FAR away in the forest there once lived the most cruel man on all the earth. He did not like the Indians, and he said to himself, "Some day I will be ruler of them all." Then he thought, "There are many brave warriors among the Indians, and I must first put them to death."
He was cunning as well as cruel, and he soon found a way to kill the warriors. He built some wigwams and made fires before them as if people lived in each one.
One day a hunter on his way home heard a baby crying in one of the wigwams. He went in, but he never came out again. Another day a hunter heard a child laughing. He went in, but he never came out again. So it was day after day. One hunter heard a woman talking, and went to see who it was; another heard a man calling to people in the other wigwams, and went to see who they were; and no one who once went into a wigwam ever came out.
One young brave had heard the voices, but he feared there was magic about them, and so he had never gone into the wigwams; but when he saw that his friends did not come back, he went to the wigwams and called, "Where are all the people that I have heard talk and laugh?"
"Talk and laugh," said the cunning man mockingly.
"Where are they? Do you know?" cried the brave, and the cunning man called, "Do you know?" and laughed.
"Whose voices have I heard?"
"Have I heard?" mocked the cunning man.
"I heard a baby cry."
"Cry," said the cunning man.
"Who is with you?"
Then the young brave was angry. He ran into the first wigwam, and there he found the man who had cried like a baby and talked in a voice like a woman's and made all the other sounds. The brave caught him by the leg and threw him down upon the earth.
"It was you who cried and talked and laughed," he said. "I heard your voice and now you are going to be punished for killing our braves. Where is my brother, and where are our friends?"
"How do I know?" cried the man. "Ask the sun or the moon or the fire if you will, but do not ask me;" and all the time he was trying to pull the young brave into the flames.
"I will ask the fire," said the brave. "Fire, you are a good friend to us Indians. What has this cruel man done with our warriors?"
The fire had no voice, so it could not answer, but it sprang as far away from the hunter as it could, and there where the flames had been he saw two stone arrowheads.
"I know who owned the two arrowheads," said the brave. "You have thrown my friends into your fire. Now I will do to you what you have done to them."
He threw the cunning man into the fire. His head burst into two pieces, and from between them a bird flew forth. Its voice was loud and clear, but it had no song of its own. It could only mock the songs of other birds, and that is why it is called the mocking-bird.