave, where the tracks ended.

It was the grave of the boy's father.



Once when a Raven was flying over some reefs near the shore of the sea, he was seen by some Sea-birds that were perched on the rocks. They began to revile him, calling him disagreeable names: "Oh, you offal eater! Oh, you carrion eater! Oh, you black one!" until the Raven turned and flew away, crying, "Gnak, gnak, gnak! why do they call me such names?"

He flew far away across the great water until he came to a mountain on the other side, where he stopped. Just in front of him he saw a marmot hole. He said to himself, "If it is a disgrace to eat dead animals I will eat only live ones. I will become a murderer."

He stood in front of the hole watching, and very soon the marmot came home, bringing some food. Marmot said to Raven, "Please stand aside; you are right in front of my door."

"It is not my intention to stand aside," said Raven. "They called me a carrion eater, and I will show that I am not, for I will eat you."

"If you are going to eat me, you ought to be willing to do me a favor," replied Marmot. "I have heard that you are a very fine dancer, and I long to see you dance before I die. If you dance as beautifully as they say, I shall be willing to die when once I have seen it. If you will dance I will sing, and then you may eat me."

This pleased Raven so much that he began to dance and Marmot pretended to go into ecstasies about it.

"Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, how well you dance!" he sang. "Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, how well you dance!"

By and by they stopped to rest and Marmot said, "I am very much delighted with your dancing. Do shut your eyes and dance your best just once more, while I sing."

Raven closed his eyes and hopped clumsily about while Marmot sang, "Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, what a graceful dancer! Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, what a fool you are!" And with a quick run, Marmot darted between Raven's legs and was safe in his hole.

There he turned, putting out the tip of his nose and laughing mockingly as he said, "Chi-kik-kik, chi-kik-kik, chi-kik-kik! You are the greatest fool I ever met. What a ridiculous figure you made while dancing; I could scarcely sing for laughing. Look at me, and see how fat I am. Don't you wish you could eat me?"

And he tormented Raven till the latter flew away in a rage.



In a village on the lower Yukon lived a man and his wife who had no children. One day the woman said to her husband, "Far out on the tundra there grows a solitary tree. Go to that and bring back a piece of the trunk, and make a doll from it. Then it will seem that we have a child."

The man went out of the house and saw a long track of bright light like that made by the moon shining on snow, leading off across the tundra in the direction he had been told to take. It was the Milky Way. Along this path he traveled far away until he saw before him a beautiful object shining in the bright light. Going up to it, he found it was the tree of which he came in search. The tree was small, so he took his hunting-knife, cut off a part of the trunk, and carried the fragment home.

He sat down in the house and carved out from the wood an image of a small boy, and his wife made two suits of clothing for it and dressed it in one of them, "saving the other to put on when he had soiled the first," she said.

"Now, Father, make your little boy a set of toy dishes," she said.

"I see no use in all this trouble. We will be no better off than we were in the first place," said the man.

"Why, yes, we are already better off," said the wife. "Before we had the doll we had nothing to talk about except ourselves. Now we have the doll to talk about and to amuse us."

To please her the husband made the toy dishes, and she placed the doll in the seat of honor on the bench opposite the door, with the dishes full of food and water before it.

When the couple had gone to bed that night the room was very dark and they heard several low, whistling sounds.

"Do you hear that? It is the doll," said the woman, shaking her husband till he awakened.

They got up at once and, making a light, saw that the Doll had eaten the food and drunk the water, and that its eyes were moving. The woman caught it up with delight and fondled and played with it for a long time. When she became tired she put it back on the bench and they went to bed again.

In the morning when they got up the Doll was gone. They looked for it all around the house, but could not find it. Then they went outside, and there were its tracks leading away from the door. They followed the tracks to the creek and along the bank to a place outside the village, where they ended; for from this place the Doll had gone up the Milky Way on the path of light upon which the man had gone to find the tree.

Doll traveled along the bright path till he came to the edge of day, where the sky comes down to the earth and walls in the light. Close beside him, in the east, he saw a skin cover fastened over a hole in the sky wall. The skin was bulging inward as if some strong force on the other side were pushing it.

"It is very quiet here. I think a little wind would make it livelier," said the Doll, drawing his knife and cutting the cover loose on one side of the hole. At once a strong wind blew through, every now and then bringing with it a live reindeer. Looking through the hole, Doll saw beyond the wall another world like the earth. He drew the cover over the hole again.

"Do not blow too hard," he said to the wind. "Sometimes blow hard, sometimes light, and sometimes do not blow at all."

Then he got upon the sky wall and walked along till he came to the southeast. Here another opening was covered like the first, and the covering was bulging inward. When he cut this covering loose a gale swept in bringing reindeer, trees, and bushes. He quickly covered the hole and said to the gale, "You are too strong. Sometimes blow hard, sometimes light, and sometimes do not blow at all. The people on earth will want variety."

Again walking along the sky wall he came to a hole in the south, and when this covering was cut a hot wind came rushing in carrying rain and spray from the great sea lying beyond the sky-hole on that side. Doll closed this opening and talked to the wind as before.

Then he passed on to the west where there was another hole which admitted heavy rainstorms, with sleet and spray from the ocean. When he had closed this and given the wind its instructions he went on to the northwest. There, when he cut away the covering, a cold blast came rushing in, bringing snow and ice, so that he was chilled to the bone and half frozen, and he made haste to close the hole as he had the others.

He started to go along the sky wall to the north, but the cold became more and more severe until at last he was obliged to leave the wall and make a circuit to the southward, going back to the north only when he came opposite the opening. There the cold was so intense that he waited some time before he could muster courage to cut the cover away. When he did so, a fearful blast rushed in, carrying great masses of snow and ice, strewing it over the entire plain of the earth. It was so bitter that he closed the hole very quickly, and told the wind from that direction to come only in the middle of the winter so that the people might not be taken unawares, and might be prepared for it.

From there he hastened down to warmer climes in the middle of the earth plain, where, looking up, he saw that the sky was supported by long, slender, arching poles, like those of a conical lodge, but made of some beautiful material unknown to him. Journeying on, he finally came to the village from which he started and went into his own home.

Doll lived in this village for a very long time; for when the foster parents who had made him died, he was taken by other people of the village and so lived on for many generations, until he finally died. Since his death parents have made dolls for their children in imitation of the Doll who first opened the wind-holes of the sky and regulated all the six winds of earth.



For a long time Raven lived alone, but finally became tired of it and decided to take a wife. It was late in the fall and he noticed that the birds were going south in large flocks. He flew away and stopped directly in the path taken by geese and other wild fowl on their way to the land of summer.

As he sat there he saw a pretty young goose coming near. He hid his face by looking at his feet, so that she would not know but that he was a black goose, and called out, "Who wishes me for a husband? I am a very nice person."

The goose flew on without heeding him and he looked after her and sighed. Soon after a black brant passed, and Raven cried out as before, but the brant flew on. Again he waited and this time a duck passed near, and when Raven cried out she turned her head a little.

"Oh, I shall succeed this time," thought Raven, and his heart beat fast with hope. But the duck passed on, and Raven stood waiting with bowed head.

Very soon a family of white-front geese came along, consisting of the parents with four sons and a sister. Raven cried out, "Who wishes me for a husband? I am a fine hunter and am young and handsome."

As he finished speaking they alighted just beyond him, and he thought, "Surely, now I shall get a wife." He looked about and found a pretty white stone with a hole in it lying near. He picked it up and, stringing it on a long grass stem, hung it about his neck.

As soon as he had done this he pushed up his bill so that it slid to the top of his head like a mask, and he became a dark-colored young man. At the same time each of the geese pushed up its bill in the same manner, and they became nice-looking people.

Raven walked toward them, and was much pleased with the looks of the girl and, going to her, gave her the stone which she hung about her neck. By doing this she showed that she accepted him for her husband. Then they all pulled down their bills, becoming birds again, and flew away toward the south.

The geese flapped their wings heavily and worked along slowly, while Raven on his outspread wings glided along faster than his party, and the geese gazed after him in admiration, exclaiming, "How light and graceful he is!" and the little bride was very proud of her fine husband.

But Raven was not accustomed to the long, all-day flights of the geese, and he became tired.

"We would better stop early and look for a good place to spend the night," he said. The others agreed to this, so they stopped and were soon asleep.

Early the next morning the geese were astir, but Raven slept so heavily that the father goose had to shake him and say, "Wake up! Wake up! We must make haste for it will snow here soon; we must not linger."

As soon as Raven was fully awake he pretended to be eager to get away, and, as on the day before, he led all the others with his wide-spread wings, and was greatly admired by the others, especially by his young wife. He kept on, above or in front of his companions, and his bride would often say, "See how gracefully he skims along without having to flop heavy wings as we do," and she gave her brothers a side glance which made them feel that she was contrasting their clumsiness with his ease. After that tactless remark, the four brothers-in-law began to feel envious of Raven.

* * * * *

They stopped one evening on the seashore, where they feasted upon the berries which were plentiful there, and then they settled down for the night and fell asleep. In the morning the geese were making ready to start without waiting for breakfast, and Raven's stomach cried out for more of the berries. But father goose said they could not wait, and he dared not object to starting. The brothers-in-law had secretly urged the father not to wait, for they said, "Our sister needs to have some of the conceit about that husband of hers taken out of her; and so does he."

Raven dreaded the long flight across the sea, for he heard father goose say, "We will make only one stop in crossing this water. There is an island in the center of it, and there we will rest for a short time and then go on to the farther shore."

Raven was ashamed to say that he feared he could never reach that farther shore, so he determined to keep still and risk it; and off they all flew.

The geese kept steadily on and on. After a long time Raven began to fall behind. His wide-spread wings ached, yet the geese kept steadily and untiringly on. His vanity was no longer gratified by admiring remarks from his companions, for he was flapping heavily along. Sometimes he would glide on outspread pinions for a time, hoping to ease his tired wings, but he fell farther and farther behind.

Finally the geese looked back and the brothers said, sarcastically, "We thought he was light and active." The father goose said, "He must be getting tired. We must not press him too hard. We will rest."

The geese sank upon the water close together, and Raven came laboring up and dropped upon their backs, gasping for breath. In a short time he partially recovered and, putting one hand on his breast, said, "I have an arrow-head here from an old war I was in, and it pains me greatly; that is the reason I fell behind."

He had his wife put her hand on his breast to feel the arrow-head which he declared was working its way into his heart. She could feel nothing but his heart beating like a trip-hammer with no sign of an arrow-point. But she said nothing, for her brothers were whispering, "We don't believe that story about the arrow-point! How could he live with an arrow in his heart?"

They rested two or three times more, he sinking upon their backs as before; but when they saw the far-off shore before them father goose said, "We can wait for you no more," for they were eager to reach the land and find food.

They all arose and flew on, Raven slowly flapping along behind, for his wings felt heavy. The geese kept steadily on toward the shore, while he sank lower and lower, getting nearer to the dreaded water. When the waves were almost touching him he shrieked to his wife:

"Leave me the white stone; it has magical powers. Throw me the white stone."

Thus he kept crying until suddenly his wings lost their power and he floated helplessly on the water as the geese gained the shore. He tried to rise from the water but his wings seemed to be weighted down, and he drifted back and forth along the beach. The waves arose and one whitecap after another broke over him till he was soaked, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he could get his beak above the surface to breathe a little between the billows.

After a long time a great wave cast him upon the land, and as it flowed back he dug his claws into the sand to save himself from being dragged back into the sea. As soon as he was able he struggled up the beach, an unhappy looking object. The water ran in streams from his soaked feathers and his wings dragged on the ground. He fell several times, and at last, with wide-gaping mouth, he reached some bushes. As soon as he could get his breath he took off his raven coat and pushed up his beak, becoming a small, dark-colored man.

"From this time on, forevermore I'm done with being a goose," he declared.



Near the mouth of the Yukon grows a tall, slender kind of grass which the women gather and dry in the fall and use for braiding mats and baskets and for pads in the soles of skin boots.

One of these grass stalks that had been almost pulled out by the roots when the women were gathering others, did not like the fate in store for it.

"Why should I stay on in this shape and never become anything but a pad in the sole of a boot to be trodden on forever? It must be nicer to be the one who treads on the pad; but since I cannot be that, I will at least be something better than grass."

Looking about, it spied a bunch of herbs growing close by, looking so quiet and unmolested that the grass stem said, "I will be an herb; that is a higher and safer life than this."

At once it was changed into an herb like those it had envied, and for a time it remained in peace. But one day the women came back with baskets and picks and began to dig up these herbs and eat some of the roots, putting others into the baskets to take home. The changed plant was left standing when the women went home toward evening, but it had seen the fate of its companions.

"This is not very safe either, for now I should be eaten. I wish I had chosen some other form," it said.

Looking down, it saw a tiny, creeping vine clinging close to the ground. "That is the thing to be," it said. "That is so obscure and lowly that the women will never notice it. I will be a vine like that."

Without delay it became a little squawberry vine nestling under the dead leaves. It had not lived in peace and seclusion very long before the women came and tore up many of the vines, stopping just before they reached the changeling, and saying, "We will come back to-morrow and get the rest."

The one-time grass plant was filled with fear, and changed itself quickly into a small tuber-bearing plant like some that were growing near. Scarcely had the change been made when a small tundra mouse came softly through the grass and began digging at a neighboring plant, holding up the tuber in its paws and nibbling it, after which the mouse crept on again.

"To be safe, I must be a mouse," thought the changeling. "Animals are a higher kind of being than plants, anyway. I will be a mouse."

Instantly it became a mouse and ran off, glad of the change. Now and then it would pause to dig up a tuber, or would sit up on its hind feet to look around on the new scenes that came into view.

"This is much more delightful than being a plant and always staying in one place and never seeing anything of the world," it said.

While traveling nimbly along in this manner, the mouse observed a strange white animal coming through the air toward it, which kept dropping down upon the ground, and after stopping to eat something, it would fly on again.

When it came near, the mouse saw that it was a great white owl. At the same moment the owl saw the mouse and swooped down upon it. Darting off, the mouse was fortunate enough to escape by running into a hole made by one of its kind, and the owl flew off.

After a while the mouse ventured to come out of its shelter, though its heart still beat painfully from its recent fright. "I will be an owl, and in that way be safe," thought the mouse, and with the wish it was changed into a beautiful white owl.

"Oh, this is fine!" he said. "It is glorious to fly through the air, and go up almost to the sky where I can look down on all the world. I'm glad that I was not content to stay always down in the dirt."

With slow, noiseless wing flaps the owl set off toward the north, pausing every now and then to catch and eat a mouse. After a long flight Sledge Island came in view and the owl thought it would go there. When far out at sea its untried wings became so tired that only with the greatest difficulty did it manage to reach the shore, where it perched upon a piece of driftwood that stood up in the sand.

In a short time it saw two fine-looking men pass along the shore, and the old feeling of discontent arose again. "Those men were talking in a better-sounding language than mine. They seemed to understand each other, and they laughed and were having a good time. I will be a man."

With a single flap of wing it stood upon the ground, where it changed immediately into a fine young man. But, of course, the feathers were gone and the Man had no clothing. Night came down upon the earth soon after, and the Man sat down with his back against the stick of wood on which, as an owl, he had perched, and slept till morning. He was awakened by the sun shining in his eyes, and upon arising, felt stiff and lame from the cold night air.

He found some of the same grass which he had once been, and braided it into a kind of mantle which kept out a little of the cold. Seeing a reindeer grazing, he felt a sudden desire to kill it and eat its flesh. He crept close on his hands and knees, and, springing forward, seized it by the horns and broke its neck with a single effort.

He felt all over its body and found that its skin formed a covering through which he could not push his fingers. For a long time he tried to think how to remove the skin, and finally noticed a stone with a sharp edge with which he managed to cut through the hide. Then he quickly stripped the animal with his hands, and tore out a piece of flesh which he tried to swallow as he had swallowed mice when he was an owl. He found that he could not do this easily, so he tore off small bits and ground them with his teeth.

He had already discovered that by striking two stones together they grew warm and felt good to his cold hands. So now he struck them together until sparks came with which he lighted some dry weeds and brush and had a fire to cook his meat and to warm himself.

The next morning he killed another reindeer and the day following two more and wrapped himself in their skins from head to foot, with the raw side next his own flesh, as the animals had worn them. The skins soon dried on him and became like a part of his body.

As the nights grew colder and colder, he collected a quantity of driftwood from the shore, with which he built him a rude hut, which he found very comfortable. Walking over the hills one day he came near to a strange, black animal eating berries from the bushes. He crept up to it and grasped it by its hind legs. With an angry growl it turned to face him, showing its white teeth. He knew then that he must not let go his hold of it, so he swung it high over his head and brought it down on the ground with such force that the bear lay dead.

In skinning the bear he saw that it contained much fat, and that he might have a light in his house if he could find something that would hold the grease and yet not take fire itself. Going along the beach he found a long, flat stone with a hollow in one surface, and in this the oil remained very well, and with a lighted moss wick he found it much pleasanter to get about his house at night. The bearskin he hung up for a curtain to his door to keep out the cold wind.

In this way he lived for many days, but he was a human being now, and needed human society. He remembered the two young men he had seen on the beach when, as an owl, he sat on the post on the shore.

"Two men passed here once, and I liked them," said he. "They may live not far from here. I should like to see someone like myself. I will go seek them."

He went in search of people. Wandering along the coast for some distance he came to two fine new kayaks lying at the foot of a hill, and in the kayaks were spears, lines, floats, and other hunting implements. After examining these curiously, he noticed a path leading up to a hill. He followed the path and on the top of the hill he found a house with two storehouses near it and several recently killed white whales and many skulls around it.

Wishing to see the people in the house before showing himself, he went with noiseless steps into the entrance way and up to the door. Cautiously lifting one corner of the skin curtain that hung in the doorway, he looked in. Opposite the doorway was a young man sitting at work on some arrows, while a bow lay beside him. He dropped the curtain and stood for some time in doubt as to how to proceed.

"If I enter the house he may shoot me before I have time to make known my good will," thought he. But in the end he thought, "If I enter and say, 'I have come, brother,' he will not hurt me." So, raising the curtain quickly, he entered.

The householder at once seized the bow and drew an arrow to the head just as the intruder said, "I have come, brother." At this the bow and arrow were dropped and the young man cried out with delight, "Are you my brother? Come and sit beside me."

This the newcomer very gladly did, and the householder showed his pleasure and asked, "Are you really my brother? I am very glad to see you, brother, for I always believed I had one somewhere, though I never could find him. Where have you lived? Have you known any parents? How did you grow up?"

"No, I have never known any parents. I never was born and never grew up. I just found myself a man standing on the seashore. There I built me a house and made myself as comfortable as I could; but I was lonely, so I came to find you."

"I also never had any parents that I can recall. My earliest recollection was of finding myself alone in this house, where I have lived ever since, killing game for food. I was alone until this friend came to stay with me. Now you, my brother, shall live here too, and we will never be parted again."

* * * * *

And thus, by always striving to be something higher, the downtrodden grass plant became a MAN.


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse