I N a valley in Africa, surrounded by high mountains and wide deserts, there once lived a race of very little people called Pygmies. The tallest man among them was no larger than a year-old baby.
They had little villages of houses just big enough for them to stand up in. They had tiny chariots in which to ride. Their bowls and dishes were the size of those which little girls use for dolls' tea parties.
They ate fruit and berries and small fish which the Pygmy fishermen caught in the river in nets made of goat's hair.
Some wore tunics of mole and squirrel fur, while others had small garments made by the Pygmy women from flax which they had spun and woven.
Altogether they were very happy little people, except only at one time of year, when the cold and the snow drove the cranes from northern countries, and sent them south.
These great long-billed birds liked to fly to Africa and spend the winter where the weather was warm and pleasant.
Wherever they alighted, they ate all the fruit from the trees and the berries from the bushes. They ruined the cornfields and trampled the flax.
The Pygmies did not want the cranes to stop in their valley or on the hills around them. So the little men armed themselves with clubs and stones, and tried to drive the great birds away.
The Pygmies armed themselves and tried to drive the great birds away.
Each year many of the cranes were killed, yet every season as the birds flew south they continued to stop at the Pygmies' valley and steal grain and fruit from their fields and gardens. Sometimes they even carried away the Pygmy babies.
Sometimes the cranes even carried away the Pygmy babies.
Now it happened that in the valley next to that of the Pygmies there lived a giant named Antaeus. He was the little people's friend and helped them in their war against the cranes.
Antaeus was the son of Neptune and the Earth. His power was unconquerable so long as his feet touched the ground, for the strength of the Earth seemed to flow into his body.
Hercules, hearing of Antaeus, wished to try his strength, and came to Africa to wrestle with the giant.
When the Pygmies learned that Hercules had come to fight with their friend, they climbed the hill overlooking Antaeus' valley, and hid themselves behind trees to watch.
Hercules challenged the giant and they locked their mighty arms around each other. Over and over they rolled, crashing down trees and scattering rocks as they wrestled. But the struggle did not tire Antaeus, for his feet still touched the earth.
At last Hercules realized that Antaeus got his strength from Mother Earth. He lifted him high in the air, and the magic strength of Antaeus left him. He grew limp and weak and lifeless, so Hercules won the fight. Tired out, he lay down to rest.
The Pygmies grieved to see Antaeus overcome. They stole down from the hilltop and would have done harm to Hercules as he lay asleep. They formed in battle line, seized their tiny spears and shields, and marched upon him, but Hercules awakened at the first prick of their little spears, and laughed at them as they charged against him and beat upon his legs.
He gathered a few of them in his arms and carried them back to Greece, intending to give them to the children of his king.
At first the poor little Pygmies were badly frightened. On the journey, Hercules carried them carefully in a pouch made of his lion's skin cloak. He let them keep their heads out, that they might see the lands through which they passed. He fed them honey and fruit, and soon the Pygmies grew fond of him, and seemed quite happy and contented.
When he reached his own land he gave them to the children of King Eurystheus for pets.
Hercules gave them to the royal children for pets.
We do not know what happened to the strange little people in their new home, but it is certain that they must have enjoyed all the new and wonderful sights, and the children of King Eurystheus must have found great happiness in their new friends.
It is very likely that the little princesses made them garments of linen and silk, and fed them from the daintiest of their dishes.
The Pygmies may have sat with them at lessons, and learned much wisdom.
It is pleasant to hope that one day, wise and traveled and experienced beyond any of their race, they returned to Africa to their own people, and shared with them the wonders they had seen in Greece.