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Florence Holbrook

Why the Swallow's Tail Is Forked

THIS is the story of how the swallow's tail came to be forked.

One day the Great Spirit asked all the animals that he had made to come to his lodge. Those that could fly came first: the robin, the bluebird, the owl, the butterfly, the wasp, and the firefly. Behind them came the chicken, fluttering its wings and trying hard to keep up. Then came the deer, the squirrel, the serpent, the cat, and the rabbit. Last of all came the bear, the beaver, and the hedgehog. Every one traveled as swiftly as he could, for each wished to hear the words of the Great Spirit.

"I have called you together," said the Great Spirit, "because I often hear you scold and fret. What do you wish me to do for you? How can I help you?"

"I do not like to hunt so long for my food," said the bear.

"I do not like to build nests," said the bluebird.

"I do not like to live in the water," said the beaver.

"And I do not like to live in a tree," said the squirrel.

At last man stood erect before the Great Spirit and said, "O Great Father, the serpent feasts upon my blood. Will you not give him some other food?"

"And why?" asked the Great Spirit.

"Because I am the first of all the creatures you have made," answered man proudly.

Then every animal in the lodge was angry to hear the words of man. The squirrel chattered, the wasp buzzed, the owl hooted, and the serpent hissed.

"Hush, be still," said the Great Spirit. "You are, O man, the first of my creatures, but I am the father of all. Each one has his rights, and the serpent must have his food. Mosquito, you are a great traveler. Now fly away and find what creature's blood is best for the serpent. Do you all come back in a year and a day."

The animals straightway went to their homes. Some went to the river, some to the forest, and some to the prairie, to wait for the day when they must meet at the lodge of the Great Spirit.

The mosquito traveled over the earth and stung every creature that he met to find whose blood was the best for the serpent. On his way back to the lodge of the Great Spirit he looked up into the sky, and there was the swallow.

"Good-day, swallow," called the mosquito.

"I am glad to see you, my friend," sang the swallow. "Are you going to the lodge of the Great Spirit? And have you found out whose blood is best for the serpent?"

"The blood of man," answered the mosquito.

The mosquito did not like man, but the swallow had always been his friend. "What can I do to help man?" he thought. "Oh, I know what I can do." Then he asked the mosquito, "Whose blood did you say?"

"Man's blood," said the mosquito; "that is best."

"This  is best," said the swallow, and he tore out the mosquito's tongue.

The mosquito buzzed angrily and went quickly to the Great Spirit.

"All the animals are here," said the Great Spirit. "They are waiting to hear whose blood is best for the serpent."

The mosquito tried to answer, "The blood of man," but he could not say a word. He could make no sound but "Kss-ksss-ksssss!"

"What do you say?"

"Kss-ksss-ksssss!" buzzed the mosquito angrily.

All the creatures wondered. Then said the swallow:—

"Great Father, the mosquito is timid and cannot answer you. I met him before we came, and he told me whose blood it was."

"Then let us know at once," said the Great Spirit.

"It is the blood of the frog," answered the swallow quickly. "Is it not so, friend mosquito?"

"Kss-ksss-ksssss!" hissed the angry mosquito.

"The serpent shall have the frog's blood," said the Great Spirit. "Man shall be his food no longer."

Now the serpent was angry with the swallow, for he did not like frog's blood. As the swallow flew near him, he seized him by the tail and tore away a little of it. This is why the swallow's tail is forked, and it is why man always looks upon the swallow as his friend.