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A FIERY RUNAWAY
OTHER," said young Phaeton, "is it true, as you have always
told me, that the bright sun-god is my father?"
"Yes, my son," she replied. "I have told you the
"But, mother," he said, "the boys do not believe me
when I tell them that. They laugh at me and say I only
brag. How may I know for sure that I am his son?"
"My boy," she answered, "the land of the sun lies next
to ours. Go, find your father there, and he will tell
you, as I do, that you belong to him."
The lad was glad to go. He traveled to India, and
found there the palace of the sun. It was more
splendid than anything he had ever seen. The ceilings
were ivory, the doors were silver, the columns were
bright with gold and precious stones. There were
pictures and carvings of everything in the sky, on the
earth, and under the water.
Through the open doors the boy saw the god sitting upon
his throne. His robe was purple, and around his head
were rays of piercing light. The Day, the Month, the
Year, and the Hours, stood near him. Spring was there,
crowned with flowers; Summer, wearing a garland
ears of grain; Autumn, with his feet stained with
grape-juice; and Winter, white with frost.
Phaeton was surprised and frightened at all of this.
The sun-god saw him, and said, "Whence do you come, and
what are you seeking?"
The lad answered, "They tell me that you are my father.
If it is true kindly give me some proof that will make
The sun-god said, "It is true; and the proof is that
whatever you now ask I will give you!"
"Dear father," cried the youth, "for one single day let
me drive your chariot."
The sun-god shook his head. "You do not know what you
are asking. This makes me sorry for my promise. Not
one of the gods could drive my car. The road is steep
at first, the middle part is very high, and I myself am
almost afraid when I see the earth and sea so far below
me. The last part of the road goes down very suddenly,
and there is danger of falling. The sky with its stars
is forever turning around, and I must be very careful
that it does not carry me away.
"Besides, there are monsters up there. You must drive
by the horns of the Bull, past the Lion's jaws, near
the Archer with his arrows, and between the Scorpion
and the Crab. The horses are wild, their breath is
fire, they pull hard upon the reins. Ask something
else; do not hold me to this."
Phaeton said, "It is that one thing that I want to do.
You must keep your promise, and I will take the risk."
The father was sorry, but he had to keep his word.
 He led his son to the golden chariot. The Dawn
opened the gates of the East. The paths outside were
strewn with roses. The stars began to march away, last
of all the Day-star. The Hours harnessed the horses.
Phaeton mounted the seat. The sun-god said, "Hold the
reins tight, and do not use the ship. Follow the track
the wheels have made. Do not rise too high or sink too
low. The middle of the way is best and safest."
Phaeton took the reins. The horses leaped up and
plunged forward. They understood that a stranger was
driving them. He could not keep them in the road.
They went so near the Great Bear that she was scorched
with heat, and the Little Bear was frightened and tried
to run away. The Serpent around the North Pole was no
longer cold, but warm. He lifted up his head and began
to hiss and wriggle his huge body. The plowman picked
up his plow and ran.
Phaeton wished he had never undertaken to drive. He
forgot the names of the horses, and could not remember
whether to whip or to hold the reins tight. The Lion
roared at him, the Bull bellowed, the Crab snapped its
claws, the Scorpion stretched out its dreadful arms.
The frightened boy dropped the reins. The horses went
high up in the sky, then plunged down almost to the
earth. The snow melted on the tops of the Alps. The
clouds on the Apennines were driven away. The forests
on the mountains took fire. The springs and streams
were dried up. Flames caught the grain in the fields
and swept away the villages. Great cities became
roaring furnaces. Heat and fire and smoke covered the
 The smoke rose up into the sky and made it black before
Phaeton's eyes. The ashes were blown into his face by
The rivers began to boil. The Nile ran up into the
desert and his head, so that it was never found until
lately. The sea bubbled and steamed. Poseidon tried
to look up to see what was the matter, but the heat
drove him down. The ground cracked, and Pluto saw a
strange and dreadful light shine into his kingdom.
Earth, wild with fear, called upon Zeus for help.
"Save us, O king of the gods," she cried. "have mercy
upon us before it is too late. The grass, the trees,
the cattle, and mankind are perishing. Save us
quickly, O Thou, that rulest all!"
Zeus was excited and angry. He called the sun-god and
all the others and said to them, "You can see that this
must stop. I must bring this wild drive to an end. I
am sorry for the young man, but this cannot go on."
He went up into his high tower and threw a thunderbolt
which struck Phaeton. His hair was already on fire.
He fell, like a shooting star, into a deep river. The
sun-god ran out and caught the horses and drove them
into the right way. The wild ride was over.