60 HOW BALL-CARRIER FINISHED HIS TASK
was a witch. ' And let us agree that the one who wins shall have the right to kill the other.'
' Oh, certainly,' said Ball-Carrier ; ' and I don't think we shall find a flatter course than the prairie itself—no one knows how many miles it stretches. We will run to the end and back again.'
This being settled they both made ready for the race, and Ball-Carrier silently begged the good spirits to help him, and not to let him fall into the hands of this wicked witch.
' When the sun touches the trunk of that tree we will start,' said she, as they both stood side by side. But with the first step Ball-Carrier changed himself into a wolf and for a long way kept ahead. Then gradually he heard her creeping up behind him, and soon she was in front. So Ball-Carrier took the shape of a pigeon and flew rapidly past her, but in a little while she was in front again, and the end of the prairie was in sight. ' A crow can fly faster than a pigeon,' thought he, and as a crow he managed to pass her and held his ground so long that he fancied she was quite beaten. The witch began to be afraid of it too, and putting out all her strength slipped past him. Next he put on the shape of a hawk, and in this form he reached the bounds of the prairie, he and the witch turning homewards at the moment.
Bird after bird he tried, but every time the witch gained on him and took the lead. At length the goal was in sight, and Ball-Carrier knew that unless he could get ahead now he would be killed before his own door, under the eyes of his wife. His eyes had grown dim from fatigue, his wings flapped wearily and hardly bore him along, while the witch seemed as fresh as ever. What bird was there whose flight was swifter than his ? Would not the good spirits tell him? Ah, of course he knew; why had he not thought of it at first and spared himself all that fatigue ? And the next instant a humming bird, dressed in green and blue, flashed past the woman