“We shall stay in camp until the blue jay comes,” said the old chief, smiling, “and then seek the village of my people.”
“What does the blue jay mean?” asked Ted, timidly, for he was very much in awe of this grave old man.
Kalitan said something in Thlinkit to his uncle, and the old chief, looking kindly at the boy, replied with, a nod:
“I will tell you the story of the blue jay,” he said.
“My story is of the far, far north. Beside a salmon stream there dwelt people rich in slaves. These caught and dried the salmon for the winter, and nothing is better to eat than dried salmon dipped in seal oil. All the fish were caught and stored away, when lo! the whiteness fell from heaven and the snows were upon them. It was the time of snow and they should not have complained, but the chief was evil and he cursed the whiteness. No one should dare to speak evil of the Snow Spirit, which comes from the Unknown! Deeper and deeper grew the snow. It flew like feathers about the eglu, and the slaves had many troubles in putting in limbs for the fire. Then the snow came in flakes so large they seemed like the wings of birds, and the house was covered, and they could no longer keep their kyaks on top of the snow. All were shut tight in the house, and their fire and food ran low. They knew not how many days they were shut in, for there was no way to tell the day from night, only they knew they were sore hungry and that the Snow Spirit was angry and terrible in his anger.
[Footnote 5: Hut.]
“But each one spoke not; he only chose a place where he should lie down and die when he could bear no more.
“Only the chief spoke, and he once. ‘Snow Spirit,’ he said aloud, ’I alone am evil. These are not so. Slay me and spare!’ But the Snow Spirit answered not, only the wind screamed around the eglu, and his screams were terrible and sad. Then hope left the heart of the chief and he prepared to die with all his people and all his slaves.
“But on the day when their last bit of food was gone, lo! something pecked at the top of the smoke-hole, and it sang ‘Nuck-tee,’ and it was a blue jay. The chief heard and saw and wondered, and, looking ’neath the smoke-hole, he saw a scarlet something upon the floor. Picking it up, he found it was a bunch of Indian tomato berries, red and ripe, and quickly hope sprang in his breast.
“‘Somewhere is summer,’ he cried, ‘Let us up and away.’
“Then the slaves hastened to dig out the canoe, and they drew it with mighty labour, for they were weak from fasting, over the snows to the shore, and there they launched it without sail or paddle, with all the people rejoicing. And after a time the wind carried them to a beach where all was summer. Birds sang, flowers bloomed, and berries gleamed scarlet in the sun, and there were salmon jumping in the blue water. They ate and were satisfied, for it was summer on the earth and summer in their hearts.