Here is a story written by my son, Christian, age 14.

Tramps, as you probably well know, are usually not very likable creatures. I say “creatures” because I, myself, have often been in doubt as to the species ?Eor gender ?Eof most tramps that I meet. Tramps, like trolls, eggs, and Picasso’s paintings, can be bad. If you have parents, they have most certainly told you not to speak with strangers ?EI don’t count. I am talking to you from the ruins of a glue factory, using paper and ink. I could not hurt you even if I tried, and I assure you that I would not want to try ?Eand your parents were right about that. Tramps are strangers, even tramps that you meet and befriend are still strangers, partly because you shouldn’t have been talking to them in the first place, so how did you befriend them? They almost definitely have lured you into their trap of companionship. Did you know that eighty-seven percent of all underage deaths are somehow related to tramps? And did you further know that, although it may be true, I completely made up that statistic? But, as you should know, tramps are either deviously dastardly or refreshingly simple. However, both kinds will do almost anything for food, money, or football game tickets. They have no rules about how to get these. They have a special gift for baiting children -though I have no idea where they get that candy, or where it ends up if the child is smart enough to stay away. Robbery, burgalary, and theft are all in a days work for the devious tramp. That is why, my friend, if you should meet a tramp, you should either keep a tight grip on the .45 in your pocket, or should be so nice to him he doesn’t know what to do.

But this story is about one of the few tramps I have ever heard of that is a likeable creature. Perhaps creature is not the right word anymore, for I know for a fact that this tramp was human, and male. Indeed, tramp might not be the right word either. Neither hobo nor bum nor mailman is an accurate discreption of this man. Perhaps “homeless person” would be right. He worked for his bread -though he would accept whatever else you had to eat ?Eslept in a shed ?EI merely said “shed” to be poetic. He slept wherever he could rest his head. Eeergh! I mean lay down anywhere though he had no bed. I give up ?Eand could talk for hours on any subject except for fir trees. He confessed to me when I consented to write this that although he knows elephants, deciduous trees and the surface area of Mars, he has always gotten his pine trees mixed up since he was little.

Anyway, this likeable character traveled far and wide across the land, breathing deeply of the air and composing songs that would most likely bore you and you have probably never heard of. Most of them were either called “Dimples in the Rain” or “Pyramid the Winter Snow”. He was extremely put out when he found that someone had already wrote those songs. As you can most likely tell me, if you have heard one or both of those songs, that they get rather dull after a while, especially if they are sung solo. This the homeless person found out after an hour of singing them.

When our story begins, he was wandering through the forest outside of Igot’emsburg when he stumbled over the house of Mrs. Vanilla Vanderdoitzch. I say stumbled because he did. He was on his way up the mossy slope of what he though was a small hill when he stumbled on the top her chimney. It was a nice chimney; made out of aluminum cans and string. It would have been nicer if it did not have a dead crow tied to it, and if the lady of the house had not lost her wedding ring down it. This should not have been a great loss, partly because she had never liked her husband and had married him only for his amazing discovery of what frog intestines were for, and partly because the ring should ahve emerged in the fireplace down below. This was why the chimney was not as nice as it could have been. Somewhere along the five foot extention of metal pipe, the ring had vanished. Of course, Mrs. Vanilla, as she disliked to be called, blamed jackdaws, magpies, and other birds of that sort, which hopefully explains the dead crow tied to her chimney.

Now we must intrude of the Mrs.’s privacy to explain the iratablness of her nature. She was irritable. I hope that explains it, because I have no other good reason as to Why? She was a crabby old lady and that’s all there is to it. Maybe, though, her husbands anscestors might have some thing to do with it. Maybe she thought herself cursed that she had to marry someone who knew so much about the properties of frogs’ intestines and had such a long line of idiots and dodos as the ancestral host that greeted him in heaven. Or, as she fervently hoped, in hell.

For a full geneology of the Vanderdoitzch clan, read on, bcause I am about to write it down. First, you must realize that it was part of the Vanderdoitzch tradition to change your name every few generations. So, instead of Vanderdoitzch it should be What now is Vanderdoitzch. Here they are:

Yuohus Vanderdoitzch was begat by Sumwonkil Des Idyot was begat by Sir Pleezsumbadykil des Idyot was begat by Ledodo de Frans was begat by Fredrick the Irascible was begat by Theodore the Odor was begat by Fredrick the Crabby was begat by Hoonamedmyson Fredrick was begat by EfuwantunomeinamegotuIQdegradationdotcom was begat by Fredrick the Slightly Crazed was begat by Wotareleefetisthatnobadeez-namedfredrick was begat by Mome the Not Quite All There was begat by Georg the Singly Alert.

(For the geneology of Mrs. Vanilla Vanderdoitzch turn to page three hundred twenty six of the index of Tramps Tales which I have not bother to write down and therefore does not exist.)

So now it is slightly more understandable about why Mrs. Vanilla Vanderdoitzch was a little annoyed. Or more than a little.

While I have been explaining to you why there was a dead crow on the chimney, the Tramp was massaging his ankle patiently. I am glad he waited. If he had not I would have had to tell you a different tale. One about taxidermists and machetes and orange punch and oysters and Muslim priests. This one is much more intresting, I assure you, with no Brazilian jujitsu or any such nonsense.

Anyway, back to the Tramp. While he massaged his ankle, he gazed about him at the silent forest. The ground was not very attractive, but for some reason, that’s were his eyes had rested most of the day. Now he lifted them up and stared at the trees rising in immense heights above the smaller trees who rose high above the smaller trees who rose high among the bushes and shrubs that were sprinkled around on the forest floor in no particular order. He noticed that although he could glimpse the sun through the holes in the wooded roof it was raining. And what was even more strange was that it was raining only on the spot where he was sitting. And what was even more strange, the Tramp noticed when he jumped up, was that there was an old lady standing behind him higher on the hillside. A watering can was clenched in her claw-like hand that glistened with some sort of liquid. At least, he thought it was liquid. The water-can glistened, not her hand, though that may have glistened to if she had put a glistening sort of stuff on it.

In any case, the water in her can having long since been poured out, she surveyed the Tramp with a hairy eyeball. For those of my readers who have no idea what a hairy eyeball is, I am sorry I cannot explain. I can safely say it has nothing to do with pieces of keratinized skin sticking out from one’s eye. It an expression that is beyond words (a strange place for an expression to be in). Think of the worst look your parents, assuming they are your parents, have ever given you, and imagine it was given by the President, and imagine that the President was a complete stranger, and imagine that the President was a very shriveled old lady with a glistening watering can clasped in her bony hand, and imagine that it was in the dead of night in the middle of a windstorm, and imagine that the lady’s eye was so far back in her head that you had to squint to see it. Add that all up, square it, divide it by two and multiply it by all the low score’s you have ever gotten on school reports and quizes. That was not exactly what the Tramp felt, but it was fun to write and to scare you. He was not in the least upset by a glowing eye inches from the front of her face.

Standing up (and almost falling over from the slope of the hill), he bowed his way closer, and sweeping off his cap to remove a pinecone that was stuck there, replaced it with a flourish, and spoke to the part of the woman he hoped was her head, “Well, hello. Just about in time too. When’s lunch?”

As you see even the best mannered homeless person may become rather rude when they are hungry.

The old lady (Mrs. Vanilla, as we call her) squinched her face up as she poked at his chest, which was about the height of her head, and demended irascibly, “Who in tunder’eads are you? An’ who you talkin’ to up tere?”

The Tramp gave a start and shifted his sight downwards a few feet. “Pardon me ma’am, but can you perhaps give me a drop or two . . . um . . . a bowl or two of soup or something else. Preferably edible.”

Mrs. Vanilla squeezed her face into an extraordianary contortion and asked, “An what will you give me? I don’t sit up ‘ere all day just to feed tramps.”

The Tramp stiffened. “I prefer homeless person,” he began heatedly, but the Mrs. interupted him.

“‘Omeless person? Don’t got none of tem round ‘ere. There’s chopping wood an’ watering vegebles, and chasing away the black squrriels, don’t care which of tem you prefer, but no ‘omeless peoples.”

Relaxing slightly, the Tramp followed her to the base of the hill. There he stopped in astonishment. Hundreds of black squrriels were scampering around the forest floor, tearing and eating anything edible, sometimes even other of their species. The Tramp felt a curious sensation in his lower leg. Looking down hastily, he saw a squirrel busily gnawing through his stout leather boot. He shook it off, stepped on it, and left it for the others, hurrying into the house lest another should deem his footwear enjoyable for consumption.

The door to Mrs. Vanilla’s house was a sturdy one made of oak, and its rusty hinges had certainly never been opened nor closed as quickly as they were that minute. For the Tramp wasted no breath or time getting into the relative safety of the house. Indeed, the hinges almost fell apart under the unexpected use.

The old lady was busy stirring a very unappetizing-looking and -smelling sort of broth. Every now and then she hunkered over the huge black pot and slurped a little out of the spoon. The heat from the stove, combined with the slurping of the Mrs., the disagreableness of the smell, and the general oppresiveness of the room, made the Tramp feel rather sick. He sat upon the hearth and mopped his brow with a large scarf which he had aquired somewhere, which fortuanately had no fire blazing on it. It was a lady’s scarf, of the finest . . . whatever they make make nice ladies’ scarfs out of. Try as he might, he could not remember where he had gotten it. Wherever he had come by it, it was soaking with sweat and watering-can liquid. He tossed it into the flames, forgetting that there were no flames, and . . .

Excuse me. Note regarding eariler statement found to be false. (Whatever.) It so happened, I have put down, in letters of plain ink, the words, in plain English, “ . . . mopped his brow with a large scarf . . . which fortuanately had no fire blazing on it.” This is meant to mean the hearth had no fire, et cetera. Hope you will forgive the intrusion, but the correction had to be made. If you prefered it the other way, change it back. Over and Out.

Where was I? Oh yes.

Mrs. Vanilla had caught him trying to litter her fire. Or no fire, as the case may be. Her eys were as sharp as talons. Indeed, she had cut her little finger just the other day while attempting to put on her spectacles. “What you tink you are doing? Stinkin’ up my luvly ‘ome with your sweat an’ grime? Get it out!”

The Tramp gave a start upon hearing his name, certain that he had never told the lady. Finally he realized that her use of the word “grime” was not as a proper name - I’m not sure how proper the name Grime is anyway - but as an expression that might have in fact been a swear word earlier in the century. And so, sighing heavily, the Tramp reached for the scarf to whisk it out of sight and this story. But, here comes a very important part (VIP) in this tale, so I will begin another paragraph for emphasis.

But, as he exteneded his fingers, a hunger-crazed rodent (a.k.a. squirrel) came tearing through the door. Spitting splinters of wood thither and yon, he raced around the house until the irascible host picked him up and deposited him in a convenient saucepan that stood ready on the stove for that purpose. The most important part (MIP) however, happened as soon as the squirrel breached the door. A malevolent gust of wind caught up the scarf just as the Tramp’s fingers closed, and whirled it up the chimney.

“What you tink you doin’?”

The Tramp spun around guiltily, hiding his sooty hand behind his back. “Um . . . Just cleaning . . . uh, Yes. Cleaning out your chimney.” Here followed a smile showing as many teeth as a crocodile, but in a pleasing, I’m-not-going-to-eat-you way.

Mrs. Vanilla’s needle-like gaze roved over him, trimming his moustache and hovering perilously close to his eyes. At last she smiled. The Tramp thought she looked a little like a bat, half-starved and almost dead. It was not at all pleasent to see. “Well ten,” she said grinning again most horribly. “If you clean out my chimbley, I will give you to eat as much as you can hold.”

Thinking this a very good arangement, the Tramp stuck his hand back up the chimney.

The first thing he encountered was a squirrel’s nest. The squirrel was not amused.

The second was a bucket of rotten eggs, which promptly fell and scattered its mostly broken contents across the floor. The host was not amused. (By the way, neither I nor the Tramp, nor the host, nor the squirrel, nor the Prime Minister of Great Britain, knows what that bucket was doing up there.)

The third thing was a skunk. I won’t go into detail, but, as you can imagine, the skunk was not amused and neither was the Tramp.

Finally after a great many similar mishaps, the Tramp pulled down the scarf. He was ready to stop there ?Ehis clothes stank, his face and hands were sootily dirty, his knees were tired, his eyes were watering, and a slight wound on his forehead inflicted by and chimney-climbing cleaver ached terribly.

The lady of the house had no such infirmaties, and she pretended no one else did either. She literally pulled him to his feet by his beard, ignoring his protests. But then came a crucial moment (ACM). As he was dragged to his feet, the Tramp almost lost hold on the scarf, and it un-wadded, for he had wadded it up before wiping away his sweat. And out of this un-wadding scarf, a dead toad plummeted to the floor. Unfortunately, before it reached its destination, it was snatched out of the rather stifling air by the capable hand of Mrs. Vanilla Vanderdoitzch.

“What’s tis? What is tis enet’s mout?”

The Tramp peered over. “It appears to be a ring.”

“I know it’s a ring, you idyot.”

They were right. Clamped tightly in the tightly clamped mouth of the toad was a large golden wedding ring. Some sort of inscription was inscribed on the inside, but the Tramp couldn’t read it at this distance.

“My ring! You’ve found my ring!” Mrs. Vanilla did a complicated dance step around the sparsley laid table, while the Tramp lowered himself into a shockingly understuffed armchair.

“Here, here, sit down, sit down.”

The Tramp was pulled forcibly from the chair and deposited on a stool adjoiing the table. A large clay bowl was set in front of his face, and a wooden spoon was thrust into his hand.

“Come, come. Eat up, eat up,” said the host, repeating herself as before, and grinning like a painfully cheerful skull. And filling his bowl with the disagreeable broth he had noticed earlier. It was, in fact, a very thick porridge, sludging around the raisins that were sprinkled on top. “The sooner you feenish, the sooner you can leave. The sooner you feenish . . . ”

“The sooner I can leave,” the Tramp finished, gingerly taking a bite. “I know, I know.” I don’t think he noticed that he just repeated himself. He did notice, however, that the oatmeal was extremely tasty, and if he forgot about the smell, it was about as good a breakfast as he had ever eaten.

Mrs. Vanilla seemed strangely happy to the Tramp, considering that she had never really liked her husband that much. For, you see, the Tramp had had a lot of contact with people and knew how they acted. She was perched on the edge of her chair with barely constrained excitement, and when she got up to refil his bowl she skipped over to the cauldron and back like a drunk cricket. And she was humming a tune, of all things!

The Tramp was neither deviously dastardly nor refreshingly simple, as I have said all Tramps must be. He was quick-witted and moderately kind, and he realized at once that something that had happened recently had changed her mood. So he began laying plans to find out what it was.

Once when the Mrs. had just refilled his bowl for the fourth time, the Tramp (or perhaps, homeless person) asked, “Where did you get the ring?”

Instantly her manner changed. “Wat do you want to know about it? Et’s mein! You ‘omeless person, you! Keep yer long nose outter mein buisness!”

“May I look at it for one second?” the Tramp wheedled.

“Nein!”

“Pretty please with cream on top?”

“Waste of cream,” was what Mrs. Vanilla said, but she gave him the ring, though she hovered over his shoulder the entire time he held it.

The ring was circular and warm, as it had been clutched it Mrs. Vanilla’s fist for the most recent part of its existence, and made of white gold. As the Tramp turned it in his fingers ( . . . Bagginssss . . . Bagginsss . . . ) he noticed that one the inside curve there were the aforementioned letters. Peering as a close as he dared with Mrs. Vanderdoitzch surveying, the Tramp could read them to himself.

After a great deal of reseach and bribery, I have been informed from semi-reliable sources, that the writing in the ring said:

. . . . . . , . . . . ., . . . . . . . . . . . . . .., , . . . ., . . . . . . . . . . ,.

As you can see, it was hard to read, being rather small. So here it is again, bigger:

The treafure if underneath the big ftump behind the houfe.

It was in curiously old English, with F’s for S’s and such, so, if you want it again:

The treasure [treafure] is [if] underneath the big stump [ftump] behind the house [houfe].

The Tramp was overjoyed, Mrs. Vanilla was less so.

“Vat?! Why are you smiling?”

Some inner spirit warned the Tramp to keep silent so he thought up a perfect falsehood in a splitsecond.

“Nothing.”

“Liar! Liar! There is something dere, is dere not?”

Instead of answering the Tramp dropped the ring on the table and resumed eating his bowl of porridge, humming a little song to himself. (It was called “Dimples in the Rain”.)

Mrs. Vanilla’s mind was going 120mph in a 35mph zone. She knew the gyst of the message on the ring ?Eher husband had let her in on the secret ?Ebut she knew that if she let the Tramp go, he would find the treasure first and there would be a scant remainder for the elderly (meaning herself). But Mrs. Vanderdoitchz had a large weapon that the Tramp had failed to reckon with.

An enormous magnifying glass.

It was nine inches across, with a steel frame encirling the lens. The lens itself was capable of magnifying a flea’s hair so much it resembled a thick cable. With this formidable instrument, she would have no trouble reading the minute inscription on the ring. But she had to keep the Tramp occupied. And soon, her frightfully agile mind had come up with a simple solution.

Sticking the last spoonful of oatmeal between his upper and lower lip, the Tramp pushed back from the table. “Well thank you very much, Mrs. Vanderdoit. I hope I have done you an even, if not similar, service by clearing your chimney of debris.” The Tramp always talked like this when he was full.

Mrs. Vanilla smiled grittily. Then, as if struck by a sudden thought, she catapaulted out of her chair like someone being cross-examined. “Vait! You have never heard the old law concernink borrowed gruel?”

The Tramp stopped in the act of opening the door, twisting his head around to blink at her. “No . . . um . . . What is it?”

Mrs. Vanilla Vanderdoitchz drew herself up to the absolute limit of her sparse height and cackled regally, “To whom mush is given, mush is required.”

Turning around with amazing speed, the Tramp stared at the old woman’s intuition. He caught sight of it hovering in the air behind her head, and stared again. It was astounding. She had thought of everything. He could not refuse; the ancient laws of debt forbade. He could only do what she said until she was no longer his creditor.

Then she spoke again, and her voice could have slathered a cake in false nicety and hidden triumph. “But, since you ‘ave been so kind to me, I will let you go if you will do dis: You must walk down the road straight ahead. Never looking back or turnink around. If you do, reporting you to the borrowing ausorities is vat I vill do.”

It took the Tramps some time to even consider nodding. His heart was hammering, his lungs were sawing, his brain was drilling holes, but they could not build an idea. Then suddenly his pancreas brought out a box of wrenches and everything clicked! The Tramp’s head went up a down, signifying a nod.

“Goot,” said Mrs. Vanilla. “Now off you go.”

And the last we see of her, she is waving cheerily to the Tramp, the back of her head constantly occupied with her giant magnifying glass and the little ring.

But she did not know the hearts of homeless people. As I have said, he was neither deviously dastardly or refreshingly simple. He was quick-kinded and moderately witted as I have also mentioned before. Quick witted and moderately kind. And he had guessed the existence of a magnifier, guessed what the Mrs. was up to, guessed that she was planning to look at the ring later, guessed that she did not know the whereabouts of the treasure, and guessed that the ring was her only breakthrough. He had surmised all this and had done the only thing possible, which you or I would probably had never thought of (even with the help of our pancreas), and so, as he walked down the road, picking his way around the dying and living bodies of black squirrels, whistling the tune that later made him famous (“However High You Are, There’s Always A Chance Of Falling”), he would now and then raise his brown hand to his eyes, for on his little finger there gleamed a shining circlet of white gold.

More on: Poetry & Stories

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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