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THE BOY WHO SET A SNARE FOR THE SUN
AT the time when the animals reigned in the earth, they had killed all the people but a girl and her little brother, and these two were living in fear, in an out-of-the-way place. The boy was a perfect little pigmy, and never grew beyond the size of a mere infant; but the girl increased with her years, so that the task of providing food and shelter fell wholly upon her. She went out daily to get wood for the lodge-fire, and she took her little brother with her that no mishap might befall him; for he was too little to leave alone. A big bird of a mischievous disposition might have flown away with him. But at last she made a bow and arrows, and giving them to him said:
"My little brother, I will leave you behind where I have been gathering the wood; you must hide yourself, and you will soon see the snow-birds come and pick the worms out of the logs which I have piled up. Shoot one of them and bring it home."
He obeyed her, and tried his best to kill one, but he came home unsuccessful. Then his sister told him that he must not despair, but try again the next day.
She accordingly left him again at the gathering-place of the wood and returned to the lodge. Toward nightfall she heard his little footsteps crackling through the snow, and he hurried in and threw down, with an air of triumph, one of the birds which he had killed.
"My sister," said he, "I wish you to skin it and stretch the skin, and when I have killed more, I will have a coat made out of the skins."
"But what shall we do with the body?" said she; for they had always up to that time lived upon greens and berries.
"Cut it in two," he answered, "and season our pottage with one half of it at a time."
It was their first dish of game, and they relished it greatly.
The boy kept on in his efforts, and in the course of time he killed ten birds—out of the skins of which his sister made him a little coat. Being very small, he had a very pretty coat, and a bird-skin to spare.
"Sister," said he one day, as he paraded up and down before the lodge, enjoying his new coat and fancying himself the greatest little fellow in the world—as he was, for there was no other besides him—"My sister, are we really alone in the world, or are we playing at it? Is there nobody else living? And tell me, was all this great broad earth and this huge big sky made for a little boy and girl like you and me?"
"Ah, no," answered the sister, "there are many others, but not harmless as you and I are. They live in a certain other quarter of the earth, and if we would not endanger our lives we must keep away from there. They have killed off all our kinsfolk and will kill us, too, if we go near where they are."
To this the boy was silent; but his sister's words only served to inflame his curiosity the more, and soon after he took his bow and arrows and went in the forbidden direction.
After walking a long time and meeting no one, he became tired and stretched himself upon a high green knoll where the day's warmth had melted off the snow. It was a charming place to lie, and he soon fell asleep. While he slept, the sun beat upon him. It not only singed his bird-skin coat, but so shrivelled and shrunk and tightened it on the little boy's body as to wake him up. And then when he felt how the sun had seared the coat he was so proud of, and saw the mischief its fiery beams had played, he flew into a great passion. He vowed fearful things, and berated the sun in a terrible way for a little boy no higher than a man's knee.
"Do not think you are too high," said he; "I shall revenge myself. Oh, sun! I will have you for a plaything yet."
On coming home he gave an account of his misfortune to his sister, and bitterly bewailed the spoiling of his new coat. He would not eat—not so much as a single berry. He lay down as one that fasts; nor did he move or change his manner of lying for ten full days, though his sister strove to prevail on him to rise. At the end of ten days he turned over, and then he lay full ten days on the other side.
When he got up he was very pale, but very resolute too. He bade his sister make a snare.
"For," said he, "I mean to catch the sun."
"I have nothing strong to make a snare of," objected the sister. But on his insisting, she brought forward a deer's sinew which their father had left, and soon made it into a string suitable for a noose. But the brother was not pleased with it; he told her that it would not do and directed her to find something else. She said she had nothing—nothing at all; but at last she thought of the bird-skin that was left over when the coat was made, and she wrought this into a string. And now the little boy was more vexed than before.
"The sun has had enough of my bird-skins," he said; "find something else."
She went out of the lodge, saying to herself, "Was there ever so obstinate a boy?" She did not dare to answer this time that she had nothing. Then luckily she thought of her own beautiful hair, and pulling some of it from among her locks, she quickly braided it into a cord, and, returning, handed it to her brother. The moment his eye fell upon the jet black braid he was delighted.
"This will do," he said, and he immediately began to run it back and forth through his hands as swiftly as he could; and as he drew it forth, he tried its strength. He said again, "This will do," and winding it in a glossy coil about his shoulders, he set out a little after midnight.
His object was to catch the sun before it rose. He fixed his snare firmly on a spot just where the sun must strike the land as it rose above the earth; and sure enough, he caught the sun, so that it was held fast in the cord and did not rise.
The animals who ruled the earth were immediately put into great commotion. They had no light; and they ran to and fro, calling out to one another and inquiring what had happened. They summoned a council to debate upon the matter, and an old dormouse, suspecting where the trouble lay, proposed that some one should be appointed to go and cut the cord. This was a bold thing to undertake, as the rays of the sun could not fail to burn whoever should venture so near to them.
At last the venerable dormouse himself undertook it, for the very good reason that no one else would. But all were glad to accept his offer, so he hastened to the spot where the sun lay ensnared.
Now at this time the dormouse was the largest animal in the world. When he stood up he looked like a mountain, and when he walked the earth trembled. His courage was great in proportion, but as he came nearer and nearer to the sun his back began to smoke and burn with the heat, and soon the whole top of his huge bulk was turned to enormous heaps of ashes. He succeeded, however, in cutting the cord with his teeth, and the sun, free, as round and beautiful as ever, rolled up again into the wide blue sky. But the dormouse—or blind woman as it is called—was shrunk away to a very small size; and that is the reason why it is now one of the tiniest creatures upon the earth.
The little boy returned home when he discovered that the sun had escaped his snare, and devoted himself entirely to hunting.
"If the beautiful hair of my sister would not hold the sun fast, nothing in the world could," he said. "I was not born, a little fellow like myself, to look after the sun. It requires one greater and wiser than I to regulate that."
So he went out and shot ten more snow-birds; for in this business he was very expert; and he had a new bird-skin coat made, which was prettier than the one he had worn before.CHAPTER 2
MANABOZHO, THE MISCHIEF-MAKER
THERE was never in the whole world a more mischievous busy-body than that notorious giant Manabozho. He was everywhere, in season and out of season, running about and putting his hand in whatever was going forward. To carry on his game, he could take almost any shape he pleased; he could be very foolish or very wise; very weak or very strong; very poor or very rich—just as happened to suit his humor best. Whatever any one else could do, he would attempt without a moment's reflection. He was a match for any man he met, and there were few manitoes that could get the better of him. By turns he would be very kind, or very cruel; an animal or a bird; a man or a spirit. And yet, in spite of all these gifts, Manabozho was always getting himself involved in all sorts of troubles; and more than once, in the course of his busy adventures, was this great maker of mischief driven to his wits' ends to come off with his life.
To begin at the beginning, Manabozho, while yet a youngster, was living with his grandmother near the edge of a wide prairie. It was on this prairie that he first saw animals and birds of every kind; he also there made first acquaintance with thunder and lightning; he would sit by the hour watching the clouds as they rolled, and musing on the shades of light and darkness as the day rose and fell.
For a stripling, Manabozho was uncommonly wide-awake. Every new sight he beheld in the heavens was a subject of remark; every new animal or bird, an object of deep interest; and every sound that came from the bosom of nature was like a new lesson which he was expected to learn. He often trembled at what he heard and saw.
To the scene of the wide open prairie his grandmother sent him at an early age to watch. The first sound he heard was that of the owl, at which he was greatly terrified. Quickly descending the tree he had climbed, he ran with alarm to the lodge.
"Noko! noko! grandmother!" he cried. "I have heard a monedo."
She laughed at his fears and asked him what kind of noise his reverence made. He answered:
"It makes a noise like this: Ko-ko-ko-ho."
His grandmother told him he was young and foolish; that what he heard was only a bird which derived its name from the peculiar noise it made.
He returned to the prairie and continued his watch. As he stood there looking at the clouds, he thought thus to himself:
"It is singular that I am so simple and my grandmother so wise; and that I have neither father nor mother. I have never heard a word about them. I must ask and find out."
He went home and sat down, silent and dejected. Finding that this did not attract the notice of his grandmother, he began a loud lamentation, which he kept increasing, louder and louder, till it shook the lodge and nearly deafened the old grandmother. She at length said:
"Manabozho, what is the matter with you? You are making a great deal of noise."
Manabozho started off again with his doleful hubbub; but succeeded in jerking out between his big sobs, "I haven't got any father or mother; I haven't," and he set out again lamenting more boisterously than ever.
Knowing that he was of a wicked and revengeful temper, his grandmother dreaded to tell him the story of his parentage; as she knew he would make trouble of it.
Manabozho renewed his cries and managed to throw out, for a third or fourth time, his sorrowful lament that he was a poor unfortunate, who had no parents and no relations. Finally his grandmother said:
"Yes, you have a father and three brothers living. Your mother is dead. She was taken for a wife by your father, the West, without the consent of her parents. Your brothers are the North, East, and South; and being older than yourself, your father has given them great power with the winds, according to their names. You are the youngest of his children. I have nursed you from your infancy; for your mother, owing to the ill-treatment of your father, died when you were born. I have no relations beside you. Your mother was my only child, and you are my only hope."
"I am glad my father is living," said Manabozho. "I shall set out in the morning to visit him."
His grandmother would have discouraged him, saying it was a long distance to the place where his father, Ningabiun, or the West, lived.
This information seemed rather to please than to disconcert Manabozho; for by this time he had grown to such a size and strength that he had been compelled to leave the narrow shelter of his grandmother's lodge and to live out of doors. He was so tall that, as he stood up, he could have snapped off the heads of the birds roosting in the topmost branches of the highest trees, without being at the trouble to climb. And if he had at any time taken a fancy to one of the same trees for a walking-stick, he would have had no more to do than to pluck it up with his thumb and finger and strip down the leaves and twigs with the palm of his hand.
Bidding good-bye to his venerable old grandmother, who pulled a very long face over his departure, Manabozho set out at great headway, for he was able to stride from one side of a prairie to the other at a single step.
He found his father on a high mountain-ground, far in the west. His father espied his approach at a great distance and bounded down the mountain-side several miles to give him welcome; and, side-by-side, apparently delighted with each other, they reached in two or three of their giant paces the lodge of the West, which stood high up near the clouds.
They spent some days in talking with each other—for these two great persons did nothing on a small scale, and a whole day to deliver a single sentence was quite an ordinary affair, such was the immensity of their discourse.
One evening Manabozho asked his father what he was most afraid of on earth.
"But is there nothing you dread, here—nothing that would hurt you if you took too much of it? Come, tell me."
Manabozho was very urgent, and at last his father said:
"Yes, there is a black stone to be found a couple of hundred miles from here, over that way," pointing as he spoke. "It is the only thing earthly that I am afraid of, for if it should happen to hit me on any part of my body it would hurt me very much."
The West made this important circumstance known to Manabozho in the strictest confidence.
"Now you will not tell any one, Manabozho, that the black stone is bad medicine for your father, will you?" he added. "You are a good son, and I know you will keep it to yourself. Now tell me, my darling boy, is there not something that you don't like?"
Manabozho answered promptly—"Nothing."
His father, who was of a very steady and persevering temper, put the same question to him seventeen times, and each time Manabozho made the same answer—"Nothing."
But the West insisted—"There must be something you are afraid of."
"Well, I will tell you," said Manabozho, "what it is."
He made an effort to speak, but it seemed to be too much for him.
"Out with it," said Ningabiun, or the West, fetching Manabozho such a blow on the back as shook the mountain with its echo.
"Je-ee, je-ee—it is—" said Manabozho, apparently in great pain. "Yeo, yeo! I cannot name it, I tremble so."
The West told him to banish his fears and to speak up; no one would hurt him.
Manabozho began again, and he would have gone over the same make-believe of anguish, had not his father, whose strength he knew was more than a match for his own, threatened to pitch him into a river about five miles off. At last he cried out:
"Father, since you will know, it is the root of the bulrush."
He who could with perfect ease spin a sentence a whole day long, seemed to be exhausted by the effort of pronouncing that one word, "bulrush."
Some time after, Manabozho observed:
"I will get some of the black rock, merely to see how it looks."
"Well," said the father, "I will also get a little of the bulrush-root, to learn how it tastes."
They were both double-dealing with each other, and in their hearts getting ready for some desperate work.
They had no sooner separated for the evening than Manabozho was striding off the couple of hundred miles necessary to bring him to the place where the black rock was to be procured, while down the other side of the mountain hurried Ningabiun.
At the break of day they each appeared at the great level on the mountain-top, Manabozho with twenty loads, at least, of the black stone, on one side, and on the other the West, with a whole meadow of bulrush in his arms.
Manabozho was the first to strike—hurling a great piece of the black rock, which struck the West directly between the eyes. The West returned the favor with a blow of bulrush that rung over the shoulders of Manabozho, far and wide, like the whip-thong of the lightning among the clouds.
And now both rallied, and Manabozho poured in a tempest of black rock, while Ningabiun discharged a shower of bulrush. Blow upon blow, thwack upon thwack—they fought hand to hand until black rock and bulrush were all gone. Then they betook themselves to hurling crags at each other, cudgeling with huge oak-trees, and defying each other from one mountain-top to another. At times they shot enormous boulders of granite across at each other's heads, as though they had been mere jack-stones. The battle, which had commenced on the mountains, had extended far west. The West was forced to give ground. Manabozho pressing on, drove him across rivers and mountains, ridges and lakes, till at last he got him to the very brink of the world.
Excerpted from The Enchanted Moccasins And Other Native American Legends by Henry R. Schoolcraft. Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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