Old Man and His Conscience
Not so many miles away from the village,
the great mountain range so divides
the streams that are born there, that their
waters are offered as tribute to the Atlantic,
Pacific, and Arctic Oceans. In this wonderful range the Indians
believe the winds are made, and that they battle for supremacy
over Gunsight Pass. I have heard an old
story, too, that is said to have been generally
believed by the Blackfeet, in which a monster
bull elk that lives in Gunsight Pass lords it
over the winds. This elk creates the North
wind by "flapping" one of his ears, and the
South wind by the same use of his other. I
am inclined to believe that the winds are
made in that Pass, myself, for there they are
seldom at rest, especially at this season of
To-night the wind was blowing from the
north, and filmy white clouds were driven
across the face of the nearly full moon, momentarily veiling
her light. Lodge poles creaked and strained at every heavy gust,
and sparks from the fires inside the lodges
sped down the wind, to fade and die.
In his lodge War Eagle waited for us, and
when we entered he greeted us warmly, but
failed to mention the gale. "I have been
waiting," he said. "You are late and the
story I shall tell you is longer than many of
the others." Without further delay the storytelling commenced.
"Once OLD-man came upon a lodge
forest. It was a fine one, and painted with
strange signs. Smoke was curling from the
top, and thus he knew that the person who
lived there was at home. Without calling
or speaking, he entered the lodge and saw a
man sitting by the fire smoking his pipe. The
man didn't speak, nor did he offer his pipe
to OLD-man, as our people do when they are
glad to see visitors. He didn't even look at
his guest, but OLD-man has no good manners
at all. He couldn't see that he wasn't wanted,
as he looked about the man's lodge and made
himself at home. The linings were beautiful
and were painted with fine skill. The lodge
was clean and the fire was bright, but there
was no woman about.
"Leaning against a fine back-rest,
filled his own pipe and lighted it with a coal
from the man's fire. Then he began to smoke
and look around, wondering why the man
acted so queerly. He saw a star that shone
down through the smoke hole, and the tops
of several trees that were near the lodge. Then
he saw a woman - way up in a tree top and
right over the lodge. She looked young and
beautiful and tall.
"'Whose woman is that up there
tree top?' asked OLD-man.
"'She's your woman if you can
and will marry her,' growled the man; 'but
you will have to live here and help me make
"'I'll try to catch her, and if
I do I will
marry her and stay here, for I am a great
hunter and can easily kill what meat we want,'
"He went out of the lodge and
tree after the woman. She screamed, but he
caught her and held her, although she scratched
him badly. He carried her into the lodge
and there renewed his promise to stay there
always. The man married them, and they
were happy for four days, but on the fifth
morning OLD-man was gone - gone with all
the dried meat in the lodge - the thief.
"When they were sure that the
run away the woman began to cry, but not
so the man. He got his bow and arrows
and left the lodge in anger. There was snow
on the ground and the man took the track
of OLD-man, intending to catch and kill him.
"The track was fresh and the man
on a run, for he was a good hunter and as
fast as a Deer. Of course he gained on OLD-man, who was a much
slower traveller; and the Sun was not very high when the old
thief stopped on a hilltop to look back. He saw
the man coming fast.
"'This will never do,' he said
'That queer person will catch me. I know
what I shall do; I shall turn myself into a
dead Bull-Elk and lie down. Then he will pass
me and I can go where I please.'
"He took off his moccasins and
them: 'Moccasins, go on toward the west.
Keep going and making plain tracks in the
snow toward the big-water where the Sun
sleeps. The queer-one will follow you, and
when you pass out of the snowy country,
you can lose him. Go quickly for he is close
"The moccasins ran away as OLD-man
them to, and they made plain tracks in the
snow leading away toward the big-water. OLD-man turned into a
dead Bull-Elk and stretched himself near the tracks the moccasins
"Up the hill came the man, his
from running. He saw the dead Elk, and
thought it might be OLD-man playing a trick.
He was about to shoot an arrow into the dead
Elk to make sure; but just as he was about to
let the arrow go, he saw the tracks the moc-
casins had made. Of course he thought the
moccasins were on OLD-man's feet, and that
the carcass was really that of a dead Elk. He
was badly fooled and took the tracks again.
On and on he went, following the moccasins
over hills and rivers. Faster than before went
the man, and still faster travelled the empty
moccasins, the trail growing dimmer and dim-
mer as the daylight faded. All day long,
and all of the night the man followed the
tracks without rest or food, and just at day-break he came to
the shore of the big-water. There, right by the water's edge,
stood the empty moccasins, side by side.
"The man turned and looked back.
eyes were red and his legs were trembling.
'Caw--caw, caw,' he heard a Crow say. Right
over his head he saw the black bird and knew
"'Ho! OLD-man, you were in that
Bull-Elk. You fooled me, and now you are a
Crow. You think you will escape me, do you?
Well, you will not; for I, too, know magic,
and am wise.'
"With a stick the man drew a cricle
sand. Then he stood within the ring and
sang a song. OLD-man was worried and
watched the strange doings from the air overhead. Inside the
circle the man began to whirl about so rapidly that he faded
from sight, and from the centre of the circle there
came an Eagle. Straight at the Crow flew the
Eagle, and away toward the mountains sped
the Crow, in fright.
"The Crow knew that the Eagle
him, so that as soon as he reached the trees
on the mountains he turned himself into a
Wren and sought the small bushes under the
tall trees. The Eagle saw the change, and
at once began turning over and over in the
air. When he had reached the ground, instead of an Eagle a Sparrow-hawk
chased the Wren. Now the chase was fast indeed, for no
place could the Wren find in which to hide
from the Sparrow-hawk. Through the brush,
into trees, among the weeds and grass, flew
the Wren with the Hawk close behind. Once
the Sparrow-hawk picked a feather from the
Wren's tail - so close was he to his victim.
It was nearly over with the Wren, when he
suddenly came to a park along a river's side.
In this park were a hundred lodges of our
people, and before a fine lodge there sat the
daughter of the chief. It was growing dark
and chilly, but still she sat there looking at
the river. The Sparrow-hawk was striking at
the Wren with his beak and talons, when the
Wren saw the young-woman and flew straight
to her. So swift he flew that the young-woman
didn't see him at all, but she felt something
strike her hand, and when she looked she
saw a bone ring on her finger. This frightened
her, and she ran inside the lodge, where the
fire kept the shadows from coming. OLD-man had changed into the
ring, of course, and the Sparrow-hawk didn't dare to go into
the lodge; so he stopped outside and listened.
This is what he heard OLD-man say:
"'Don't be frightened, young-woman,
am neither a Wren nor a ring. I am OLD-man
and that Sparrow-hawk has chased me all the
day and for nothing. I have never done him
harm, and he bothers me without reason.'
"'Liar - forked-tongue,' cried
hawk. 'Believe him not, young-woman. He
has done wrong. He is wicked and I am not
a Sparrow-hawk, but conscience. Like an arrow I travel, straight
and fast. When he lies or steals from his friends I follow him.
I talk all the time and he hears me, but lies to
himself, and says he does not hear. You
know who I am, young-woman, I am what
talks inside a person.'
"OLD-man heard what the Sparrow-hawk
said, and he was ashamed for once in his life.
He crawled out of the lodge. Into the shadows
he ran away - away into the night, and the
darkness - away from himself!
"You see," said War Eagle,
as he reached
for his pipe," OLD-man knew that he had done
wrong, and his heart troubled him, just as
yours will bother you if you do not listen to
the voice that speaks within yourselves. Whenever that voice
says a thing is wicked, it is wicked - no matter who says it is not. Yes, it
is very hard for a man to hide from himself. Ho!"