The Story of a Vision
by La Flesche, Francis
EACH of us, as we gathered at the lodge
of our story teller at dusk, picked up
an armful of wood and entered.
The old man who was sitting alone,
his wife having gone on a visit,
welcomed us with a pleasant word as we
threw the wood down by the fire-place
and busied ourselves rekindling the fire.
Ja-bae-ka and Ne-ne-ba, having nothing to do
at this moment, fell to scuffling.
"You will be fighting if you keep on",
warned the old man.
"Stop your fooling and come and sit down",
scolded Wa-du-pa; you're not in your own house."
The flames livened up cheerily and cast a
ruddy glow about us, when Wa-du-pa said,
"Grandfather, the last time we were here
you told us the myth of the eagle and the wren;
we liked it, but now we want a true story,
something that really happened, something you saw yourself."
"How thirsty I am!" said the old man irrelevantly,
"I wonder what makes me so dry."
"Quick!" said Wa-du-pa, motioning to Ja-bae-ka,
"Get some water!"
The lad peered into one kettle, s
quinted into another and then said, "There isn't any."
"Then go, get some!" arose a number of voices.
"Why don't some of you go?" Ja-bae-ka retorted,
picking up one of the kettles.
"Take both!" some one shouted.
Ja-bae-ka approached the door grumbling.
As he grasped the heavy skin portier to
make his way out, he turned and said,
"Don't begin until I come back."
We soon heard his heavy breathing in the long entrance way.
"It's moonlight, just like day!" he exclaimed,
as he set the kettles down and thrust his cold
hands into the flames with a twisting motion.
"The boys and girls are having lots of fun sliding on the ice."
"Let them slide, we don't care!" ejaculated Wa-du-pa
as he dipped a cup into the water and handed it to
the old man, who put it to his lips and made a
gulping sound as he drank, the lump in his throat
leaping up and down at each swallow.
At the last draught he expelled his pent-up breath
with something like a groan, set the cup down,
wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and asked,
"A real true story -- something that I saw myself;
that's what you want, is it?"
"Yes, grandfather," we sang out in chorus,
"a story that has you in it!"
His face brightened with a smile and he broke
into a gentle laugh, nodding his head to its rhythm.
After a few moments' musing, and when we boys
had settled down, the old man began:
"Many, many winters ago, long before any of you were born,
our people went on a winter hunt, away out among the sand
hills where even now we sometimes go.
There was a misunderstanding between the leaders,
so that just as we reached the hunting grounds
the tribe separated into two parties,
each going in a different direction.
The weather was pleasant enough while on the journey,
but a few days after the departure of our friends a heavy
storm came upon us. For days and nights the wind
howled and roared, threatening to carry away our tents
and the snow fell thick and fast, so that we could not
see an arm's length; it was waist deep and yet it
kept falling. No hunting could be done;
food grew scarcer and scarcer and the older
people became alarmed.
One afternoon as my father, mother and I were sitting
in our tent eating from our last kettle of corn,
there came a lull and we heard with startling
distinctness a man singing a song of augury.
We paused to listen, but the wind swept down again
and drowned the voice.
"A holy man seeking for a sign," said my father.
"Son, go and hear if he will give us words of courage."
My father was lame and could not go himself,
so I waded through the heavy drifts and with much
difficulty reached the man's tent, where many were
already gathered to hear the predictions.
I held my breath in awe as I heard the holy man say:
"For a moment the wind ceased to blow,
the clouds parted, and in the rift I saw standing,
in mid air against the blue sky, the spirit of the
man who was murdered last summer.
His head was bowed in grief and although he spoke not,
I know from the vision that the anger of the storm gods
was moved against us for not punishing the murderer.
Silently the spirit lifted an arm and pointed beyond the hills.
Then I found that I too was in mid air.
I looked over the hilltops and beheld a forest,
where shadowy forms like those of large animals
moved among the trees. I turned once more to the spirit,
but the clouds had come together again.
"Before dawn to-morrow the storm will pass away,
then let the runners go to the forest that I saw and
tell us whether or not there is truth in the words
that I have spoken."
As predicted, the wind ceased to blow and the snow to fall.
Runners were hastily sent to the forest and the sun was
hardly risen when one of them returned with the good news
that the shadowy forms the holy man had seen were truly
those of buffalo.
The effect of the news upon the camp was like magic,
faces brightened, the gloomy forebodings that clouded
the minds of the older people fled as did the storm,
and laughter and pleasantries enlivened the place.
The hunters and boys were soon plodding through the
snow toward the forest and before dark every one returned
heavily laden, tired and hungry, but none the less happy.
The fires burned brightly that night and men told stories
until it was nearly morning.
The forest of the vision was a bag of game;
every few days the hunters went there and returned
with buffalo, elk, or deer, so that even the poorest
man had plenty for his wife and children to eat.
All this time nothing had been heard from the party
that separated from us before the storm.
One night when I came home from a rabbit hunt,
I found my mother and father packing up pemican and
jerked meat as though for a journey.
I looked inquiringly at the pack as I ate my supper;
bye and bye my mother told me that a man had just come
from the other camp with the news that the people had
exhausted their supplies and, as they could find no game,
they were suffering for want of food.
My sister and her husband were in that camp,
and I was told to carry the pack to them.
My father had arranged with a young man bound on a
similar errand to call for me early in the morning,
so I went to bed as soon as I had finished eating,
to get as much sleep and rest as possible.
It was well that I did, for long before dawn creaking
footsteps approached our tent and the man called out,
"Are you ready?" I quickly slipped on my leggings and
moccasins, put on my robe, slung the pack over my
shoulders and we started.
To avoid the drifts we followed the ridges,
but even there the snow lay deep and we were
continually breaking through the hard crust.
My friend turned every mishap into a joke and broke
the monotony of our travel with humorous tales and incidents.
Late at night we camped in the bend of a small, wooded stream.
We gathered a big pile of dry branches,
kindled a roaring fire and roasted some of the jerked meat.
When supper was over we dried our moccasins,
then piling more wood on the fire we wrapped ourselves
up in our robes and went to sleep.
I do not know how long we might have slept had we not
been wakened by the howling of hundreds of wolves not
far away from us.
"They're singing to the morning star!" said my friend.
"It is near day, so we must be up and going."
We ate a little of the pemican, helped each other to load,
and again we started. Before night we were overtaken
by other men and boys who were also going to the
relief of their friends in the other camp,
where we arrived just in time to save many of the
people from starving.
How curious it was that the predictions of the
holy man should come true -- the stopping of the
storm before morning, the forest,
and the shadowy forms of animals.
Stranger still was the death of the murderer.
This took place, we were told by the people we had rescued,
on the very night of the augury in our camp.
They said, as the man was sitting in his tent that night,
the wind suddenly blew the door flap violently aside,
an expression of terror came over his face,
he fell backward, and he was dead.
In the old days, many strange things came to pass in
the life of our people, but now we are getting to be different."
Wa-du-pa thanked the story teller,
and we were about to go when Ne-ne-ba,
pointing to Ja-bae-ka, whispered, "He's gone to sleep!
Let's scare him."
The old man fell into the spirit of the fun,
so we all tip-toed to the back part of the lodge
where it was dark and watched, as the flames died
down to a blue flickering. We could see the boy's
head drop lower and lower until his nose nearly
touched his knee. Just then a log on the fire suddenly
tumbled from its place, broke in two, sent up a shower
of crackling sparks and Ja-bae-ka awoke with a start.
He threw up his head, looked all around and thinking
he was left alone in the darkened lodge, took fright
and rushed to the door with a cry of terror.
We ran out of our hiding places with shouts of
laughter and overtook Ja-bae-ka outside the door,
where we teased him about going to sleep and being
afraid in the dark.
Suddenly he turned upon Ne-ne-ba and said,
"You did that, you rascal! I'll pay you back sometime."