30.II. A WONDERFUL JOURNEY

One day Wesakchak decided to go on a long journey. He knew that somewhere, many miles away, there was a village where people lived, and he made up his mind to go and see them.

The birds all loved Wesakchak, so a great many of them had given him their feathers to make into a suit. When it was finished, it was very beautiful. The vest was of snow-white feathers from the pigeons’ breasts, the coat, of shining blue ones, given by the bluebirds. The leggings were made of black and brown feathers, which the blackbirds and thrushes had gladly sent to him. Around his neck and wrists he put bright yellow feathers, the gift of the canaries. In his hair he wore the eagle’s feathers, for he was a great chief.

He set off early one morning, and as he travelled on, the birds and animals whom he passed all spoke to him. By and by he met a prairie-chicken. In those days the prairie-chicken was a pale gray color.

“Good-morning, brother prairie-chicken,” said Wesakchak. “I have been hearing strange tales about you. The animals tell me that you are very proud of the way that you can startle them.”

“But I only remain still in the grass until they come close to me and then fly up suddenly,” replied the prairie-chicken. “I do not mean to frighten them, but it is great fun to see them jump.”

“That may be so,” said Wesakchak. “But it is not kind of you to fly up in their faces. Then I hear that you are so proud of this, that you call yourself ‘Kee-koo,’ or the Startsome Bird.”

The prairie-chicken did not reply to this, but remained still in the grass.

“Why do you not fly up in front of me?” asked Wesakchak. Still the prairie-chicken did not move or speak. Suddenly Wesakchak leaned down and gathered a handful of little stones.

“Start now,” he said, as he threw them at the chicken. The small pebbles lit on its back and it flew up suddenly. The stones rolled off, but their marks remained, and so after that the prairie-chicken was always speckled.

Wesakchak continued his journey, and late in the afternoon he came to a creek. The water of the little stream was not clean enough to wade through, for green slime floated on the top and reeds grew in its boggy mud. It was rather too wide to jump, but Wesakchak decided to make a running jump and see if he could get across. He ran back a pace on the prairie, then forward to the bank, but the prairie-grass was so long that his feet became entangled, so he went back to start again. He did this two or three times, and at last had the grass packed down enough so that he could make a good run. Then he came forward at a great speed and made a leap. But just as he did so, the prairie-chicken flew up at his feet, and he fell face downwards in the swampy water.

Wesakchak was very vexed, and he called out to the prairie-chicken, “This is a mean trick you have played on me, and in punishment you shall not be able to fly very well after this.” The prairie-chicken heard him and began to fly towards the forest, but its wings seemed shorter than they used to be and it fluttered away amid the tall grass.

As Wesakchak waded out through the reeds, each bent before him, making a path that has remained there ever since. When he reached the shore, it look him a long time to clean his beautiful suit, and by the time he was ready to go on, it was nearly evening. He was anxious to reach the village before nightfall, so he hurried on, wishing he could find some one to take him the rest of the way, for he was feeling tired.

After a time he came in sight of a little lake, and there saw two swans floating on the water. He called to them, but they did not seem to hear, so he jumped into the water and dove down to the bottom. Then he came up under the swans and caught each one by the legs. They flew up with him hanging to their feet.

“Take me to the village that is built on the river bank,” Wesakchak said to them. They did not answer, but flew rapidly through the air.

After they had gone some miles, he noticed they were not taking the right direction. He called to them and told them to turn to the east, but they did not reply. When he saw they were not going to obey, he hung on tightly by one hand, and reaching up, he caught one swan by the neck. He tried to pull its head down so that he could talk to it, but the harder he pulled, the firmer it held its head up, until at last its neck was turned into a curve. He then tried the other swan, but with no more success, so now both birds had their beautiful, white necks curved like the letter S. When Wesakchak saw they would not listen to him, and that they were taking him in the wrong direction, he let go his hold of their feet and dropped like a stone through the air. He landed on a hollow stump, and with such force that he sank deep into the soft wood. Not a sign of him could be seen; he had disappeared entirely. After some time two squaws came to get the soft, yellow wood from the stump. They use this wood to smoke their buckskins, because it gives the skin a nice color. They had brought axes with them to chop down the stump. As they began chopping, they heard a noise like groans coming from within the stump. They were very frightened and thought it was a bear. Just as they were turning to run away Wesakchak called to them.

“It is no bear,” said the first woman. “It is the wise man, Wesakchak, who is coming to visit us.”

“It is, indeed, he,” said the second woman. “We must chop him out.”

So they set to work with their axes, and in a little while had chopped open the stump and set him free. They were overjoyed when they saw it was really Wesakchak whom they had freed, and they took him with them to the village, where all came forth to welcome him.