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INDIAN WHY STORIES


 


HOW THE DUCKS GOT THEIR FINE FEATHERS


Another night had come, and I made
my way toward War Eagle's lodge. In
the bright moonlight the dead leaves of the
quaking-aspen fluttered down whenever the
wind shook the trees; and over the village
great flocks of ducks and geese and swan passed
in a never-ending procession, calling to each
other in strange tones as they sped away toward
the waters that never freeze.

In the lodge War Eagle waited for his grand-
children, and when they had entered, happily,
he laid aside his pipe and said:

"The Duck-people are travelling to-night
just as they have done since the world was
young. They are going away from winter
because they cannot make a living when ice
covers the rivers.

"You have seen the Duck-people often.
You have noticed that they wear fine clothes
but you do not know how they got them; so
I will tell you to-night.

"It was in the fall when leaves are yellow
that it happened, and long, long ago. The
Duck-people had gathered to go away, just as
they are doing now. The buck-deer was com-
ing down from the high ridges to visit friends
in the lowlands along the streams as they have
always done. On a lake OLD-man saw the
Duck-people getting ready to go away, and
at that time they all looked alike; that is, they
all wore the same colored clothes. The loons
and the geese and the ducks were there and
playing in the sunlight. The loons were laugh-
ing loudly and the diving was fast and merry
to see. On the hill where OLD-man stood there
was a great deal of moss, and he began to tear
it from the ground and roll it into a great ball.
When he had gathered all he needed he shoul-
dered the load and started for the shore of
the lake, staggering under the weight of the
great burden. Finally the Duck-people saw
him coming with his load of moss and began
to swim away from the shore.

"'Wait, my brothers!' he called, 'I have a
big load here, and I am going to give you
people a dance. Come and help me get things
ready. '

"'Don't you do it,' said the gray goose to
the others; 'that's OLD-man and he is up to
something bad, I am sure.'

"So the loon called to OLD-man and said
they wouldn't help him at all.

"Right near the water OLD-man dropped his
ball of moss and then cut twenty long poles.
With the poles he built a lodge which he covered
with the moss, leaving a doorway facing the
lake. Inside the lodge he built a fire and
when it grew bright he cried:

"'Say, brothers, why should you treat me
this way when I am here to give you a big
dance? Come into the lodge,' but they
wouldn't do that. Finally OLD-man began to
sing a song in the duck-talk, and keep time
with his drum. The Duck-people liked the
music, and swam a little nearer to the shore,
watching for trouble all the time, but OLD-
man sang so sweetly that pretty soon they
waddled up to the lodge and went inside.
The loon stopped near the door, for he be-
lieved that what the gray goose had said was
true, and that OLD-man was up to some mis-
chief. The gray goose, too, was careful to
stay close to the door but the ducks reached
all about the fire. Politely, OLD-
man passed the pipe, and they all smoked with him be-
cause it is wrong not to smoke in a person's
lodge if the pipe is offered, and the Duck-
people knew that.

"'Well,' said Old-man, 'this is going to be
the Blind-dance, but you will have to be painted
first.

"'Brother Mallard, name the colors--tell
how you want me to paint you.'

"'Well,' replied the mallard drake, 'paint
my head green, and put a white circle around
my throat, like a necklace. Besides that, I
want a brown breast and yellow legs: but I
don't want my wife painted that way.'

"OLD-man painted him just as he asked,
and his wife, too. Then the teal and the
wood-duck (it took a long time to paint the
wood-duck) and the spoonbill and the blue-
bill and the canvasback and the goose and
the brant and the loon--all chose their paint.
OLD-man painted them all just as they wanted
him to, and kept singing all the time. They
looked very pretty in the firelight, for it was
night before the painting was done.

"'Now,' said OLD-man, 'as this is the Blind-
dance, when I beat upon my drum you must
all shut your eyes tight and circle around the
fire as I sing. Every one that peeks will have
sore eyes forever.'

"Then the Duck-people shut their eyes and
OLD-man began to sing: 'Now you come, ducks,
now you come--tum-tum, tum; tum-tum,
tum.'

"Around the fire they came with their eyes
still shut, and as fast as they reached OLD-man,
the rascal would seize them, and wring their
necks. Ho! things were going fine for OLD-
man, but the loon peeked a little, and saw
what was going on; several others heard the
fluttering and opened their eyes, too. The
loon cried out, 'He's killing us--let us fly,'
and they did that. There was a great squawk-
ing and quacking and fluttering as the Duck-
people escaped from the lodge. Ho! but OLD-
man was angry, and he kicked the back of
the loon-duck, and that is why his feet turn
from his body when he walks or tries to stand.
Yes, that is why he is a cripple to-day.

"And all of the Duck-people that peeked
that night at the dance still have sore eyes--
just as OLD-man told them they would have.
Of course they hurt and smart no more but
they stay red to pay for peeking, and always
will. You have seen the mallard and the
rest of the Duck-people. You can see that
the colors OLD-man painted so long ago are
still bright and handsome, and they will stay
that way forever and forever. Ho!"


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