32.IV. LITTLE BROTHER RABBIT
One autumn Wesakchak felt very sad. All through the summer there had been no rain. The prairie grass was burnt brown and dry. The little streams had grown smaller and narrower, until at last not a drop of water was left. The animals, finding no grass to eat and no water to drink, had all gone to the far north-west, where the Great River came down from the mountains. For they knew that along its banks they would find grass to eat. Wesakchak wondered if the Great Spirit were angry with the people of the plains when He sent them these long, hot days and nights. Why did He let the animals go away from them, leaving the hunters no game to kill? The little children were crying for food, and the warriors had grown thin and sad during this summer. And now the fever had come, and in the lodges many sick were lying.
Wesakchak felt that he must do something for his people, so he asked the Great Spirit to show him where the animals lived, so that he might tell his hunters and save the lives of all in the tribe. Then Wesakchak took his canoe and carried it until he came to the Great River. Getting in, he paddled for many days and many nights. He watched all the time, to see if any game came near the banks, but he saw no sign of any.
At last, after he had gone many hundreds of miles, he felt so tired that he knew he must rest. He drew his canoe up to the side of the river and made a lodge from the branches of trees. Here he slept during the night, and when morning came, he arose quite rested. Before he had gone to sleep that night he had noticed that the clouds hung low, and he had wondered if there would be snow in the morning. Now, when he came forth from his lodge, he saw that all the land was white. During the night a heavy fall of soft snow had come, and all the trees and the prairie were covered with it.
Wesakchak was greatly pleased, for this was just what he had hoped for. Now he would be able to see the marks of the animals and trace them to their homes. Going down to the river, he was delighted to find the trail of deer, who had been down for a drink. There were also the marks of the other animals, and now Wesakchak made up his mind to follow these trails and find where the animals were living. He set out, and tramped for many miles. The sun arose and shone on the snow, making everything a dazzling white. But Wesakchak did not mind, and tramped on. At length he knew he was near the place where the animals were living. He took a good look at the trees, so that he could tell the hunters where to find them. Then he turned to hurry back, for he wished to let them know as soon as possible. He tramped on again for a long time, but he did not seem to be getting any nearer to the river. He stopped and looked around. Everything was glistening white, and nowhere could he see a river or a tree. He wondered if he were lost and what he would do, for he knew that if the sick people did not get food soon, they would die. He turned in another direction and travelled for some time. Then stopping, he looked around once more. Again all was glistening white, dazzling his eyes so much that he could see nothing. He knew now that he was snowblind, and felt very sad indeed, for how could he get the news to the hunters in time to save the sick ones, when he could not find the river and his canoe? If only there was something to guide him,—some dark object that he could see; but everything was a dazzling whiteness.
Just then he noticed a little, brown object in front of him. As he looked at it, it hopped a few steps ahead and then stopped.
“Oh, Brother Rabbit,” called Wesakchak, “I am so glad to see you. I cannot find the river and I want to get back and tell the hunters where the game is living.”
“Let me guide you,” said the rabbit. “Keep watching me, and you can see my dark fur against the white snow.”
As he said this he hopped away, and Wesakchak, looking only at the little, dark body, was able to follow, till at last they reached the bank of the river. The canoe was there, and Wesakchak stepped in at once, glad that he would now be able to carry the good news to the warriors and hunters. Before he paddled away he turned to the rabbit and said:
“My little Brother Rabbit, you have been very kind to me, indeed, and through your kindness the lives of our tribe will be saved. In return for this your brown fur shall become white as the first snowfall, so that no one will be able to see your body against the snow. In this way you may protect yourself, and people will know how kind the rabbit was to Wesakchak.”
As he spoke, the rabbit’s fur suddenly became pure white, and it looked like a little ball of snow near the bushes. Wesakchak smiled when he saw this and said:
“Your enemies will need to have sharp eyes now, little Brother Rabbit, for you will give them many a long chase over the winter prairies.”