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The Story of A Winged Tramp by Fletcher Reade


Tramps, you think, are a modern invention, and a very disagreeable one, too; but if you had chanced to live so long ago as when the earth was young, you would know that the institution is a very old and honorable one.

You would have heard, too, in that far-off golden age, of the winged tramp—a beautiful youth who spent his life in travelling from place to place, sometimes on the earth, sometimes in the air, walking or flying as the humor seized him: a merry fellow withal, and the very Prince of the wandering brotherhood.

He was, indeed, a true Prince, for his father, Zeus, was King of Olympia, and his mother, Maia, was descended from the Titans, an ancient and royal family.

Instead of living in the grand Olympian palace, however, Maia preferred to remain in her own home—a beautiful grotto on the hill Kyllene, and it was here that the young Prince Hermes was born.

Even then babies were wonderful beings, as they are now, and always must be; but of all astonishing and precocious infants Hermes was certainly the most remarkable.

Cuddled and wrapped in his cradle, and six hours old by the sun, he leaped to his feet, and ran swiftly across the hard, uneven floor of Maia's cave.

Just outside the door he spied a tortoise.

"Aha, my fine fellow!" said this wonderful baby, "you are just the person I wished to see."

The tortoise was so taken by surprise that he could not find a word to say, and by the time he had made up his mind that the best thing for him to do was to get out of the way, there was nothing left of him to get away with, for the baby Prince had thrust out his eyes, and had converted his shell into a lyre.

Hermes smiled as he held it between his hands, and then, seating himself by his mother's side, he began to sing, recounting to her all the most wonderful events of her life.

It was now that Maia discovered for the first time that her baby wore on his feet a curious pair of sandals, on each of which grew tiny wings.

She turned quickly to clasp him in her hands, for she knew by the sign of the winged shoes that he would soon fly away from the little grotto of Kyllene.

But Hermes sprang out of her reach, and laughed gayly as she chased him about the cave, hardly stopping to turn his head as he bounded past her, and out into the open air, carrying his lyre in his hand, and wearing on his head a funny little hat, on which were two wings like those upon his shoes.

Faster and faster he flew, now floating on the wind like a swallow, now bounding over the earth, and now rising just above the tops of the highest trees.

This was the little tramp's first journey, and his errand, I am sorry to say, was a very wicked and mischievous one; for no sooner did he see the cows of Prince Apollo feeding in the pastures of Pieria than he decided to steal a couple of them for his breakfast, and to let the rest stray away. Having accomplished this piece of mischief, he went back to his cradle, gliding through the open door as swiftly and softly as the summer wind.

Phœbus Apollo soon discovered what had happened, and started off in pursuit of the robber; but Hermes was by this time fast asleep.

"What! I steal your cows!" he exclaimed, rubbing his eyes, as Apollo stood at the door of Maia's cave. "I beg your pardon, but I do not even know what a cow is."

Then he laughed to himself, and hid his face under the clothes; but Apollo was not to be deceived, and Hermes was compelled to leave the pleasant grotto, and appear before Zeus to answer for his crime.

Still the little tramp denied the theft: "No, no," he said, "I never stole a cow in my life. I do not know a cow from a goat. I, indeed!" And the boy turned on his heel, laughing as he spoke.

"Hermes," said Zeus at length, from his royal throne, "it is useless for you to try longer to deceive us. Return the cows, make up the quarrel, and Apollo will forgive the theft."

Hermes saw that his secret was discovered, and confessed his fault as gayly as he had before denied it.

Prince Apollo was still somewhat out of humor, but as the boy led him back along the sandy shores of Pieria, he told such pleasant stories and sang such bewitching songs that the angry Prince began to smile, and at last declared that the music was worth the loss of a hundred cows.

Hermes, who was as generous as he was mischievous, immediately made Apollo a present of his lyre, and Apollo, not to be outdone, gave him in return a magic wand. This wand, which was so cunningly carved that it looked like two serpents twining around a slender rod, was called a caduceus, and Hermes carried it with him in all his wanderings.

After Apollo and Hermes had exchanged presents, they swore eternal friendship to each other; and then, having pointed out the place where the cows were hid, Hermes hurried back to Olympus.

Having once tasted the delights of travel, he could not endure the thought of a quiet humdrum life in the little cave at Kyllene, and he besought the King to send him on some foreign mission.

Zeus, pleased with the boy's adventurous spirit, appointed him his special Ambassador.

Light of foot and light of heart was the bright-haired messenger of the gods, the very merriest tramp that ever walked, or flew, or ran.

Sometimes he showed to travellers the road they had lost, and sometimes he led them far out of the way, stealing their purses, and then laughing at their tears.

On one occasion, having found Zeus in great distress because the Queen had determined to kill Io, a lovely young girl of whom the King was very fond, he declared that he alone would save her.

Zeus at first changed Io into a heifer, but the Queen discovered the secret, and sent Argus, a monster with a hundred eyes, to watch her.

It seemed impossible that the lovely Io could escape, and the poor old King was in despair.

"Trust me," said the cheerful Hermes, "I will manage the matter."

Swifter than a cloud that flies before the wind, he glided through the air until he reached the spot where the monster lay in wait for Io.

With one touch of his wand Hermes put the beast to sleep, and before he had time to wink even one of his hundred eyes Argus was dead.

It would take too long to tell of all the wonderful deeds which Hermes, the "Argus slayer," the messenger of the gods, performed.

Wherever he went he was greeted with prayers and songs and gifts, for although he sometimes wrought more harm than good, the winged tramp was always a welcome visitor both to gods and men.