The Food that Belonged to All
Once upon a time there was a family that went by the name of Badger, because every one, from Grandmother to the smallest child, was as industrious as those diligent little creatures. They lived in a forest in America and belonged to the tribe of the Sioux. There were no cities in America then and the Americans were strong and handsome and sunburnt because they lived out-of-doors and made everything they needed for themselves. Everything they made, whether it was a birch-bark cradle or a buckskin shirt, was decorated with beautiful patterns and colours, just as the birds and flowers were decorated and adorned.
Even the buffalo-skin bags in which they kept the winter stock of provisions were painted in bright patterns, so that the shelves of their caves and their tepees were as gay as flower gardens in summer, and all the children who ran in and out were as pretty as butterflies.
One day a stranger came to beg for a little food; he told a sad tale that his spring-planting had not been successful and his family was starving. Gladly the Badgers gave of their store, for the corn was high and loaded with fat ears; the pumpkins were golden and the beans were hanging in great clusters, every pod well-filled. When the stranger thanked them, the father Badger shook his head smiling and said: “Nay, my brother; thank the Great Spirit who has sent this plentiful supply; food belongs to all His children. Eat what you will.”
They were surprised the next day, however, to see their guest return with a small child, his son, who carried a rough bag, unpainted and badly sewn together. The stranger now said his name was Bear and asked somewhat timidly if they could spare a little food for his children at home. His small boy looked so thin and hungry that the Badger children could not bring him enough and soon his frightened face began to smile and he and his father went off, lugging their bag loaded to the brim. The next day the Badger family went out to gather in the bean harvest, but when they returned, singing thankful songs and rejoicing in the thought of the Great Father’s kindness, whom should they see but Mr. Bear and five children seated round the entrance to their home. But there was so great a harvest that they were glad enough to share it with the Bears who went away with their arms full.
The Badgers noticed this evening, however, that already the visitors looked plumper and the father Bear no longer spoke in a humble, whining voice, but shouted to this one or that and picked over the food that was offered to be sure he only took the best.
When, next day, the Bear’s wife arrived with seven children and a little sled to which a dog was harnessed, the grandmother Badger shook her wise old head, but the father and mother Badger would not say no, and they went out to the corn patch and laid beautiful green ears, tasselled with pale gold, upon the sled, and bade the Bears farewell and a good journey as if they were their kin.
But the next day Mr. Bear turned up again and so it went, each day the Bears appearing more and more impudent and fat and strong as they waxed vigorous on the food the Badgers had provided. Now the grandmother demurred openly and even Mrs. Badger wondered that the Bears did not offer to render some small service in return for all this food, but Father Badger persisted that their part was but to give to their brothers who were in need, even as the Great Spirit gave to them. “Food belongs to all,” said he, and that was the end of it.
Presently they noticed what a great interest the Bears took in the preparations for the winter; in fact, Mr. Bear was almost rude in the way he hectored and scolded and blustered, saying that their crops should have been gathered in long before this and the little Badger children should not be allowed to play at all or run in the forest looking for flowers whose juice dyed pretty colours.
“Get all the food together,” cried Mr. Bear. “It is senseless to waste time on making things beautiful. A man cannot live on beauty; beauty does not fill his stomach. Let the children seek berries, and dry and store those if you like. I am partial to berries when my dinner is over and I cannot eat another morsel of tallow or pemmican. But all this painting of bags and this trimming with beads and feathers is of no use to any one.”
From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.