No Resting Place

No Resting Place by William Humphrey Read Free Book Online

Book: No Resting Place by William Humphrey Read Free Book Online
Authors: William Humphrey
gave birth, until this world was in danger of overcrowding, and then the matter was regulated as we know it.
    Even so, people multiplied so rapidly that in course of time the animals found themselves crowded for space. Meanwhile, man invented the bow and arrow, traps and snares, knives, spears, hooks and fishnets. The animals convened to take measures for their safety. It was then and there that all the illnesses and ailments that afflict mankind were invented: fevers and chills, rheumatism, toothache, blindness. So venomous was the atmosphere of that convention that Tuyadiskalawtsiski , the Grubworm, the very one whose job it had been to marry people, and whose hatred of them now came from his being stepped on by their innumerable get, rolled on his back in glee over a proposal that menstruation be made fatal to women, and has never since been able to get on his feet again. Had not the plants, which were friendly to man, offered themselves as healing herbs (for diseases invented by the Rabbit the weed called rabbit’s ear, for yellow bile the yellowroot, for forgetfulness the cockleburr, for nothing clings like a burr), humankind would have perished from the earth.
    It was in those early times that the animals acquired their features and their dispositions. Insufferably vain of his bushy tail, Sikwautsetsti , the Possum, got it shaved by the Cricket, who pretended to be grooming it (the Cricket was a barber by trade), and ever since he has been so embarrassed to be seen that he lies down and grins a silly grin. In one footrace with Tsitstu , the Rabbit, that mischief-maker and arch-deceiver, himself so often deceived, the Deer won his antlers, and in another, the most memorable footrace ever run, the one against the Tortoise, Tsitstu got his lasting comeuppance. The Tom Turkey got his beard, a scalp that he cozened the Terrapin out of, and the Turkey Buzzard, who had formerly boasted a fine topknot, was rendered bald for his proud refusal to eat carrion, thereupon lost his self-respect, and now lives on carrion.
    There were spirits then in all things, large and small, moving and stationary. Everybody and everything spoke in a universal tongue. The woods were full of voices. In every creature, every tree, every rock, every mountain, every brook there resided a spirit. Some were evil spirits, some good. There were the Yunwi Tsudi , the Little People: cave dwellers, music lovers, wonder-workers, good-hearted creatures who found lost children and restored them to their parents—and there were the underwater cannibals whose diet was children’s flesh. All alike were departed now, powerless any longer to cheer or scare, dispelled by the missionaries. Exorcised. Explained away. Scorned away. Now a tree was just a tree, a rock just a rock, and now when you went for a solitary walk in the woods you had only yourself to converse with.
    To think there was a time, and not so long ago, barely beyond living memory, when, instead of being tales told for the entertainment of children, these were the living faith of a people—your people! To think this as the night in the asi ended with the rising of the sun and your rising to go forth and salute it and go to water to wash away your sweat was to—was to what? To smile? To blush? To thank your lucky stars that you were born when you were, emancipated from primitive superstition? Or to yearn with your whole heart for such sweet simplicity, such happy harmony among all things that be, to come again, knowing that it never could?
    From savagery to civilization in half a generation, from universal illiteracy to universal literacy in their own tongue through the alphabet given to them by their own living flesh-and-blood Cadmus (would that he also had the power to grow armed men from dragons’ teeth!): that was what the Cherokees had achieved. It was a feat without parallel in the long record of human endeavor, and the period coincided with that of the childhood which Amos

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