A Tale with Two Heroes
There is a beautiful lake in the West in the shape of a big foot. Its banks are gay with wild flowers and its shores are lined with pebbles. Hills covered with great forests of oak and maple surround the lake, and large fishes sport in its waters. There is a little river running out of it, and there are many springs rising up into it from the sandy bed below.
There used to be a little pond down at one side of the toe of this big water foot, in which there were a great many kinds of living creatures at different seasons of the year, but they all died a peculiar death at last.
This is how the pond came. There were seasons when the lake was very high. It could not contain all the water that came into it and the little outlet could not carry off the extra water fast enough. Then the lake overflowed its banks and the waters ran into a hollow near by and there was the pond. At first the pond was full of bright, clear water, and people left their row-boats in "the bay," as they called it. They said the boats were safe there, because they could not be carried by the winds out into the lake.
A little boy whose name was Max, lived in an old-fashioned house down by the lake. The pond was right in front of the house, and he loved to play in the boats or dig in the mud on the banks. He made little ships and sailed them on the pond, and he picked up flat stones from the lake shore and threw them across the pond. When the stones touched the water, they would glance up and fly along through the air and then touch the water again. Max called this making the stones skip.
When there were long hot seasons, the water began to dry out of the pond, and sometimes it was so dry that Max could almost walk across it. Bulrushes, cat-tails, reeds, and yellow water-lilies grew in the mud, and wild iris. Sometimes the pond was perfectly purple with wild iris. Snakes, lizards, snails, and worms crawled in its slimy bed, and toads hopped all around its shores. You ought to have seen the army of tiny little toads that sometimes came out into the road.
You would have thought that there was a crusade in the toad family. Max thought that they were very cunning. After a shower he used to see hundreds of them. Angle worms crawled up out of the mud by the thousand, and Max wondered where they came from. He asked some other boys about it and they said the angle worms dropped down out of the sky, and Max believed it for awhile. Frogs lived in the pond, and croaked and sang very loudly at night when Max went to bed.
Max did not sleep very well, and he often lay awake and listened to them. He used to wake in the night, and he would get up and sit by the window and look out upon the pond. He often saw a great white cloud standing over it. It was a misty vapor coming up from the pond. Beyond it was a forest where a lonesome whip-poor-will sang, and Max imagined the mist to be a great giantess in a white robe, and the call of the bird to be the song of the giantess.
After awhile Max's father thought the pond was a bad thing to exist so close to a town, for many children were sick with a terrible fever. So he took his wagon and his shovel and started out for a hill where the roads were bad. And he hauled a great deal of dirt down to the pond and threw it in until there was not any pond left, but there was a little park instead. And he smoothed down the bad road at the same time, so that he left a good one in its place, and he never asked any one to think about it or remember it. Indeed, he never once thought himself a hero, and did not expect any thanks. If any one had praised him, he would have been greatly astonished.
In the olden times, there was another pond; it was at the foot of a high mountain, and the mists which rose out of it were poisonous, so that the people living near had dreadful fevers. There was no one to fill up the pond with dirt, but the sun came out and shone very brightly, and drove the vapors away, and after awhile there was a story about it which all the people told each other, and they believed it. This is the story:
Old Earth was the mother of everything. She was the mother of all the animals, and of seeds which grow up into beautiful shapes. When rivers and lakes which overflowed their banks went back to their beds, the people found all sorts of living creatures under the stones, and in the mud. "So it must be that the earth is the mother of them," they said.
There was one great creature, the Python, which was like a serpent, and it rose from the earth very early and went out to destroy men. So ravenous and greedy was it, that it devoured multitudes.
People grew sick and died from its terrible breath; and they fled before it for a long time. At last, however, there came a great hero who carried a golden bow with golden arrows. He had never before shot at anything but timid animals, like the goat or deer or rabbit. But now he aimed a thousand arrows at the serpent.
The snake grew weaker and weaker from his many wounds, and died. Then the people rejoiced, and the hero, for fear his deed would be forgotten, gave commands that there should be festivals held in his honor, called the Pythian games, at which the men and boys should run races and sing songs.
The prize for the victor was a wreath of laurel, and he also received a palm-branch. In this way this hero was remembered eight hundred years, but the one who turned the pond into a park was forgotten in less than a week.
I wonder which you think was the greater hero, the man who filled the pond by hard labor, digging and carrying dirt, or the god which shot the golden arrows at the serpent. And I wonder whether old Python is ever seen nowadays, and if he still destroys men with his poisonous breath.