THE LITTLE BOY AND GIRL IN THE CLOUDS
Native American —1921
Source: American Indian Fairy Tales, retold by W.T. Larned, illustrated by John Rae
Published and copyrighted by P.F. Volland Company, Chicago, 1921
NOTE FROM THE BOOK: "With one exception, all the tales in this book are adapted from the legends collected by Henry R. Schoolcraft, ethnologist and government agent for the Lake Superior country, and published in 1839 with the title, 'Algic Researches.'"
In the days when all animals and men lived on friendly terms, when Coyote, the prairie wolf, was not a bad sort of fellow when you came to know him, and even the Mountain Lion would growl pleasantly and pass you the time of day—there lived in a beautiful valley a little boy and girl.
This valley was a lovely place to live in; never was such a playground anywhere on earth. It was like a great green carpet stretching for miles and miles, and when the wind blew upon the long grass it was like looking at the waves of the sea. Flowers of all colors bloomed in the beautiful valley, berries grew thick on the bushes, and birds filled the summer air with their songs.
Best of all, there was nothing whatever to fear. The children could wander at will—watching the gay butterflies, making friends with the squirrels and rabbits, or following the flight of the bee to some tree where his honey was stored.
As for the wild animals, it was all very different from what it is today, when they keep the poor things in cages, or coop them up in a little patch of ground behind a high fence. In the beautiful valley the animals ran free and happily, as they were meant to do. The Bear was a big, lazy, good-natured fellow, who lived on berries and wild honey in the summer, and in winter crept into his cavern in the rocks and slept there till the spring. The Deer were not only gentle, but tame as sheep, and often came to crop the tender grass that grew where the two children were accustomed to play.
They loved all the animals, and the animals loved them; but perhaps their special favorites were Jack Rabbit and Antelope. Jack Rabbit had long legs, and long ears—almost as long as a mule's, and no animal of his size could jump so high. But of course he could not jump as high as Antelope—the name of a beautiful little deer, with short horns and slender legs, who could run like the wind.
Another thing that made the happy valley such a pleasaqnt place to live in was the river that flowed through it. All the animals came from miles around to drink from its clear, cool waters, and to bathe in it on a hot summer day. One shallow pool seemed made especially for the little boy and girl. Their friend, the Beaver, with his flat tail like an oar and his feet webbed like a duck's, had taught them how to swim almost as soon as they had learned to walk; and to splash around in the pool on a warm afternoon was among their greatest pleasures.
One day in mid-summer the water was so pleasant that they remained in the pool much longer than usual, so that when at last they came out they were quite tired. And as they were a little chilled besides, they looked around for a good place where they could get dry and warm.
"Let's climb up on that big, flat rock, with the moss on it," said the little boy. "We've never done it before. It would be lots of fun."
So he clambered up the side of the rock, which was only a few feet high, and drew his sister up after him. They they lay down to rest, and pretty soon, without intending it at all, they were fast asleep.
Nobody knows how it happened that exactly at this time the rock began to rise and grow. But it did happen, because there it is today, high and bare and steep, higher than the other hills in the valley. As the childre slept, it rose and rose, inch by inch, foot by foot; by the next day it was taller than the tallest trees.
Meanwhile, their father and mother were searching for them everywhere, but all in vain; nor was any trace of them to be found. No one had seen them climb up on the rock, and everyone concerned was too much excited to notice what had really happened to it. The parents wandered far and wide saying: "Antelope, have you seen our little boy and girl? Jack Rabbit, you must have seen our little boy and girl." But none of the animals had seen them.
At last they met Coyote, the cleverest of them all, trotting along the valley with his nose in the air; so they put the same question to him.
"No," said Coyote. "I have not seen them for a long time. But my nose was given me to smell with, and my brains were given me to think with. So who can tell but that I may help you?"
He trotted by their side, along the banks of the river, and pretty soon they came to the pool where the children had been in swimming. Coyote sniffed and sniffed. He ran around and around, with his nose to the ground; then he ran right up to the rock, put his forepaws up as high as he could reach, and sniffed again.
"H-m-m!" he grunted. "I cannot fly like the Eagle, and I cannot swim like the Beaver. But neither am I stupid like the Bear, nor ignorant like the Jack Rabbit. My nose has never deceived me yet; your little boy and girl must be up there on that rock."
"But how could they get there?" asked the astonished parents. For the rock was now so high that the top was lost to sight in the clouds.
"That is not the question," said Coyote severely, unwilling to admit there was anything he did not know. "That is not the question at all. Anybody could ask that. The only question worth asking is: 'How are we to get them down again?'"
So they called all the animals together to talk it over and see what could be done. Then the Bear said: "If I could only put my arms around the rock, I could climb it. But it is much too big for that." And the Fox said: "If it were only a deep hole, instead of a high hill, I would be able to help you." And the Beaver said: "If it were just a place out in the water I could swim to, I'd show you very quickly."
But as this kinid of talk did not take them very far, they decided to try what jumping would do. There seemed to be no other way; and as each one was anxious to do his part, the smallest one was permitted to make the first attempt. So the Mouse made a funny little hop, about as high as your hand. The Squirrel went a little higher. Jack Rabbit made the highest jump of his life, and almost broke his back, to no purpose. Antelope gave a great bound in the air, but managed to light on his feet again without doing himself any harm. Finally, the Mountain Lion went a long way off, to get a good start, ran toward the rock with great leaps, sprang straight up—and fell and rolled over on his back. He had made a higher jump than any of them, but it was not nearly high enough.
No one knew what to do next. It seemed as if the little boy and girl must be left sleeping on forever, up among the clouds. Suddenly they heard a tiny voice saying: "Perhaps if you let me try, I might climb up the rock."
They all looked around in surprise, wondering who it was that spoke; and at first they could see nobody, and thought that Coyote must be playing a trick on them. But Coyote was as much surprised as anyone.
"Wait a minute. I'm coming as fast as I can," said the tiny voice again. Then a Measuring Worm crawled out of the grass—a funny little worm that made its way along by hunching up its back and drawing itself ahead an inch at a time.
"Ho, ho!" said the Mountain Lion, from deep down in his throat. He always spoke that way when his dignity was offended. "Ho, ho! Did you ever hear of such impudence? If I, a lion, have failed, how could a miserable little crawling worm like you hope to succeed; just tell me that!"
"It's downright silly," said Jack Rabbit. "That's what it is. I never heard of such conceit."
However, after much talk, they agreed at last that it could do no harm to let him try. So the Measuring Worm made his way slowly to the rock, and began to climb. In a few minutes he was higher than Jack Rabbit had jumped. Soon he was farther up than the lion had been able to leap; before long he had climbed out of sight.
It took the Measuring Worm a whole month, climbing day and night, to reach the top of the magic rock. When he got there he awakened the little boy and girl, who were much surprised to see where they were, and guided them safely down along a path no one else knew anything about. Thus, by patience and perseverance, the weak little creature was able to do something that the Bear, for all his size, and the Lion, for all his strength, could never have done at all.
That was a long time ago; today there are no more lions or bears in the valley, and no one ever thinks of them. But everybody thinks of the Measuring Worm, because the Big Rock is still there, and the Indians have named it after him. Tu-to-a-nu-la, they call it, a big name indeed for a little fellow, yet by no means too big when you come to think of the big, brave thing he did.
web page created 4/9/06; updated 4/16/06)