There was great excitement one morning among the children in the schoolroom when Mary came in with the word that some hunters with their dog sleds had called, and that they had with them a great wolverine which had been killed in the woods not very far away. The children ran out to look at it.
Now the wolverine is known to be such a cunning, clever animal that the killing of one is quite an event among the Indians, and the lucky hunter who succeeds in destroying one is the hero of the hour. A man may on one hunting trip kill several bears or wolves, or many other animals, and there is not much said about it, but to kill a wolverine, that pest and scourge of the hunters, is indeed a feat that any man is proud of.
"Why is it called a wolverine?" asked Sagastao.
"Because it was once like a wolf, and had small feet and long legs, but now its legs are short and its feet are very large."
"What shortened its legs and made its feet become so large?" asked Sagastao.
It was too cold a day to remain any longer outside looking at the wolverine, or to learn more about it, so the children were obliged to return to their warm schoolroom, where their lessons were resumed.
It was evident, however, that both Sagastao and Minnehaha were ready with a couple of questions for Mary, and it was not long after school hours that they sought her and asked:
"Mary, what was it that shortened the legs of the wolverine? and what made his feet so big?"
"The wolverine," replied Mary, "was once the finest of all the different kinds of wolves. He had the softest and nicest of fur. His legs were long, and his feet were firm and handsome, but he was an awfully conceited fellow. He fancied he was the handsomest creature in existence and looked down with contempt on all the other kinds of wolves. He used to go to the side of the clear transparent lake, where he could see his shadow reflected in the water, and he would strut up and down and say: 'O dear, what a lovely creature I am!'
"It is true he was very clever in many ways. He was so swift that he could run down even the antelope and the elk, and at all the great animal gatherings, where the different creatures met in council, he was the swiftest there, and easily won the chief prizes at the great races which the animals used to hold. Indeed, he won so many races that at length he could get no animal to compete with him. He even tried to get up races with the birds, but they laughed at him for his conceit.
"One day he happened to be hunting among the mountains. Near the top of one he saw a large ball-like rock, standing there apart from the other big rocks. Coming up close to this great round rock he said to it:
"'Was that you I saw walking just now?'
"'No; I cannot walk, I have lain here for a long time,' said the rock.
"The wolverine retorted that he was sure he had seen the rock walking.
"This made the rock angry and he told the wolverine that he was telling a falsehood. Then the saucy wolverine replied:
"'You need not speak to me in that way, for I have seen you walking.'
"Then the wolverine ran off a little distance and challenged the rock to catch him. But the rock did not reply to this and the bold wolverine came close up to the rock, struck it with his paw, and said:
"'Come, now, see if you can catch me!'
"'I cannot run,' said the rock, 'but I can roll.'
"At this the conceited wolverine began to laugh. 'That will do! All I want is a race. You can run or roll, just as you like.'
"Then the race began; the wolverine started down the mountain side at a great rate, and the rock came rolling behind him. At first the big rock did not move very fast, and the wolverine laughed as he looked back and saw the rock was so far behind. But the rock came on faster and faster, and now it made the wolverine do his very best to keep ahead of it. On they rushed, over the sticks and stones and rough places, down—down that great, long mountain side. At length, swift and strong as he was, the wolverine began to get tired, and although he was running as he never did before in his life the big rock was surely gaining on him. By and by he was so frightened that in looking behind at the rock, now close at his heels, he tripped over a stick and down he fell. The rock rolled over him and, just as it had completely crushed him down to the earth, there it stopped.
"Then the wolverine, whose head was not crushed under the rock, cried out:
"'Get off! go away! you are hurting me. You are crushing my bones.'
"But the rock replied:
"'You tormented me and told me I was telling a falsehood, and you challenged me to a race with you; and now that I have caught you I will not stir until some one stronger comes and takes me off.'
"Then the wolverine lifted up his voice and cried to his relatives, the wolves and foxes, to come and remove the rock.
"When these animals came and saw him in such a plight, they asked him:
"'How came you to get under the rock?'
"The wolverine replied:
"'I challenged the rock to catch me, and it rolled on me.'
"When the wolves and the foxes heard this they were not very sorry. They knew how conceited the wolverine had been about his speed, indeed they were all smarting because of the ease with which he had beaten them, and so, instead of helping him at once, they said he deserved his punishment.
"After a time, however, they began to be sorry for the poor wolverine, who was crying out piteously for help, but they found they were not able to remove the rock. They could not even stir it in the least.
"'Get out of the way,' said the wolverine, 'and I will call my other friends, the thunder and the lightning.'
"In a few minutes a great black cloud was seen rapidly coming out of the west. As it came rushing along the foxes and the wolves were very much frightened by the great noise it made. However, they had courage enough to ask the lightning to take off the fine coat of the wolverine but not to kill him. Then they ran back and watched to see the lightning do its work. The lightning promised to do what had been asked of him; for he had heard of this proud, conceited wolverine, who had boasted that he could run like lightning, and now he was just going to teach him a lesson. So he darted back a distance to gather force, and then he came on with a rush and struck the rock and knocked it into small pieces. He also completely stripped the skin from the back of the wolverine but did not kill him. When the wolverine got up and stood there naked, with all his beauty gone, he was very angry at the lightning.
"'You are like other so-called friends I have heard about,' he said; 'you cannot do a thing but you must overdo it and spoil all. You had no need to tear my beautiful fur coat from my back when you knew I only asked you to come and strike the rock.'
"Then the poor, shivering wolverine gathered the pieces of his coat and carried them to his sister the frog, who dwelt in a marsh, and he asked her to sew them together. The frog had sore eyes, and when she sewed them together she did not do it properly. Hence the wolverine was very angry, and he hit her a crack on the head and knocked her into the water. Then he took up the coat and went and found his youngest sister, the mouse. He told her of his troubles, and how the frog had so badly done her work. Then he showed the mouse how he wanted the coat to be sewed. His little sister felt badly for her big brother, and so she set to work and with great care sewed all the pieces together in their right places. When the wolverine saw how nicely she had done her work he was much pleased.
"'You mice may live everywhere,' he said, in real gratitude, 'and in spite of all your enemies you will never be destroyed.'
"Then the wolverine tried to put on his coat, but, alas! he found his legs had been shortened and his feet very much flattened out by the terrible crushing he had had under that big stone which he had been so foolish as to challenge to a race."
"Guess he didn't run many more races," said Sagastao.
"No, indeed," was the reply; "he was so mortified and angry that from that day to this the wolverine has always been a sulking, solitary animal, and playing all the mean tricks he can on all kinds of animals as though he had a spite against them. He now has not one friend who ever cares for him, unless it is his little sister the mouse."