IN the forest there is a beautiful spirit. All the beasts and all the birds are dear to him, and he likes to have them gentle and good. One morning he saw some of his little white hares fighting one another, and each trying to seize the best of the food.
"Oh, my selfish little hares," he said sadly, "why do you fight and try to seize the best of everything for yourselves? Why do you not live in love together?"
"Tell us a story and we will be good," cried the hares.
Then the spirit of the forest was glad. "I will tell you a story of how you first came to live on the green earth with the other animals," he said, "and why it is that you are white, and the other hares are not."
Then the little hares came close about the spirit of the forest, and sat very still to hear the story.
"Away up above the stars," the gentle spirit began, "the sky children were all together one snowy day. They threw snowflakes at one another, and some of the snowflakes fell from the sky. They came down swiftly between the stars and among the branches of the trees. At last they lay on the green earth. They were the first that had ever come to the earth, and no one knew what they were. The swallow asked, 'What are they?' and the butterfly answered, 'I do not know.' The spirit of the sky was listening, and he said, 'We call them snowflakes.'
"'I never heard of snowflakes. Are they birds or beasts?' asked the butterfly.
"'They are snowflakes,' answered the spirit of the sky, 'but they are magic snowflakes. Watch them closely.'
"The swallow and the butterfly watched. Every snowflake showed two bright eyes, then two long ears, then some soft feet, and there were the whitest, softest little hares that were ever seen."
"Were we the little white hares?" asked the listeners.
"You were the little white hares," answered the spirit, "and if you are gentle and good, you will always be white."
The hares were not gentle and good; they were fretful, and before long they were scolding and fighting again. The gentle spirit was angry. "I must get a firebrand and beat them with it," he said, "for they must learn to be good."
So the hares were beaten with the firebrand till their ears were black as night. Their bodies were still white, but if the spirit hears them scolding and fighting again, it may be that we shall see their bodies as black as their ears.