The Joker, An American Indian Story

by Unknown

This story is about Lox. He called himself the joker, and he was very proud of his jokes; but nobody else could see anything in them to laugh at.

One day he came to a wigwam where two old Indians were taking a nap beside the fire. He picked out a burning stick, held it against their bare feet, and then ran out and hid behind the tent. The old men sprang up, and one of them shouted to the other:

“How dare you burn my feet?”

“How dare you burn my feet?” roared the other, and sprang at his throat.

When he heard them fighting Lox laughed out loud, and the old men ran out to catch the man who had tricked them. When they got round the tent they found nothing but a dead coon. They took off its skin, and put its body into the pot of soup that was boiling for dinner. As soon as they had sat down, out jumped Lox, kicking over the pot and putting out the fire with the soup. He jumped right into the coon’s skin and scurried away into the wood.

In the middle of the forest Lox came upon a camp where a party of women were sitting round a fire making pouches.

“Dear me,” said Lox, looking very kind. (He had put on his own skin by this time.) “That’s very slow work! Now, when I want to make a pouch I do it in two minutes, without sewing a stitch.”

“I should like to see you do it!” said one of the women.

“Very well,” said he. So he took a piece of skin, and a needle and twine, and a handful of beads, and stuffed them in among the burning sticks. In two minutes he stooped down again and pulled a handsome pouch out of the fire.

“Wonderful!” said the women; and they all stuffed their pieces of buckskin and handfuls of beads into the fire.

“Be sure you pull the bags out in two minutes,” said Lox. “I will go and hunt for some more buckskin.”

In two minutes the women raked out the fire, and found nothing but scraps of scorched leather and half-melted glass. Then they were very angry, and ran after the joker; but he had turned himself into a coon again and hidden in a hollow tree. When they had all gone back to their ruined work he came down and went on his mischievous way.

When he came out of the wood he saw a village by the side of a river. Outside one of the wigwams a woman was nursing a baby, and scolding it because it cried.

“What a lot of trouble children are,” said Lox. “What a pity that people don’t make men of them at once, instead of letting them take years to grow up.”

The woman stared. “How can a baby be turned into a man?” she asked.

“Oh, it’s easy enough,” said he. So she lent him her baby, and he took it down to the river and held it under the water for a few minutes, saying magical words all the time; and then a full-grown Indian jumped out of the water, with a feather head-dress, and beaded blankets, and a bow and quiver slung over his back.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” said his mother, and she hurried back to the village to tell her friends the secret. The last thing Lox saw as he hurried away into the wood was a score of mothers drowning their children.

On the path in front of him Lox spied a couple of maidens, and they were trying to reach the fruit that grew on a wild plum-tree. The joker stepped on one side and broke a twig off another plum-tree and stuck it in his hair. The twig sprouted fast, and grew into a little plum-tree with big plums hanging from its twigs. He went along the path, picking and eating the plums as he walked, till he came up with the girls.

“Wonderful!” said they. “Do you think we could get plums like that?”

“Easily,” said he and he broke off two little twigs. “Stick these in your hair, and you will have head-dresses like mine.”

As soon as the twigs were stuck in their hair the little plum-trees began to grow, and the maidens danced with joy, and picked the juicy plums and ate them. But the trees went on growing, and the roots twisted in among the maidens’ hair and clutched their heads like iron fingers. The girls sat down, for they couldn’t carry all that weight standing. And still the trees grew, till the girls lay down on the ground and screamed  for some one to come and rescue them. Presently their father came along, and he pulled his axe out of his belt and chopped off the trees, and tugged at the roots till they came off—but all the maidens’ hair came off too. By this time Lox took care to be scampering away through the wood in the shape of a coon.

When he came near the next village Lox put on a terrified face and began to run; and he rushed into the middle of the village, shouting: “The plague is coming! The plague is coming!”

All the people flocked out of their wigwams, crying: “Where is it coming from? Which way shall we fly?”

“Stay where you are and make your minds easy,” said Lox. “I have a charm that will keep off all the plagues under the sun. As soon as I have spoken the words, every man must kiss the girl nearest him.” Then he stretched up his hands toward the sun and said some gibberish; and when he stopped and let his arms fall, each man made a rush and kissed the girl who happened to be nearest.

But there were not quite as many girls as there were men, and one old bachelor was so slow and clumsy that every girl had been kissed before he could catch one.

“Never mind,” said Lox cheerfully. “You go to the next village and try again.”

So the old bachelor set out, plod, plod, plodding through the woods. But Lox turned himself into a coon again, and scampered from tree to tree, and got first to the village. When he told the people the plague was coming, and they asked how they could avoid it, he said: “When I have spoken my charm, all the girls must set upon any stranger that comes to the village, and beat him.” Then he flung his arms up and began talking his gibberish. Presently the old bachelor came up, hot and panting, and stood close to the handsomest girl he could see, all ready to kiss her as soon as the charm ended. But as soon as Lox finished, the maidens all set upon the stranger, and beat him till he ran away into the woods.

Then the people made a great feast for Lox; and when he had eaten his fill of deer-meat and honey, he marched off to play his tricks somewhere else. He had not gone very far when he came to the Kulloo’s nest. Now the Kulloo was the biggest of the birds, and when he spread his wings he made night come at noonday; and he built his nest of the biggest pine-trees he could find, instead of straws. The Kulloo was away, but his wife was at home trying to hatch her eggs. Lox was not hungry; but he turned himself into a serpent, and crept into the nest and under Mrs. Kulloo’s wing, and bit a hole in every egg and ate up the little Kulloos. When he had done this, he was so heavy and stupid that he couldn’t walk very far before he had to lie down and go to sleep.

Presently the Kulloo came home.

“How are you getting on, my dear?” he said.

“Not very well, I’m afraid,” she said. “The eggs seem to get cold, no matter how close I sit.”

“Let me take a turn while you go and stretch your wings,” said the Kulloo. But when he sat down on the empty eggs they all broke with a great crash.

The Kulloo flew off in a terrible rage to find the wretch who had eaten up the eggs, and very soon he spied Lox snoring on the grass.

“Now I’ve caught him,” said the Kulloo; “it’s Lox, the mischief-maker.”

He pounced down, and caught hold of Lox by the hair and carried him a mile up into the sky, and then let go. Of course, Lox was broken into pieces when he struck the earth, but he just had time as he fell to say his strongest magic:

“Backbone! Backbone!
Save my backbone!”

So as soon as the Kulloo was out of sight the arms and legs and head began to wriggle together round the backbone, and then in a twinkling Lox was whole again.

“I shouldn’t like that to happen very often,” he said, looking himself over to see if every piece had joined in the right place. “I think I’ll go home and take a rest.”

But he had traveled so far that he was six months’ journey from his home; and he had made so many enemies, and done so much mischief, that whenever he came into a village and asked food and shelter the people hooted and pelted him out again. The birds and the beasts got to know when he was coming, and kept so far out of his way that he couldn’t get enough to eat, not even by his magic. Besides, he had wasted his magic so much that scarcely any was left. The winter came on, and he was cold as well as hungry, when at last he reached a solitary wigwam by a frozen river. The master of the wigwam didn’t know him, so he treated him kindly, and said, when they parted next morning:

“You have only three days more to go; but the frost-wind is blowing colder and colder, and if you don’t do as I say you will never get home. When night comes, break seven twigs from a maple-tree and stand them up against each other, like the poles of a wigwam, and jump over them. Do the same the next night, and the night after that if you are not quite home; but you can only  do it thrice.”

Away went the joker, swaggering through the woods as if nothing had happened to him, for now he was warm and full. But soon the wind began to rise, and it blew sharper and sharper, and bit his face, and pricked in through his blanket.

“I’m not going to be cold while I know how to be warm,” said he; and he built a little wigwam of sticks, and jumped over it. The sticks blazed up, and went on burning furiously for an hour. Then they died out suddenly. Lox groaned and went on his way. In the afternoon he stopped again, and lit another fire to warm himself by; but again the fire went out. When night came on he made his third fire wigwam; and that one burned all night long, and only went out when it was time for him to begin the day’s march.

All day he tramped over the snow, never daring to stop for more than a few minutes at a time for fear of being frozen to death. At night he built another little wigwam; but the twigs wouldn’t light, however often he jumped over them. On he tramped, getting more and more tired and drowsy, till at last he fell in his tracks and froze. And that was the end of Lox and his jokes.