29.THE ADVENTURES OF WESAKCHAK
I. THE WONDERFUL BALL
Wesakchak was once the only person living. He found himself floating all alone on the water. Above him was the sky, and all around and about stretched water. He called aloud, but no one answered. Then he noticed a little, dark object floating near him. It was a rat.
“My little brother,” said Wesakchak, “we are all alone in this world of sky and water.”
“Yes,” said the rat. “But I am not afraid, for you are with me. Are you afraid?”
“No,” said Wesakchak, “for the Mighty One will take care of us both. Do you go below and see if you can find any land.”
The rat quickly obeyed Wesakchak and sank down through the water in search of dry land. He was gone a long time, and Wesakchak began to wonder if he were ever coming back. At last he floated up, but he was dead, and in his paws there was a little bit of clay. Wesakchak was very sorry when he saw that his little comrade was dead. He took the clay from the rat’s paws and breathed upon it. Now Wesakchak was greater than a human being; he was really a spirit. So when he breathed upon the clay, it formed itself into a ball and began to grow. He rolled the ball in his hands, and when it grew a little larger, he said a few words over it. At once there came forth a little mouse, who began running around the ball. The mouse was just the color of the earth. Wesakchak said to it, “Your name shall be The Mouse and you shall always live amid the people, and your color shall be the color of the earth.” So to this day we find the mouse in the homes of people, and it always is the same dark gray color.
As the mouse continued running, the ball kept growing. In a few minutes Wesakchak said some more words and out ran a little chipmunk. He began chasing around the ball too, but he could not stay on as well as the mouse. He slipped and nearly fell off several times. Wesakchak caught him and put him safely on again, but in doing so left the marks of his fingers on the chipmunk’s back. And there they have remained ever since, and look like dark brown stripes.
The two little animals kept on running and Wesakchak now brought forth a red squirrel. There was a strong wind blowing, and the squirrel seemed timid. He would run for a little distance and then sit down. The wind would catch his bushy tail and blow it up over his head as he sat there, and so ever afterwards the squirrel curled his tail up when he sat down.
The ball kept growing larger and larger, and Wesakchak brought forth one animal after another. The rabbit, the fox, the wolf, the bear, and all the rest of them came out as they were called, until at last the ball was as big as the earth. Then he called forth the moose, and when it came and saw miles and miles of prairie, it ran for five miles without stopping. To this day the moose, when chased, always runs five miles before it stops.
When Wesakchak had all the animals on the earth, he gave them all their homes. Some were to live in the forests, some among the mountains, and others were to live on the prairies. He made little creeks to flow to divide their feeding-grounds, and they were told not to cross these water lines. The water in the creeks was not clean. It had green slime floating on the top, and reeds and rushes grew thickly amongst it. He made the water this way because he did not wish the animals to drink it. Then he made beautiful, clear rivers flow through the land to be their drinking water. In the rivers he made fish swim, and called all the animals who lived on fish to come and live near the banks of the rivers. In the trees he told the birds to build their nests, and soon all the animals and birds were happy and contented in their homes.
They all loved Wesakchak, for he was so wise and good. He was kind to them all and called them his brothers. He knew the secrets of the animals: why the moose is ungainly and has no flesh on his bones, why the rabbit’s ears are long and have each a little roll of flesh behind it, and why the rat has no hair upon its tail. He understood all the languages of the animals, and each came to him when it was in trouble.
There was one animal who was very smart and clever. He was about the size of the wolf and was called the wolverine. He had beautiful, soft fur, long, straight legs, and firm feet. But he was not liked by the other animals, for he was very conceited. He was always talking about his beautiful fur and his long legs. He would ask the other animals to race with him, because he knew he could always win. Then he would laugh at them for not being able to run as fast as he could. He was always getting into mischief, too, and never seemed happy unless he was playing a trick on some other animal. The other animals often came and told Wesakchak how mean the wolverine was to them. He would tell them to try to be patient, and then he would scold the wolverine for being so unkind. The wolverine would pretend he was very sorry, but the very next day he would do some more mean tricks.
One day he came past the wigwam of Wesakchak. Looking in, he saw that it was empty, and that the Fire Bag, where Wesakchak always kept his steel and flint and his pipe and tobacco-pouch, was hanging on the wall. The wolverine looked around and saw that no one was near, so he sneaked in and grabbed the bag. He ran away through the bush with it until he came to a tall tamarac tree. He climbed the tree and hung the bag on one of the branches. Then he jumped down and ran away, laughing to himself at the trick he had played on Wesakchak.
When Wesakchak returned home, it was nearly evening, and he was tired and hungry. He looked around for his Fire Bag, for he wished to make a fire. The way they got a spark in those days was to strike the steel and flint together; a spark would fly forth and set the dry bark on fire. But Wesakchak could not find his bag. He looked all over the wigwam, still he could not find it. Then he noticed footmarks on the ground near the door. Looking closely, he saw whose they were. “It is that mischief-maker, the wolverine, who has taken my bag,” he said. “I shall go in search of it. And if I meet him, I shall punish him well for all his mischief-making.” He set forth in search of the precious bag. All night he wandered through the forest, but could not find it. When the morning came, he went back to his wigwam and sat down to think what he was to do. “If I had my pipe,” he said to himself, “I would not feel so sad.”
As he sat there, he thought he heard a noise like the wolverine behind his lodge. Going out quickly, he saw the scamp among the trees. Wesakchak followed, but could see nothing more of the animal. He tramped on until he was tired, then turned homewards again.
As he was passing near a tall tree, he looked up, and there was his Fire Bag hanging from one of the highest branches. The tree was smooth and tall, and as Wesakchak began to climb he found himself slipping down very often. Then he would catch hold quickly with his feet and hands. After very hard work he succeeded at last in reaching the bag. Then he slid quickly down the tree. But when he looked up at it, he saw that its bark was hanging in torn pieces where he had caught it with his feet and hands. So, to this day, the tamarac bark hangs in tattered shreds to show that Wesakchak once climbed it.
On the way home he heard the wolverine, who was just trying to sneak away among the bushes.
“Come forth here, brother wolverine,” called Wesakchak. “I want to talk to you.”
The wolverine came out and stood in front of him. He did not look a bit sorry for what he had done.
“You are always getting into mischief,” said Wesakchak. “Now, I am going to punish you for playing so many mean tricks. After this your legs will be very short and crooked, and you will not be able to run as fast as you did before.”
As he said this, the wolverine’s legs grew short and bent, and with an angry growl the animal disappeared among the trees.