The Punishment of the Stingy and Other Indian Stories, by George Bird Grinnell, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 142 p. 143
PI-WAP´-ŌK, Flint-knife, was a Blood warrior; he was brave and ambitious, seldom passing a day idly in his lodge. If not away on the war-path against some distant tribe, he was sure to be out hunting. The burning heats of summer, the cold, and the piercing snow-drifting winds of winter did not keep him back, if he thought game was to be found. There were always many buffalo hides and many skins of elk, deer, and antelope stacked up about his lodge, and within were thick warm robe beds, and piles of soft buckskins, tanned by his wife Í-kai-si, the Squirrel. None knew better than the poor, the blind, and the crippled, that the parfleches piled up behind the beds, and filling the space near the doorway, contained stores of fat dried meat, rich pemmican, marrow fat, dried berries and roots, to a share of which they
were always welcome. The couple had no children, and they said that unless a crowd of guests feasted and smoked in their lodge of an evening, they felt lonesome. So for many years they lived, happy and prosperous, and then a great trouble came on them.
One day Pi-wap´-ōk returned from a hunt and complained that his eyes hurt him. "They feel as if some one had thrown sand in them," he said. "When I try to see something far away, they fill with tears and everything becomes indistinct."
"Oh, that is nothing," Í-kai-si said to him, "the hard wind which you have been out in all day has made them a little sore. I'll stew some of those leaves my old grandmother used to say were good for the eyes, and after you have bathed them once or twice, no doubt you will see clearly again."
The lotion was used for a day or two, but the inflammation increased. A great doctor was called in; he looked carefully at the red lids and the thin, ever-spreading film covering the eyes, and prescribed a steam bath, into which he threw certain herbs. It did no good, and a great medicine man was sent for. He
came with ceremony, dressed in a bear-skin robe, carrying a bag of mysterious medicines, and shaking his rattles as he entered the lodge. Seating himself by the patient, he asked many questions as he examined the swollen eyes. At last he inquired if Pi-wap´-ōk had experienced unpleasant dreams of late.
"Yes," the sick man replied, "the night before this affliction came upon me, I had a terrible dream; you remember that I killed two Crow warriors this spring when we had the battle with them at the Yellow River. Well, I was fighting it all over again in my sleep. I had stabbed and taken the scalp of one Crow, and was turning to struggle with the other, when the dead one sprang up, all bleeding and sightless, the loose skin of the forehead hanging over his eyes, and with a loud cry struck me with the war-club still hanging from his wrist. Then I woke, frightened and trembling from the awful sight."
"Ah!" said the medicine man, after thinking a little. "That explains it all; the ghost of some enemy you have killed is near here, and is blinding you in some mysterious way. Well, let me get to work; perhaps I can drive him away."
He opened the medicine bag and took from it a long pipe stem painted red and black, to which was tied a small buckskin sack, ornamented with the feathers of certain small birds, and curious claws and teeth. No one but he knew what was inside the little sack; it was his secret helper. "Hai-yu," he cried to it, entreatingly. "Hai-yu, you certain thing of the earth. Help me now; help me to drive away the ghosts from this sufferer's eyes. As you long ago told me in my dreams to do, favored one of the Sun, that I will now do. Intercede for us all here to-day; ask the Sun to have pity on us all; to grant us long life, good health, and sufficient food."
Such was his prayer. He knelt beside Pi-wap´-ōk, and began an ancient medicine song, shaking his rattles and motioning the unseen spirit to depart. At times he picked up the long stem and blew through it on the inflamed eyes, calling out at the end of every breath: "Whooh! Ghost, retire."
"How do you feel?" he asked, when about to leave, after many songs and prayers, and blowings through the stem.
"Oh," Pi-wap´-ōk replied, "I can't say that
[paragraph continues] I see any plainer, but I think my eyes are not so painful."
"Ah!" the medicine man said, "that is but natural; you cannot recover at once; when we have driven the ghost away for good, then it will still take time for the eyes to become clear."
After some days it was found that the medicine man's charms had failed. One after another, the doctors and mystery men of the tribe were called in. This was expensive. One demanded two horses, another a gun and blanket, another three horses; another would not step inside the lodge until he had been paid ten horses. One by one Pi-wap´-ōk's herd changed hands; little by little the store of soft robes and food disappeared, and the lodge became bare. But the afflicted one did not get well. For a time he could see objects dimly, then they became mere shadows; then the light went out entirely. Pi-wap´-ōk was blind.
It was hard for the man who had led such an active life to sit idly in his lodge day after day. He visited but little from lodge to lodge, for he did not like to ask any one to lead him about here and there. His wife was kind,
cheering him with her constant talk and making light of their great misfortune. She worked hard to provide things as of old, by tanning for a share the hides and skins brought in by hunters. The people were all kind. They did not forget how generous the blind one had been in his prosperous days, and they came daily to relieve his poverty with gifts of meat, and even tongues and pemmican. Of an evening the chiefs and warriors would assemble in his lodge as before, to smoke and talk and cheer his spirits. Through all the pain, and the darkness of constant night, Pi-wap´-ōk kept up a good heart, though at times, when he thought of the sunlight shimmering over the yellow prairie and painting the tops of the distant mountains with wondrous color, he was very sad to think that he was never again to behold it all, never again to join in the chase, never again to experience the fierce joy of battle. One thing that kept him up was the thought that by some good chance he might, some day, be cured. He remembered the stories of the ancient ones who had been made well by their brothers, the animals of the plain and forest, of the air and the water, and he thought that they might help
him too, if only he had an opportunity to meet them.
The people were camping along the foothills of the mountains, and one evening, after a long day's travel, the lodges were pitched by a wooded stream, and right under a high sandstone cliff which formed one side of the valley. The next morning, while yet the people slept and even the dogs were quiet, while not a stir of any kind broke the stillness of the camp, Pi-wap´-ōk, restlessly turning on his bed, heard the shrill cry of a bald eagle (Ksik´-i-kinni, white-head), now near, now far, as it circled around and around above the valley. In his mind he saw the great bird soar, now high, now low, with scarcely a movement of its powerful wings, saw the flash of golden light on its body as it turned to the rising sun. "Ah," he thought, "if my sight were only as good as that bird's, how happy I should be! Far up in the air, it looks down upon the world, and nothing escapes its eye, from the great brown buffalo quietly grazing to the little ground squirrel hunting about its hole for a root of grass."
Presently the camp awoke to another day of
the chase, of toil, of feasting, and of play. Í-kai-si arose, built a fire, and cooked the morning meal. A friend dropped in to share it and tell of a recent exciting bear hunt. Pi-wap´-ōk scarcely heard him, for he was still thinking of the great bird swinging so strong and free in the blue sky above. All at once he realized that here, perhaps, was the opportunity he had long sought; here, close by, was a "little brother," as his fathers called them, more keen-eyed than any other living thing. Surely it knew how to keep the eyes bright and clear, how to cure them if they became diseased. "Friend," he said to his guest, "this morning, when all was still, I heard a whitehead sounding its cry as it circled around above us. Did you happen to see it?"
"Yes," the man replied, "it has a nest here, and just as I came in I saw it carrying something to feed its young. Far up on the cliff by which we are camped is a short pine-tree, growing out from the climbing rock; there, in the branches, the bird has built its home."
"Friend," Pi-wap´-ōk cried; "it is as I thought: my chance has come. I beg you to
guide me to that place, for I believe the traveller of the sky can cure me."
"Hai-ya," the friend exclaimed, "you know not what you ask. With my good eyes, and seeing plainly where to cling and step, it would be a hard task to reach that height; for you it would be sure death to attempt the climb."
"Even so," the blind one replied, "yet must I try to do it. Death comes in many ways. It stares us in the face at every turn. Wherever we go, whatever we do, it lies in wait for us, like a panther for the deer by a forest trail. I am not afraid; have pity and help me try to reach that nest."
Í-kai-si cried, and begged him to think no more of such a dangerous thing; the friend told how straight and high the cliff was, how difficult to climb, but they talked in vain. He said that if no one would help him, he would go alone, on until he fell and died. At length, seeing that he was not to be turned from this which he had set his mind upon, the friend consented to be his guide, and they started.
It was but a few steps to the foot of the cliff, where the fallen rocks made a sloping hill; they soon surmounted this, and then the climb
began. Sometimes they were side by side, the leader guiding the blind one's hands and feet, and again he was ahead, and reaching down would pull Pi-wap´-ōk up on a narrow shelf. All the people of the camp stood watching them with wide-staring eyes, and as the two went on, higher and higher, over places where it seemed there was no jutting rock to offer foothold, they held their breath, fearing, expecting, that the next step would be the climbers' last.
Pi-wap´-ōk's courage won. At last, tired and breathless, they came to where the gnarled and stunted tree hung to the cliff's face by its giant roots. "Hai!" said the guide; "I never thought we would reach it; here we are at last. And now, what next?"
"Help me up into the nest."
"That I cannot do. There is no room for more than one. The limb would break if both of us were on it."
"Then," said Pi-wap´-ōk, "I will go alone," and he began to climb out on the trunk, his friend telling him just where to reach for a hold on the spreading branches. Then came the most dangerous feat of all, to climb over the rim of the wide and loose-sticked nest; but
that too was accomplished, and the tired man lay down in its hollow beside the scared and hissing fledglings. "Go," he called out to his friend, "go and leave me for a time here alone."
The young man climbed on up to the summit of the cliff, and walked away to a distant point, where he waited until he should be called.
Pi-wap´-ōk lay motionless; the young birds ceased their frightened cries, and all was still save for the breeze, which sung through the tree-top with a mournful sound. If the limb on which the nest was built gave way from his added weight, he knew that he would fall upon the rocks far below, a crushed and shapeless mass. It was an uneasy and frightful thought.
And now from afar the parent bird espied him in the nest, and swooped down with a terrible rushing roar, like far-off thunder. Down, down, she came, swift as an arrow, to the very edge of the nest, and then soared upward with a bound, the rushing air behind swaying the tree as if a hurricane was passing. Again and again, four times in all, the bird made a rushing
dive at the helpless man, and each time he heard its nearing cry he prayed, crying out that he had not come to harm its young, but to ask its aid. And at last the whitehead seemed to understand, for after the fourth fierce rush, it slowly sailed around and settled on the edge of the nest.
"Hai-yu," Pi-wap´-ōk cried, "be you male or female, father or mother of these young birds, as you love them, pity me."
"I am their mother," the bird replied, "and, since you have called upon me in their name, say what is in your mind; I will help you if I can."
Then the blind one told of his affliction, and how through great danger and sore distress of mind he had climbed the cliff, hoping the great bird might cure him.
"Alas," said the whitehead when he had finished, "what you ask is beyond my power; nor could my husband, who is away hunting, help you. None of my kind could make you see again, for we have never had occasion to treat the eyes. We live to great age, but our eyes remain strong and clear to the very end."
Pi-wap´-ōk wept. "Alas!" he cried, "how
my hopes have fallen. This long and dangerous climb, after all, brings no relief."
"Not so," said the bird. "I cannot give you sight, but in other ways I can do much for you. Here is a feather from my tail; take it, and keep it carefully, and you shall live to old age. And since you are helpless in your blindness, I will do more. I will teach you many wonderful things, and will give you power to heal the sick. Then you will not sit sad and idle in your lodge. The people will keep coming for you to go here and there to heal them and to practise your mysterious rites, and you will be so busy that you will forget your blindness."
Then the bird began, and through the long morning taught Pi-wap´-ōk, showing him the secret of many wonderful things, telling him how and what to use for certain ailments. It took a long time to explain it all, and just as the bird finished, the blind one fell asleep.
After a little he awoke. "Put out your hand and feel," the whitehead said. He did so and found he was lying on grassy ground.
"You are on the prairie at the top of the cliff," the bird continued;" your friend is sitting
away over there on a point. Rise up and motion him to come, for I must leave you now."
When the young man saw him beckoning, he came running with all his might. "Ah!" he cried, as he came near, "you are cured."
"No," Pi-wap´-ōk replied. "I am still as blind as ever."
"Then how came you here? How could you climb that awful cliff and still be blind?"
"I do not know," said Pi-wap´-ōk. "I was asleep in the whitehead's nest, and when I awoke I was here."
The way home was easy, for they followed the rim of the valley to a point beyond the cliff, and then descended a sloping hill. And when they had arrived at camp the people came crowding around to hear all that had happened.
As the whitehead had said, Pi-wap´-ōk became a great medicine man and healer of the sick, and, through the secret power that the bird gave him, he was able to do many strange things. He and his wife, Í-kai-si, lived to a great age. He was the greatest healer the Bloods have ever had.