There was a man and his wife who had one daughter. Mother and

daughter were deeply attached to one another, and when the latter

died the mother was disconsolate. She cut off her hair, cut gashes

in her cheeks and sat before the corpse with her robe drawn over

her head, mourning for her dead. Nor would she let them touch the

body to take it to a burying scaffold. She had a knife in her

hand, and if anyone offered to come near the body the mother would


"I am weary of life. I do not care to live. I will stab myself

with this knife and join my daughter in the land of spirits."

Her husband and relatives tried to get the knife from her, but

could not. They feared to use force lest she kill herself. They

came together to see what they could do.

"We must get the knife away from her," they said.

At last they called a boy, a kind of simpleton, yet with a good

deal of natural shrewdness. He was an orphan and very poor. His

moccasins were out at the sole and he was dressed in wei-zi (coarse

buffalo skin, smoked).

"Go to the tepee of the mourning mother," they told the simpleton,

"and in some way contrive to make her laugh and forget her grief.

Then try to get the knife away from her."

The boy went to the tent and sat down at the door as if waiting to

be given something. The corpse lay in the place of honor where the

dead girl had slept in life. The body was wrapped in a rich robe

and wrapped about with ropes. Friends had covered it with rich

offerings out of respect to the dead.

As the mother sat on the ground with her head covered she did not

at first see the boy, who sat silent. But when his reserve had

worn away a little he began at first lightly, then more heavily, to

drum on the floor with his hands. After a while he began to sing

a comic song. Louder and louder he sang until carried away with

his own singing he sprang up and began to dance, at the same time

gesturing and making all manner of contortions with his body, still

singing the comic song. As he approached the corpse he waved his

hands over it in blessing. The mother put her head out of the

blanket and when she saw the poor simpleton with his strange

grimaces trying to do honor to the corpse by his solemn waving, and

at the same time keeping up his comic song, she burst out laughing.

Then she reached over and handed her knife to the simpleton.

"Take this knife," she said. "You have taught me to forget my

grief. If while I mourn for the dead I can still be mirthful,

there is no reason for me to despair. I no longer care to die. I

will live for my husband."

The simpleton left the tepee and brought the knife to the

astonished husband and relatives.

"How did you get it? Did you force it away from her, or did you

steal it?" they said.

"She gave it to me. How could I force it from her or steal it when

she held it in her hand, blade uppermost? I sang and danced for

her and she burst out laughing. Then she gave it to me," he


When the old men of the village heard the orphan's story they were

very silent. It was a strange thing for a lad to dance in a tepee

where there was mourning. It was stranger that a mother should

laugh in a tepee before the corpse of her dead daughter. The old

men gathered at last in a council. They sat a long time without

saying anything, for they did not want to decide hastily. The pipe

was filled and passed many times. At last an old man spoke.

"We have a hard question. A mother has laughed before the corpse

of her daughter, and many think she has done foolishly, but I think

the woman did wisely. The lad was simple and of no training, and

we cannot expect him to know how to do as well as

one with good home and parents to teach him. Besides, he did the

best that he knew. He danced to make the mother forget her grief,

and he tried to honor the corpse by waving over it his hands."

"The mother did right to laugh, for when one does try to do us

good, even if what he does causes us discomfort, we should always

remember rather the motive than the deed. And besides, the

simpleton's dancing saved the woman's life, for she gave up her

knife. In this, too, she did well, for it is always better to live

for the living than to die for the dead."