10.KOTO AND THE BIRD
Once there was a little Cree boy named Koto. His father was a chief and a great hunter, and Koto always longed for the time when he would be able to hunt like his father and bring back large game to the wigwam. One summer day the chief and all the hunters were away on a hunting trip. There was no one left in the camp but a few of the women and some children. Koto wandered around, not knowing what to do, when suddenly he thought of a very daring thing. One pony had been left because it had been lame, and now Koto made up his mind that he would get on its back and gallop over the prairie. He knew that the pony’s foot was nearly better, and he thought that one gallop could not hurt it.
So he jumped on the pony’s back, waved his arms, and called out to it to run, and away they went. Koto’s long, dark hair and the pony’s mane blew in the wind, and they both were enjoying the gallop when something terrible happened. The pony caught his foot in a badger hole and fell heavily to the ground. Koto was tossed in the air, and then fell with one foot pinned under him.
For a long time the two sufferers lay there in the hot sun on the prairie. At length Koto’s mother, who had missed him, found them. She carried Koto back to the wigwam and laid him on his bed of skins. She told him that his leg was broken and that the pony’s leg was broken also, and that the hunters would have to kill it when they returned. Poor Koto wept bitterly. He did not mind his own broken leg, but to think that he had really killed the little pony nearly broke his heart. For many days he lay on his bed, and at last he was able to get up and move around with the help of a little crutch, which his father had made from the branch of a tree.
When winter came, the Indians moved their camp to the woods along the bank of the Assiniboine River. Koto was not able to walk well, so remained in his cabin until all the camp had been moved. Then his father came to carry him to the camp that was protected from the cold north wind.
“My son,” he said, as he walked along with Koto in his arms, “I have a surprise for you. You shall not live in a wigwam this winter.”
“Why not?” asked Koto. “I like my wigwam. It is warm and keeps the cold wind away.”
“Wait, and you shall see,” said his father. “You will like your new cabin much better.”
When they reached the camp, Koto saw what the chief had meant. During the summer some white men had camped there and had built a log cabin for themselves. Then they had gone away, leaving the little cabin deserted, and now the chief had taken it for his cabin. Koto was very much pleased with his new home, and the door which opened on hinges was always a great surprise to him. He was not able to go out during that long winter, but he was never lonely, for the first day they were in the cabin a strange visitor came. It was a little, brown bird which had been deserted by its mate, and it flew in to get away from the cold. All winter it remained with Koto, feeding from his food at mealtime, and hopping around him during the day as he was weaving his baskets. At night it slept on a little board that was nailed to the wall near Koto’s bed of skins.
When springtime came and the door was left open, Koto noticed that the bird’s mate had returned. It flew to the bushes near the house and called to Koto’s bird, but she would not go, and at last her mate came to the doorway. Again he called, and this time she went out, but she came back at mealtime and remained with Koto all night. Every day after that she would fly out in the morning and come back three or four times during the day, while her mate would never come past the doorway. Then one day she did not come back. Koto watched and waited for her. The long day passed and evening came, still there was no sign of the bird. The next day went by, and the next, and little Koto began to look very sad as he sat at the door watching for her.
At last he hobbled out and sat very quietly under the trees. In a little while he came back as quickly as he could, his face shining for joy. When he entered the cabin, he looked around eagerly. Then his face grew sad again.
“She is not here,” he said sadly. “My little bird is not here.”
“No, she is not here,” said his mother, “Did you think she was?”
“Yes, I saw her fly in, but she is not here.”
Koto went out again and seated himself under the trees once more, but he saw no sign of his bird all the rest of that day. The next day he went to the same place to watch, and not long after he came hobbling in eagerly with his face shining for joy as before. He looked around the cabin, and again he grew sad, for there was no bird to be seen.
Each day after that the same thing happened. As he sat under the trees he saw the little bird fly into the cabin, but when he entered there was no bird to be seen. He grew sadder and looked so thin that the chief became sad, too.
“My son,” he said, “you must not think of this bird. It has flown away. It will not come back. This is a spirit bird that you see enter the cabin. Try not to think of it and be happy.”
But the little Cree boy only shook his head and said, “I saw her go in and she does not come out and she is not in the cabin. Where is she? Where is my little bird?”
So the chief made up his mind that he would watch and see if the little bird really did fly into the cabin. The next day he watched with Koto under the trees, and in a few minutes the little boy grasped his hand.
“Look,” he said, “look, there is my little bird.” And there in a tree near them were two brown birds, one of them Koto’s pet. They flew away together; then one, when it reached the side of the cabin, suddenly disappeared. Quickly seizing his father’s hand, Koto and the chief reached the door of the little home. They looked eagerly around the room, but there was not a bird to be seen. They searched every place, for the chief was sure that he had seen it enter. There was no trace of it any place. Going out, he looked at the side of the little house, and there was a hole between the logs where the bird might easily enter. Coming in, he looked for the hole on the inside, but could not find it. Then he noticed that an old, gray jacket, which had been left there by the white men, was hanging where the hole ought to be.
He took down the jacket and Koto gave a cry of delight. For from a pocket of the coat peaked the head of his little bird, and there was the hole between the logs, where the coat had hung. The bird seemed quite pleased that they had found her, and after a while flew off her nest to peck from Koto’s hand. After some days her eggs were hatched, and then the father bird consented to enter the cabin and help feed the young ones. When the little birds grew large enough, they flew away with the father bird, but for the rest of the summer Koto’s little brown friend remained with him, watching him weave his baskets, and seemed very pleased when at last he was able to walk a little.
When fall came, she went away with the other birds, but this time Koto was not sad, for he knew she was happy, and he was happy, too, because he could now walk.