The Little Boy and Girl in the Clouds
At such a time the children knew better than to interrupt him by asking questions or teasing him for a story. They knew that Iagoo was turning over in his mind the strange things he had heard and the wonderful things he had seen, that the burning logs and red coals took on curious shapes and made odd pictures that only he could understand, and that if they did not disturb him he would presently begin to speak.
On this particular evening, however, though they waited patiently and talked to one another only in low whispers, Iagoo kept on sitting there as if he were made of stone. They began to fear that he had forgotten them and that bed-time would come without a story. So at last little Morning Glory, who was always asking questions, thought of one she had never asked before.
"Iagoo!" she said, and then she stopped, fearing to offend him.
At the sound of her voice the old man roused himself, as if his mind had been away on a long journey into the past.
"What is it, Morning Glory?"
"Iagoo—can you tell me—were the mountains always here?"
The old man looked at her gravely. No matter how hard the question was, or how unexpected, Iagoo was always glad to answer. He never said: "I'm too busy; don't bother me" or "Wait till some other time." So when Morning Glory asked him this very peculiar question, he nodded his wise old head, saying: "Do you know, I've often asked myself that very thing: were the mountains always here?"
He paused, and looked once more into the fire, as if the answer was to be found there if he only looked long enough. At last he spoke again: "Yes, I think it must be true that the mountains were always here—the mountains and the hills. They were made when the world was made—a long, long time ago, and the story of how the world was made you have heard before. But there is one high hill that was not always here—a hill that grew like magic, all of a sudden. Did I ever tell you the story of the Big Rock—how it rose and rose, and carried the little boy and girl up among the clouds?"
"No, no!" shouted the children in a chorus. "You never told us that one. Tell it to us now."
And this is the story of the magical Big Rock, as old Iagoo heard it from his grandfather, who heard it from his great-grandfather, who was almost old enough to have been there himself when it all happened:
In the days when all animals and men lived on friendly terms, when Coyote, the prairie wolf, was not a bad sort of fellow when you came to know him, and even the Mountain Lion would growl pleasantly and pass you the time of day—there lived in a beautiful valley a little boy and girl.
This valley was a lovely place to live in; never was such a playground anywhere on earth. It was like a great green carpet stretching for miles and miles, and when the wind blew upon the long grass it was like looking at the waves of the sea. Flowers of all colors bloomed in the beautiful valley, berries grew thick on the bushes, and birds filled the summer air with their songs.
As for the wild animals, it was all very different from what it is to-day, when they keep the poor things in cages or coop them up in a little patch of ground behind a high fence. In the beautiful valley the animals ran free and happily, as they were meant to do. The Bear was a big, lazy, good-natured fellow who lived on berries and wild honey in the summer, and in winter crept into his cavern in the rocks and slept there till the spring. The deer were not only gentle, but tame as sheep, and often came to crop the tender grass that grew where the two children were accustomed to play.
They loved all the animals, and the animals loved them, but perhaps their special favorites were Jack Rabbit and Antelope. Jack Rabbit had long legs and long ears—almost as long as a mule's, and no animal of his size could jump so high. But of course he could not jump as high as Antelope—the name of a beautiful little deer, with short horns and slender legs, who could run like the wind.
Another thing that made the happy valley such a pleasant place to live in was the river that flowed through it. All the animals came from miles around to drink from its clear, cool waters, and to bathe in it on a hot summer day.
One shallow pool seemed made especially for the little boy and girl. Their friend, the Beaver, with his flat tail like an oar and his feet webbed like a duck's, had taught them how to swim almost as soon as they had learned to walk, and to splash around in the pool on a warm afternoon was among their greatest pleasures.