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INDIAN WHY STORIES


 

WHY THE CURLEW'S BILL IS LONG AND CROOKED

When we reached War Eagle's lodge
we stopped near the door, for the old
fellow was singing--singing some old, sad
song of younger days and keeping time with
his tom-tom. Somehow the music made me
sad and not until it had ceased, did we enter.

"How! How!"--he greeted us, with no trace
of the sadness in his voice that I de-
tected in his song.

"You have come here to-night to learn why
the Curlew's bill is so long and crooked. I
will tell you, as I promised, but first I must
smoke."

In silence we waited until the pipe was laid
aside, then War Eagle began:

"By this time you know that OLD-man was
not always wise, even if he did make the
world, and all that is on it. He often got into
trouble but something always happened to get
him out of it. What I shall tell you now
will show you that it is not well to try to do
things just because others do them. They
may be right for others, and wrong for us, but
OLD-man didn't understand that, you see.

"One day he saw some mice playing and
went near to watch them. It was spring-
time, and the frost was just coming out of
the ground. A big flat rock was sticking
out of a bank near a creek, and the sun had
melted the frost from the earth about it, loos-
ening it, so that it was about to fall. The Chief-
Mouse would sing a song, while all the other
mice danced, and then the chief would cry
'now!' and all the mice would run past the
big rock. On the other side, the Chief-Mouse
would sing again, and then say 'now!'--back
they would come--right under the danger-
ous rock. Sometimes little bits of dirt would
crumble and fall near the rock. as though
warning the mice that the rock was going to
fall, but they paid no attention to the warn-
ing, and kept at their playing. Finally OLD-
man said:

"'Say, Chief-Mouse, I want to try that.
I want to play that game. I am a good run-
ner. '

"He wasn't, you know, but he thought he
could run. That is often where we make
great mistakes--when we try to do things
we were not intended to do.

"'No--no!' cried the Chief-Mouse, as OLD-
man prepared to make the race past the rock.
'No!--No!--you will shake the ground.
You are too heavy, and the rock may fall and
kill you. My people are light of foot and
fast. We are having a good time, but if you
should try to do as we are doing you might
get hurt, and that would spoil our fun.'

"'Ho!' said OLD-man, 'stand back! I'll
show you what a runner I am.'

"He ran like a grizzly bear, and shook the
ground with his weight. Swow!--came the
great rock on top of OLD-man and held him
fast in the mud. My! how he screamed and
called for aid. All the Mice-people ran away
to find help. It was a long time before the
Mice-people found anybody, but they finally
found the Coyote, and told him what had
happened. Coyote didn't like OLD-man very
much, but he said he would go and see what
he could do, and he did. The Mice-people
showed him the way, and when they all reached
the spot--there was OLD-man deep in the
mud, with the big rock on his back. He was
angry and was saying things people should not
say, for they do no good and make the mind
wicked.

"Coyote said: 'Keep still, you big baby.
Quit kicking about so. You are splashing
mud in my eyes. How can I see with my eyes
full of mud? Tell me that. I am going to
try to help you out of your trouble.' He
tried but OLD-man insulted Coyote. and called
him a name that is not good, so the Coyote
said, 'Well, stay there,' and went away.

"Again OLD-man began to call for helpers,
and the Curlew, who was flying over, saw the
trouble, and came down to the ground to help.
In those days Curlew had a short, stubby bill,
and he thought that he could break the rock
by pecking it. He pecked and pecked away
without making any headway, till OLD-man
grew angry at him, as he did at the Coyote.
The harder the Curlew worked, the worse OLD-
man scolded him. OLD-man lost his temper
altogether, you see, which is a bad thing to do,
for we lose our friends with it, often. Temper
is like a bad dog about a lodge--no friends
will come to see us when he is about.

"Curlew did his best but finally said: 'I'll
go and try to find somebody else to help you.
I guess I am too small and weak. I shall come
back to you.' He was standing close to OLD-
man when he spoke, and OLD-man reached out
and grabbed the Curlew by the bill. Curlew
began to scream--oh, my--oh, my--oh,
my--as you still hear them in the air when it
is morning. OLD-man hung onto the bill and
finally pulled it out long and slim, and bent
it downward, as it is to-day. Then he let go
and laughed at the Curlew.

"'You are a queer-looking bird now. That
is a homely bill, but you shall always wear it
and so shall all of your children, as long as
there are Curlews in the world.'

"I have forgotten who it was that got OLD-
man out of his trouble, but it seems to me it
was the bear. Anyhow he did get out some-
how, and lived to make trouble, until Mani-
tou grew tired of him.

"There are good things that OLD-man did
and to-morrow night, if you will come early,
I will tell you how OLD-man made the world
over after the water made its war on the land,
scaring all the animal-people and the bird-
people. I will also tell you how he made
the first man and the first woman and who
they were. But now the grouse is fast asleep;
nobody is stirring but those who were made to
see in the dark, like the owl and the wolf.-- Ho!"

 


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