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Ta-ka the Mosquito and Khandatagoot the Woodpecker

by James Frederic Thorne

 

“As Foolish as One Who Shoots Arrows at Mosquitoes.”

Zachook, with a half amused, half sympathetic smile at my futile efforts to slaughter a small percentage of the mosquito cloud that enveloped us, made a smudge of leaves, and I willingly exchanged the tortures of being eaten alive for those of slow strangulation in the acrid smoke.

My remarks had been neither calm nor patient, consisting mainly of my entire vocabulary of opprobrious adjectives and epithets several times repeated and diversified, aided by a wide, but wholly inadequate, range of profanity in the various languages at my command. And, to digress slightly, I would recommend the study of Arabic and Spanish to those feeling a similar need; they do not meet all requirements of forcible expression, but they add some wonderful flights of imagination to the more practical English expletives.

Zachook was apparently as unimpressed as the mosquitoes, but when I had recovered some portion of my breath and equanimity, remarked: “He who shoots with his tongue should be careful of his aim.”

Choking with anger and smoke I could only splutter in reply, while Zachook continued:

“Ta-ka is Ta-ka, and Yaeethl is Yaeethl.”

“What has the Raven to do with these insufferable pests? Has he not enough to answer for without linking his name with these suckers of blood? Yaeethl is Yaeethl, but Ta-ka is Ta-ka.”

“Yaeethl or Ta-ka. The get of the Raven are ravens, and from Yaeethl comes Ta-ka the Biter.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

“When the selfishness of men had driven the gods from the earth, the Great Ones held a council in Tskekowani, a potlach in the World Beyond. All the gods were there. They talked of the sins of men and of the punishments that should be visited upon them. Long they talked.

“Then Theunghow, Chief of Gods, called each by name, and bade him name his sending.

“And each god named a sickness, a pain, or a killing.

“At one side stood Oonah the Death Shadow, and in his hand held his quiver. And as each punishment was named, into his quiver placed Oonah an arrow, sharp-pointed, swift-flying, death-carrying.

“The quiver was full, and all had spoken, all save Yaeethl the Raven, who by the cook pot sat smiling, eating.

“To Yaeethl spoke K'hoots the Grizzly, saying:

“'Dost thou send nothing, Brother? Behold, the Quiver of Death is full, and from the Raven is there no arrow of punishment for men. What arrow gives Yaeethl?'

“'Why bother me when I am eating? Is there not time after the pot is empty? Many arrows there are. Because men insult me shall gods spoil my eating?' Thus spoke the Raven as he scraped the pot.

“Then Hckt the Frog urged, saying:

“'Art thou a god, or is thy belly a god, that in the council the Raven takes no part?'

“'A god am I, and a god have I been since the Beginning, thou son of wind and slime. But that my ears may be no longer troubled, a little punishment will I send, that the sons of men forget me not. No arrow from Yaeethl shall find place in Oonah's quiver. Arrow and messenger both will I send. Thy punishments carry the peace of death, mine the torment of life.'

“'And this punishment of thine?' asked Hckt, sneering.

“And Yaeethl, as from the pot he cleaned the last morsel, replied:

“'Ta-ka.'

“Of all the punishments named by the gods, the first to reach the earth was that of Yaeethl,—Ta-ka the Mosquito.

“To Khandatagoot the Woodpecker, the simple-minded, went Ta-ka, and from the Woodpecker claimed hospitality. And the rights of a stranger gave Khandatagoot to Ta-ka, gave him a place by the fire, and of his food a share, for his head a shelter, treating him as the son of a sister is treated. Together they fished and hunted, together they ate and slept. Of the hunting and fishing the chief part was Khandatagoot's, of the eating and sleeping Ta-ka's, Ta-ka who from Yaeethl came.

“On a morning the Woodpecker fixed his canoe, and alone to the hunt went the Mosquito.

“All day was Ta-ka gone. Low hung the sun when to camp he returned. Slow flying came the Mosquito, and as blood is red, so was the body of Ta-ka, and swelled mightily.

“Then was the Woodpecker frightened, thinking his friend wounded, and crying, ran to help him. To the ground sank Ta-ka, but no wound could Khandatagoot find.

“Many questions asked the Woodpecker, and to them Ta-ka replied:

“'No hurt have I, but full is my belly, full of the choicest eating that ever made potlach. Yet much did I leave behind, the feasting of many months did I leave.'

“Then was the belly of Khandatagoot pinched with hunger for this good eating, and of Ta-ka claimed his share.

“On the tongue of the Woodpecker placed Ta-ka a drop, saying: 'No more can I give of what I have eaten, but as you have shared with me, so shall I share with you. The fill of many bellies is there left.'

“'Where is this sweet eating?' asked Khandatagoot, 'Tell me the trail that I too may feast until my wings are heavy.'

“'No trail is there, Brother. The red juice of a dead tree is this eating, a dead tree in the forest. It's name I know not, but hunt, and you shall find it. Go quickly, lest others get there first.'”

       * * * * *

“And since then,” said Zachook, throwing another handful of leaves on the fire, “since then the Woodpecker spends his days seeking in dead trees the red juice that flows in the veins of live men.”

[Illustration]

 
 
 

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