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Sparrow's Search For The Rain

from Canadian Fairy Tales





Long ago, in a village near the sea, many Indian people were living.
Among them was a very nice old warrior who had been given great power
at his birth, and who, therefore, could do many wonderful deeds. There
was nothing that was beyond his understanding, for he knew all things.
His wife had long been dead, but he had one daughter. She was very
beautiful and gentle, and she was as nearly perfect as any woman could
be. She took no interest in frivolous things and she lived a very
quiet life, but all the people liked her well, and she was always
welcome wherever she went. Her old father was very proud of her, and
he said boastfully, "She has inherited much of my wisdom, and some day
she will marry a great man." But the girl on her part had little
thought of marriage or of men, for she said they had small minds, and
she would rather live alone than listen always to their boastfulness
and their foolish chatter.

Soon the daughter's fame spread far and wide through the sea-coast
villages, and many suitors came seeking for her hand. But her father
said, "I have nothing to say. She will make her own choice. She must
please herself. For to-day children please themselves and not their
parents." And she said, "I will marry only some one who can amuse me
and interest me and keep me company. I have scant liking for dull
people." One day Loon came to see her. He was very good looking
although he was somewhat tall and skinny, and his neck was a bit
longer and more scrawny than ordinary, but he wore good clothes and he
had great skill as a fisherman. He came because he thought he was very
handsome, and he believed that his good looks would win the maiden.
But she had no love for Loon, for he had not a word to say. When she
talked to him he only stared, and at last he burst out into loud and
foolish laughter. Then the maiden said, "You have a small mind like
the others," and in disgust she withdrew from his presence.

Then Fox came in an effort to win the maiden as his wife. And for a
whole day he cut capers, and chased his tail round and round in a
circle, trying to amuse the serious girl. But he did not succeed very
well, and like Loon he departed in despair. And many others came, but
they met the same fate, and at last the girl decided to see no more of
them, but to live alone with her father. The young men of the village
were all very angry because the girl had spoken of them all so
scornfully, and often they talked among themselves of her proud and
haughty air. "She calls us Scattered-Brains," said one. "She says we
have small minds," said another. "She must pay for these insults,"
said a third. So they vowed that they would somehow break her proud
spirit and bring her sorrow because of her ideas and her decision to
stay single all her life. One of the great men of the village was
Whirlwind. He could make himself invisible, and he was often guilty of
many wicked pranks. So the young men went to him and asked his aid in
humbling the pride of the haughty maiden. As they were talking to him,
they saw the girl approaching not far off. And quite unawares,
Whirlwind rushed towards her and knocked her down in the mud and tore
her hat from her head and swept it into the sea. The young men looked
on at her plight and they all laughed loudly, and the girl was very
much ashamed. She went back home and told her father what had
happened, and showed him her soiled clothes and her blown hair falling
about her face. Her father was very angry, and he said, "Whirlwind
must pay for this. He shall be banished at once."

Then her father went to the Chief and made complaint against
Whirlwind, and the Chief decreed that Whirlwind must leave the village
forthwith. He did not consider very carefully what the result of this
decree might be, and he acted hastily and without thought, for he
feared to differ from the wise man. So Whirlwind prepared to leave the
place. Now his best friend was Rain. Rain had been born without eyes.
He was black blind, and Whirlwind always had to lead him along
wherever he wished to go. So Rain said, "If you are leaving the
village, I want to leave it too, for I cannot live here without you. I
will be helpless if I have no one to lead me." So the two set out
together, Whirlwind leading old Rain along by his side. Where they
went no man knew, for they had told nobody of their destination. They
were gone for many months before the people missed them very much.
Then their absence began to be felt in all the land, for there was no
wind and there was no rain.

At last the Chief summoned a council, and the decree of banishment
against Whirlwind was revoked. The people decided to send messengers
to the two wandering ones to tell them what had happened and to bring
them back. So they first sent Fox out on the quest. Fox went through
the land for many weeks, running as fast as he could over many roads,
in and out among marshy lake shores and over high wooded mountains. He
searched every cave and crevice, but he had no success. Not a leaf or
a blade of grass was stirring, and the country was all parched and the
grass was withered brown and the streams were all getting dry. At
last, after a fruitless search, he came home and shamefully confessed
that his quest had failed.

Then the people called on Bear to continue the search. And Bear went
lumbering over the earth, sniffing the air, and turning over logs and
great rocks with his powerful shoulders, and venturing into deep
caverns. And he made many inquiries, and he asked the Mountain Ash,
"Where is Whirlwind?" But Mountain Ash said, "I do not know. I have
not seen him for many months." And he asked the Red Fir, and the Pine,
and the Aspen, which always sees Whirlwind first, but they were all
ignorant of his whereabouts. So Bear came home and said, "Not a trace
of either of them have I found."

The Chief was very angry because of the failure of Fox and Bear, but
the wise man said, "The animals are useless in a quest like this. Let
us try the birds. They often succeed where the animals fail." And the
Chief agreed, for the land was in great distress. Many fishing-boats
lay silent on the sea near the coast unable to move because Whirlwind
was away, and the wells and streams were all dry because Rain was
absent, and the grass and the flowers were withering to decay. So they
called the birds to their aid. The great Crane searched in the
shallows and among the reeds, thrusting his long neck into deep
places, and Crow looked among the hills, and Kingfisher flew far out
to sea, but they all came back and said, "We, too, have failed. The
wandering ones are nowhere on the land or upon the sea." Then little
Sparrow took up the search. Before he set out, he plucked from his
breast a small down-feather and fastened it to a stick no bigger than
a wisp of hay. He held the stick in his bill and flew off. For many
days he went towards the south-land, all the time watching the feather
hanging to the stick in his bill. But it hung there motionless. One
day, after he had travelled a great distance, he saw the down-feather
moving very gently, and he knew that Whirlwind must be not far away.
He went in the direction from which the feather was blowing. Soon he
saw beneath him soft green grass and wonderful flowers of varied
colours, and trees with green leaves and many rippling streams of
running water. And he said to himself, "At last I have found the
wanderers." He followed a little stream for some distance until it
ended in a cave in the hills. In front of the cave many flowers were
blooming and the grass was soft and green, and the tall grasses were
nodding their heads very gently. He knew that those he was seeking
were inside, and he entered the cave very quietly. Just beyond the
door a fire was smouldering and near it lay Rain and Whirlwind both
fast asleep. Sparrow tried to wake them with his bill and his cries,
but they were sleeping too soundly. Then he took a coal from the fire
and put it on Rain's back, but it spluttered and fizzled and soon went
out. He tried another, but the same thing happened. Then he took a
third coal, and this time Rain woke up. He was much surprised to hear
a stranger in the cave, but he could not see him because he was blind.
So he woke up Whirlwind to protect him.

Then Sparrow told them of the great trouble in the north country and
of the great hardship and sorrow their absence had brought to the
people, and of how sadly they had been missed and of the decision of
the council to call them back. And Whirlwind said, "We shall return
to-morrow if we are so badly needed. You may go back and tell your
people that we are coming. We shall be there the day after you
arrive." So Sparrow, feeling very proud of his success, flew back
home. But when he arrived after many days, he went first to his own
people to tell them the good news. And the Sparrow-people all gathered
together and held a feast of celebration, and they twittered and
danced and made a great hub-bub in their excitement because Rain was
coming back on the morrow. Then Sparrow went to the Chief and said,
"Oh, Chief, I have found Rain and Whirlwind and to-morrow they will be
here," and he told the story of his flight to the south and of his
discovery. And the Chief said, "Because of your success, you will
never be hunted for game or killed for food."

The next morning the two travellers who had been so long away came
back to the land. Whirlwind came first and great clouds of dust
foretold his coming, and the sea dashed high against the rocks, and
the trees shrieked and tossed their heads, all dancing gaily because
of his return. When Whirlwind had passed by, Rain came along following
close, because of his blindness. For several days Rain stayed with
the people and the flowers bloomed and the grass was green again and
the wells and streams were no longer dry. And since that time Wind and
Rain have never long been absent from the Atlantic Coast. And to this
day the Sparrow-people know when Rain is coming, and to signal his
approach they gather together and twitter and hop along and make a
great hub-bub, just as they did when their ancestor found him by means
of his down-feather in the olden days. But the Indians have been true
to the Chief's promise, and they will not hunt Sparrows for game nor
kill them for food or for their feathers. For they remember that of
all the birds it was old Sparrow who long ago searched successfully
for the Rain.





Next: The Boy In The Land Of Shadows

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