The Fire Bringer

: Boys And Girls Bookshelf


They ranged together by wood and open swale, the boy who was to be

called Fire Bringer, and the keen, gray dog of the wilderness, and saw

the tribesmen catching fish in the creeks with their hands, and the

women digging roots with sharp stones. This they did in Summer, and

fared well; but when Winter came they ran nakedly in the snow, or

huddled in caves of the rocks, and were
very miserable. When the boy saw

this he was very unhappy, and brooded over it until the Coyote noticed


"It is because my people suffer and have no way to escape the cold,"

said the boy.

"I do not feel it," said the Coyote.

"That is because of your coat of good fur, which my people have not,

except they take it in the chase, and it is hard to come by."

"Let them run about, then," said the counselor, "and keep warm."

"They run till they are weary," said the boy; "and there are the young

children and the very old. Is there no way for them?"

"Come," said the Coyote, "let us go to the hunt."

"I will hunt no more," the boy answered him, "until I have found a way

to save my people from the cold. Help me, O counselor!"

But the Coyote had run away. After a time he came back and found the boy

still troubled in his mind.

"There is a way, O Man Friend," said the Coyote, "and you and I must

take it together, but it is very hard."

"I will not fail of my part," said the boy.

"We will need a hundred men and women, strong, and swift runners."

"I will find them," the boy insisted, "only tell me."

"We must go," said the Coyote, "to the Burning Mountain by the Big Water

and bring fire to our people."

Said the boy: "What is fire?"

Then the Coyote considered a long time how he should tell the boy what

fire is. "It is," said he, "red like a flower, yet it is no flower;

neither is it a beast, though it runs in the grass and rages in the wood

and devours all. It is very fierce and hurtful, and stays not for

asking; yet if it is kept among stones and fed with small sticks, it

will serve the people well and keep them warm."

"How is it to be come at?"

"It has its lair in the Burning Mountain; and the Fire Spirits guard it

night and day. It is a hundred days' journey from this place, and

because of the jealousy of the Fire Spirits no man dare go near it. But

I, because all beasts are known to fear it much, may approach it without

hurt, and, it may be, bring you a brand from the burning. Then you must

have strong runners for every one of the hundred days to bring it safely


"I will go and get them," said the boy; but it was not so easily done as

said. Many there were who were slothful, and many were afraid; but the

most disbelieved it wholly.

"For," they said, "how should this boy tell us of a thing of which we

have never heard!" But at last the boy and their own misery persuaded


The Coyote advised them how the march should begin. The boy and the

counselor went foremost; next to them the swiftest runners, with the

others following in the order of their strength, and speed. They left

the place of their home and went over the high mountains where great

jagged peaks stand up above the snow, and down the way the streams led

through a long stretch of giant wood where the somber shade and the

sound of the wind in the branches made them afraid. At nightfall, where

they rested, one stayed in that place, and the next night another

dropped behind; and so it was at the end of each day's journey. They

crossed a great plain where waters of mirage rolled over a cracked and

parching earth, and the rim of the world was hidden in a bluish mist. So

they came at last to another range of hills, not so high, but tumbled

thickly together; and beyond these, at the end of the hundred days, to

the Big Water, quaking along the sand at the foot of the Burning


It stood up in a high and peaked cone, and the smoke of its burning

rolled out and broke along the sky. By night the glare of it reddened

the waves far out on the Big Water, when the Fire Spirits began their


Then said the counselor to the boy who was soon to be called the Fire

Bringer: "Do you stay here until I bring you a brand from the burning;

be ready and right for running, and lose no time, for I shall be far

spent when I come again, and the Fire Spirits will pursue me."

Then he went up the mountain, and the Fire Spirits, when they saw him

come, were laughing and very merry, for his appearance was much against

him. Lean he was, and his coat much the worse for the long way he had

come. Slinking he looked, inconsiderable, scurvy, and mean, as he has

always looked, and it served him as well then as it serves him now. So

the Fire Spirits only laughed, and paid him no further heed.

Along in the night, when they came out to begin their dance about the

mountain, the Coyote stole the fire and began to run away with it down

the slope of the Burning Mountain. When the Fire Spirits saw what he had

done, they streamed out after him red and angry in pursuit, with a sound

like a swarm of bees.

The boy saw them come, and stood up in his place clean-limbed and taut

for running. He saw the sparks of the brand stream back along the

Coyote's flanks as he carried it in his mouth, and stretched forward on

the trail, bright against the dark bulk of the mountain like a falling

star. He heard the singing sound of the Fire Spirits behind, and the

labored breath of the counselor nearing through the dark. Then the good

beast panted down beside him, and the brand dropped from his jaws.

The boy caught it up, standing bent for the running as a bow to speeding

the arrow. Out he shot on the homeward path, and the Fire Spirits

snapped and sung behind him. Fast as they pursued he fled faster, until

he saw the next runner stand up in his place to receive the brand.

So it passed from hand to hand, and the Fire Spirits tore after it

through the scrub until they came to the mountains of the snows. These

they could not pass; and the dark, sleek runners with the

backward-streaming brand bore it forward, shining star-like in the

night, glowing red through sultry noons, violet pale in twilight glooms,

until they came in safety to their own land. Here they kept it among

stones, and fed it with small sticks, as the Coyote had advised, until

it warmed them and cooked their food.

As for the boy by whom fire came to the tribes, he was called the Fire

Bringer while he lived; and after that, since there was no other with so

good a right to the name, it fell to the Coyote; and this is the sign

that the tale is true, for all along his lean flanks the fur is singed

and yellow as it was by the flames that blew backward from the brand

when he brought it down from the Burning Mountain.

As for the fire, that went on broadening and brightening, and giving out

a cheery sound until it broadened into the light of day.

[S] From "The Basket Woman," by Mary Austin; used by

permission of the publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Company.