6.THE DORMOUSE

Many years ago the animals ruled the earth. They had killed every one but a brother and a sister. These two lived in a cabin far away in the forest, where the animals could not find them. The boy was a tiny, little fellow,—he had never grown any larger than a baby,—so the girl had to do all the work. Each day she would go out into the bush and gather wood for the cabin fire. She always took her brother with her, for he was too small to leave alone. A big bird might fly away with him.

One day she gave him a little bow and arrows, and said, “You stay here while I take the wood home. When the snow-birds come to get the worms out of the wood, see if you can shoot one.” So she went home and left him. He did not come until nearly evening. He looked very sad and tired, for he had been unable to shoot even one bird.

“Never mind,” said the sister, kindly. “Try again tomorrow.”

The next day he went again with her, and when he came back in the evening, he said, “I shot this bird, and now, sister, strip the skin off it, stretch, and cure it. Then when I have killed enough birds, I shall have a coat made of the skins.” At last when he had ten skins, his sister made him a coat of them. He was so tiny that it fitted him nicely. Of course he was very proud of it.

One day he said, “Sister, is there no one living in this world except ourselves?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Many miles from here live the animals we are afraid of. But never go near their village, for they will kill you.”

“Oh, I am not afraid,” he said and in spite of all her coaxing he got ready to go on his journey.

One morning he set out, and by noon had walked quite a distance. He felt very tired and threw himself down on some grass where the sun had melted the snow. He fell asleep, and while he was lying there the hot sun dried the skins of his bird coat. When he awoke, he felt as though he were buttoned up in a coat much too small for him.

He was very angry at the sun, for he knew it had done this. “I shall punish you,” he cried up to it. “You think you are so high up there, and I am so small, that you do not care, but I shall show you.”

Then he went home to his sister and showed her the coat, and told her all about it. She begged him not to feel so angry. He would not listen to her, but went and lay down on the bed. For ten days he stayed there without eating a bite. Then he turned over on his other side and lay for ten days more.

At last he arose and said, “Sister, please make me a snare. I want to catch the sun.” She told him she had nothing with which to make the snare. He nearly cried when she said this. Then she remembered some bits of deer sinew that were in the cabin. She made a snare of this, but he said, “That will not do,” and began to cry again. Then she asked him if her hair would do.

“No, it will not,” he said.

“Well, I have nothing else,” she told him, and went out of the cabin. She thought and thought, and at last she said to herself, “I shall use my hair, and perhaps he will never know.” So she made a snare like the one used to catch moose. When she took it in to him, and asked, “Will this do?” he looked very pleased, and said, “Oh, yes, that is the very thing.” He took it, and drew the threads through his lips. They changed at once into red, metal cords, which he wound around his waist.

Then he made ready for his journey, and about midnight he set out. He walked on for a long time, until he came to the spot where the sun came up. He fixed the snare, and then hid behind some bushes.

In a little while the sun began to rise, and was at once caught in the snare.

The animals, who ruled the earth, were greatly excited because the morning did not come. They knew it was time for the sun to be up, so they called a council.

“What is to be done?” asked the bear.

“Someone must go and see what has happened,” replied the wolf.

“Let the dormouse go,” said the beaver, “as he is the largest of us all.”

In those days the dormouse was very large. He looked like a mountain when he stood up.

“Yes,” said the wolf, “let the dormouse go. He is proud of his size and his strength. Let him show us what he can do when there is danger before him.”

They all looked around for the dormouse, but there was no sign of him.

“He thinks that we shall send him to find the sun,” said the fox. “He is afraid and has hidden himself.”

“Not so,” returned the beaver. “The dormouse is not a coward. Let us call him. He cannot be far away.”

With that, they all began to call the dormouse. In a moment there was a crackling of branches and the sound of heavy footsteps, and a huge figure loomed up in the darkness.

“Brother dormouse,” said the fox, “you are so brave that we have chosen you to go in search of the sun. What is your answer?”

“I am quite ready to go,” replied the dormouse, “and if I cannot find the sun and send it to you, I shall not return myself.”

At once the dormouse started towards the sun. As he came close to it, the hot rays began to burn his back, but he kept on, and began to chew the cords, which bound it. In a few minutes the top of his back was a heap of ashes, and he felt himself shrivelling with the heat. He kept on bravely, and at last the cords were sundered and the sun free. But by this time the dormouse was a very small animal, and has remained so ever since.

All this time the brother, who was lying hidden, had been watching what was happening. As the dormouse began to smoke, he grew a little frightened, and when it began to shrivel he was terrified. All he wished for was to escape from this glaring sun, which surely would quickly consume him too.

Lying flat on the ground, he wriggled through the bushes for a long distance along the bank. Reaching the plain, he made a dash for home. His face and arms were scratched and bleeding, and when he told his sister what had happened, she was grieved to think that she had made the snare which had brought so much sorrow to the innocent dormouse.