“Why is that?” asked the little boy.
“It’s an old, old story,” said Old John, “but come, let us sit down on this log, and I’ll tell it to you.”
So when they were both comfortably seated, the old Indian began the tale which you will find in the next chapter.
XV. HOW A-BAL-KA GOT HIS BLACK STRIPES
“In the old days before winter had come into the land, the beasts and the birds, the fishes, and even the insects, all had one language. They could speak the speech of the Red Men and they all lived together in peace and friendship.
“In those days, there was no killing and no war. But after winter had come upon the land, the Red Men learned to kill the wild folk and to use their flesh for food and their skins for wigwams and for clothing.
“At first this was bad enough, but after men had learned to use bows and arrows, spears, knives, and hooks, it was still worse. They became more and more cruel. They delighted to slaughter even creatures for which they had no use. Out of heedlessness, they trod upon the worms and the frogs, and killed them without caring for the pain and suffering which they caused. At last the animals made up their minds to try to find out some means to check the slaughter of the wild kindreds.
“The bears were the first to meet in council. After much talk, they decided to begin war at once against the human race.
“‘What weapons shall we use against them?’ asked one of the bears.
“‘Why,’ answered another, ’the same that they use; bows and arrows, of course.’
“‘But how shall we make them?’ asked one bear.
“‘Oh, that is easy,’ said another. ’I’ll show you how to do it. You know I lived for a long time in one of their villages.’
“So this bear got a piece of ashwood and a string, some straight reeds and pieces of flint, and made a bow and some arrows.
“The White Bear, who was chief of the council, stepped out to make a trial of the bow. He pulled back the string and let the arrow fly, but his long claws caught the string and spoiled the shot.
[Illustration: The testing of the bow]
“Seeing this, one of the bears proposed to cut off his own claws and make another trial. This was done and the arrow went straight to the mark.
“Now all the bears were ready to cut off their claws that they might practice with the bow and arrow. But their chief, the old White Bear, was wise.
“‘No,’ said he, ’let us not cut off our claws. If we do, we shall not be able to climb trees or to tear our food to pieces, and we shall all starve together. It is better to trust to the teeth and claws that the Master of Life has given us. Man’s weapons are not for us.’
“All the bears agreed to this, and the council broke up without any plan for dealing with their cruel enemies.