Young Folks' Treasury: Myths and Legendary Heroes by Hamilton Wright Mabie - HTML preview
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Young Folks' Treasury: Myths and Legendary Heroes
Introduction......................................................................................................................... 5 Baucis And Philemon ......................................................................................................... 7 Pandora ............................................................................................................................. 14 Midas................................................................................................................................. 19 Cadmus ............................................................................................................................. 25 Proserpina ......................................................................................................................... 29 The Story Of Atalanta....................................................................................................... 45 Pyramus And Thisbe......................................................................................................... 46 Orpheus ............................................................................................................................. 48 Baldur................................................................................................................................ 51 Thor's Adventures Among The Jötuns.............................................................................. 62 The Apples Of Idun .......................................................................................................... 71 The Gifts Of The Dwarfs .................................................................................................. 75 The Punishment Of Loki................................................................................................... 79 The Blind Man, The Deaf Man, And The Donkey ........................................................... 82 Harisarman........................................................................................................................ 87 Why The Fish Laughed..................................................................................................... 89 Muchie Lal ........................................................................................................................ 94 How The Rajah's Son Won The Princess Labam ............................................................. 99 The Jellyfish And The Monkey ...................................................................................... 108 The Old Man And The Devils ........................................................................................ 115 Autumn And Spring........................................................................................................ 116
The Vision Of Tsunu ...................................................................................................... 118 The Star-Lovers .............................................................................................................. 120 The Two Brothers ........................................................................................................... 122 The Twelve Months ........................................................................................................ 124 The Sun; Or, The Three Golden Hairs Of The Old Man Vsévède ................................. 130 A Myth Of America: Hiawatha....................................................................................... 138 Perseus ............................................................................................................................ 149 Odysseus ......................................................................................................................... 164 The Argonauts................................................................................................................. 180 Theseus ........................................................................................................................... 201 Hercules .......................................................................................................................... 214 The Perilous Voyage Of Æneas...................................................................................... 225 How Horatius Held The Bridge ...................................................................................... 232 How Cincinnatus Saved Rome ....................................................................................... 234 Beowulf........................................................................................................................... 237 How King Arthur Conquered Rome ............................................................................... 247 Sir Galahad And The Sacred Cup................................................................................... 256 The Passing Of Arthur .................................................................................................... 264 Robin Hood..................................................................................................................... 268 Guy Of Warwick............................................................................................................. 284 Whittington And His Cat ................................................................................................ 293 Tom Hickathrift .............................................................................................................. 300 The Story Of Frithiof ...................................................................................................... 304
Havelok ........................................................................................................................... 316 The Vikings..................................................................................................................... 324 Hero Of Germany: Siegfried........................................................................................... 333 Hero Of France: Roland.................................................................................................. 354 Hero Of Spain: The Cid .................................................................................................. 374 Hero Of Switzerland: William Tell................................................................................. 386 Hero Of Persia: Rustem .................................................................................................. 400
LIST OF BEST BOOKS OF MYTHS AND LEGENDS............................................... 414
Hamilton Wright Mabie, Editor
With such a table of contents in front of this little foreword, I am quite sure that few will pause to consider my prosy effort. Nor can I blame any readers who jump over my head, when they may sit beside kind old Baucis, and drink out of her miraculous milk-pitcher, and hear noble Philemon talk; or join hands with Pandora and Epimetheus in their play before the fatal box was opened; or, in fact, be in the company of even the most aweinspiring of our heroes and heroines.
For ages the various characters told about in the following pages have charmed, delighted, and inspired the people of the world. Like fairy tales, these stories of gods, demigods, and wonderful men were the natural offspring of imaginative races, and from generation to generation they were repeated by father and mother to son and daughter. And if a brave man had done a big deed he was immediately celebrated in song and story, and quite as a matter of course, the deed grew with repetition of these. Minstrels, gleemen, poets, and skalds (a Scandinavian term for poets) took up these rich themes and elaborated them. Thus, if a hero had killed a serpent, in time it became a fiery dragon, and if he won a great battle, the enthusiastic reciters of it had him do prodigious feats— feats beyond belief. But do not fancy from this that the heroes were every-day persons. Indeed, they were quite extraordinary and deserved highest praise of their fellow-men.
So, in ancient and medieval Europe the wandering poet or minstrel went from place to place repeating his wondrous narratives, adding new verses to his tales, changing his episodes to suit locality or occasion, and always skilfully shaping his fascinating romances. In court and cottage he was listened to [pg xiv] with breathless attention. He might be compared to a living novel circulating about the country, for in those days books were few or entirely unknown. Oriental countries, too, had their professional story-spinners, while our American Indians heard of the daring exploits of their heroes from the lips of old men steeped in tradition. My youngest reader can then appreciate how myths and legends were multiplied and their incidents magnified. We all know how almost unconsciously we color and change the stories we repeat, and naturally so did our gentle and gallant singers through the long-gone centuries of chivalry and simple faith.
Every reader can feel the deep significance underlying the myths we present—the poetry and imperishable beauty of the Greek, the strange and powerful conceptions of the Scandinavian mind, the oddity and fantasy of the Japanese, Slavs, and East Indians, and finally the queer imaginings of our own American Indians. Who, for instance, could ever forget poor Proserpina and the six pomegranate seeds, the death of beautiful Baldur, the luminous Princess Labam, the stupid jellyfish and shrewd monkey, and the funny way in which Hiawatha remade the earth after it had been destroyed by flood?
Then take our legendary heroes: was ever a better or braver company brought together— Perseus, Hercules, Siegfried, Roland, Galahad, Robin Hood, and a dozen others? But stop, I am using too many question-marks. There is no need to query heroes known and admired the world over.
As true latter-day story-tellers, both Hawthorne and Kingsley retold many of these myths and legends, and from their classic pages we have adapted a number of our tales, and made them somewhat simpler and shorter in form. By way of apology for this liberty (if some should so consider it), we humbly offer a paragraph from a preface to the "Wonder Book" written by its author:
"A great freedom of treatment was necessary but it will be observed by every one who attempts to render these legends malleable in his intellectual furnace, that they are marvelously independent of all temporary modes and circumstances. They [pg xv] remain essentially the same, after changes that would affect the identity of almost anything else."
Now to those who have not jumped over my head, or to those who, having done so, may jump back to this foreword, I trust my few remarks will have given some additional interest in our myths and heroes of lands far and near.Daniel Edwin Wheeler
Baucis And Philemon
One evening, in times long ago, old Philemon and his wife Baucis sat at their cottage door watching the sunset. They had eaten their supper and were enjoying a quiet talk about their garden, and their cow, and the fruit trees on which the pears and apples were beginning to ripen. But their talk was very much disturbed by rude shouts and laughter from the village children, and by the fierce barking of dogs."I fear," said Philemon, "that some poor traveler is asking for a bed in the village, and that these rough people have set the dogs on him."
"Well, I never," answered old Baucis. "I do wish the neighbors would be kinder to poor wanderers; I feel that some terrible punishment will happen to this village if the people are so wicked as to make fun of those who are tired and hungry. As for you and me, so long as we have a crust of bread, let us always be willing to give half of it to any poor homeless stranger who may come along.""Indeed, that we will," said Philemon.
These old folks, you must know, were very poor, and had to work hard for a living. They seldom had anything to eat except bread and milk, and vegetables, with sometimes a little honey from their beehives, or a few ripe pears and apples from their little garden. But they were two of the kindest old people in the world, and would have gone without their dinner [pg 2] any day, rather than refuse a slice of bread or a cupful of milk to the weary traveler who might stop at the door.
Their cottage stood on a little hill a short way from the village, which lay in a valley; such a pretty valley, shaped like a cup, with plenty of green fields and gardens, and fruit trees; it was a pleasure just to look at it. But the people who lived in this lovely place were selfish and hard-hearted; they had no pity for the poor, and were unkind to those who had no home, and they only laughed when Philemon said it was right to be gentle to people who were sad and friendless.
These wicked villagers taught their children to be as bad as themselves. They used to clap their hands and make fun of poor travelers who were tramping wearily from one village to another, and they even taught the dogs to snarl and bark at strangers if their clothes were shabby. So the village was known far and near as an unfriendly place, where neither help nor pity was to be found.
What made it worse, too, was that when rich people came in their carriages, or riding on fine horses, with servants to attend to them, the village people would take off their hats and be very polite and attentive: and if the children were rude they got their ears boxed; as to the dogs—if a single dog dared to growl at a rich man he was beaten and then tied up without any supper.
So now you can understand why old Philemon spoke sadly when he heard the shouts of the children, and the barking of the dogs, at the far end of the village street.
He and Baucis sat shaking their heads while the noise came nearer and nearer, until they saw two travelers coming along the road on foot. A crowd of rude children were following them, shouting and throwing stones, and several dogs were snarling at the travelers' heels.They were both very plainly dressed, and looked as if they might not have enough money to pay for a night's lodging. "Come, wife," said Philemon, "let us go and meet these poor people and offer them shelter." "You go," said Baucis, "while I make ready some supper," and she hastened indoors. [pg 3] Philemon went down the road, and holding out his hand to the two men, he said, "Welcome, strangers, welcome." "Thank you," answered the younger of the two travelers. "Yours is a kind welcome, very different from the one we got in the village; pray why do you live in such a bad place?" "I think," answered Philemon, "that Providence put me here just to make up as best I can for other people's unkindness."
The traveler laughed heartily, and Philemon was glad to see him in such good spirits. He took a good look at him and his companion. The younger man was very thin, and was dressed in an odd kind of way. Though it was a summer evening, he wore a cloak which was wrapped tightly about him; and he had a cap on his head, the brim of which stuck out over both ears. There was something queer too about his shoes, but as it was getting dark, Philemon could not see exactly what they were like.
One thing struck Philemon very much, the traveler was so wonderfully light and active that it seemed as if his feet were only kept close to the ground with difficulty. He had a staff in his hand which was the oddest-looking staff Philemon had seen. It was made of wood and had a little pair of wings near the top. Two snakes cut into the wood were twisted round the staff, and these were so well carved that Philemon almost thought he could see them wriggling.The older man was very tall, and walked calmly along, taking no notice either of naughty children or yelping dogs.
When they reached the cottage gate, Philemon said, "We are very poor folk, but you are welcome to whatever we have in the cupboard. My wife Baucis has gone to see what you can have for supper."
They sat down on the bench, and the younger stranger let his staff fall as he threw himself down on the grass, and then a strange thing happened. The staff seemed to get up from the ground of its own accord, and it opened a little pair of wings and half-hopped, halfflew and leaned itself against the wall of the cottage.
Philemon was so amazed that he feared he had been dreaming, but before he could ask any questions, the elder stranger [pg 4] said: "Was there not a lake long ago covering the spot where the village now stands?"
"Never in my day," said old Philemon, "nor in my father's, nor my grandfather's: there were always fields and meadows just as there are now, and I suppose there always will be."
"That I am not so sure of," replied the stranger. "Since the people in that village have forgotten how to be loving and gentle, maybe it were better that the lake should be rippling over the cottages again," and he looked very sad and stern.
He was a very important-looking man, Philemon felt, even though his clothes were old and shabby; maybe he was some great learned stranger who did not care at all for money or clothes, and was wandering about the world seeking wisdom and knowledge. Philemon was quite sure he was not a common person. But he talked so kindly to Philemon, and the younger traveler made such funny remarks, that they were all constantly laughing."Pray, my young friend, what is your name?" Philemon asked. "Well," answered the younger man, "I am called Mercury, because I am so quick." "What a strange name!" said Philemon; "and your friend, what is he called?" "You must ask the thunder to tell you that," said Mercury, "no other voice is loud enough."
Philemon was a little confused at this answer, but the stranger looked so kind and friendly that he began to tell them about his good old wife, and what fine butter and cheese she made, and how happy they were in their little garden; and how they loved each other very dearly and hoped they might live together till they died. And the stern stranger listened with a sweet smile on his face.
Baucis had now got supper ready; not very much of a supper, she told them. There was only half a brown loaf and a bit of cheese, a pitcher with some milk, a little honey, and a bunch of purple grapes. But she said, "Had we only known you were coming, my goodman and I would have gone without anything in order to give you a better supper."[pg 5]
"Do not trouble," said the elder stranger kindly. "A hearty welcome is better than the finest of food, and we are so hungry that what you have to offer us seems a feast." Then they all went into the cottage.
And now I must tell you something that will make your eyes open. You remember that Mercury's staff was leaning against the cottage wall? Well, when its owner went in at the door, what should this wonderful staff do but spread its little wings and go hop-hop, flutter-flutter up the steps; then it went tap-tap across the kitchen floor and did not stop till it stood close behind Mercury's chair. No one noticed this, as Baucis and her husband were too busy attending to their guests.
Baucis filled up two bowls of milk from the pitcher, while her husband cut the loaf and the cheese. "What delightful milk, Mother Baucis," said Mercury, "may I have some more? This has been such a hot day that I am very thirsty.""Oh dear, I am so sorry and ashamed," answered Baucis, "but the truth is there is hardly another drop of milk in the pitcher."
"Let me see," said Mercury, starting up and catching hold of the handles, "why here is certainly more milk in the pitcher." He poured out a bowlful for himself and another for his companion. Baucis could scarcely believe her eyes. "I suppose I must have made a mistake," she thought, "at any rate the pitcher must be empty now after filling both bowls twice over.""Excuse me, my kind hostess," said Mercury in a little while, "but your milk is so good that I should very much like another bowlful."
Now Baucis was perfectly sure that the pitcher was empty, and in order to show Mercury that there was not another drop in it, she held it upside down over his bowl. What was her surprise when a stream of fresh milk fell bubbling into the bowl and overflowed on to the table, and the two snakes that were twisted round Mercury's staff stretched out their heads and began to lap it up."And now, a slice of your brown loaf, pray Mother Baucis, and a little honey," asked Mercury.
Baucis handed the loaf, and though it had been rather a [pg 6] hard and dry loaf when she and her husband ate some at tea-time, it was now as soft and new as if it had just come from the oven. As to the honey, it had become the color of new gold and had the scent of a thousand flowers, and the small grapes in the bunch had grown larger and richer, and each one seemed bursting with ripe juice.
Although Baucis was a very simple old woman, she could not help thinking that there was something rather strange going on. She sat down beside Philemon and told him in a whisper what she had seen.
"Did you ever hear anything so wonderful?" she asked.
He knew Baucis could not say what was untrue, but he thought that she had not noticed how much milk there had really been in the pitcher at first. So when Mercury once more asked for a little milk, Philemon rose and lifted the pitcher himself. He peeped in and saw that there was not a drop in it; then all at once a little white fountain gushed up from the bottom, and the pitcher was soon filled to the brim with delicious milk.Philemon was so amazed that he nearly let the jug fall. "Who are ye, wonder-working strangers?" he cried.
"Your guests, good Philemon, and your friends," answered the elder traveler, "and may the pitcher never be empty for kind Baucis and yourself any more than for the hungry traveler."
The old people did not like to ask any more questions; they gave the guests their own sleeping-room, and then they lay down on the hard floor in the kitchen. It was long before they fell asleep, not because they thought how hard their bed was, but because there was so much to whisper to each other about the wonderful strangers and what they had done.
They all rose with the sun next morning. Philemon begged the visitors to stay a little till Baucis should milk the cow and bake some bread for breakfast. But the travelers seemed to be in a hurry and wished to start at once, and they asked Baucis and Philemon to go with them a short distance to show them the way.[pg 7]
So they all four set out together, and Mercury was so full of fun and laughter, and made them feel so happy and bright, that they would have been glad to keep him in their cottage every day and all day long.
"Ah me," said Philemon, "if only our neighbors knew what a pleasure it was to be kind to strangers, they would tie up all their dogs and never allow the children to fling another stone.""It is a sin and shame for them to behave so," said Baucis, "and I mean to go this very day and tell some of them how wicked they are." "I fear," said Mercury, smiling, "that you will not find any of them at home."
The old people looked at the elder traveler and his face had grown very grave and stern. "When men do not feel towards the poorest stranger as if he were a brother," he said, in a deep, grave voice, "they are not worthy to remain on the earth, which was made just to be the home for the whole family of the human race of men and women and children." "And, by the bye," said Mercury, with a look of fun and mischief in his eyes, "where is this village you talk about? I do not see anything of it."
Philemon and his wife turned towards the valley, where at sunset only the day before they had seen the trees and gardens, and the houses, and the streets with the children playing in them. But there was no longer any sign of the village. There was not even a valley. Instead, they saw a broad lake which filled all the great basin from brim to brim, and whose waters glistened and sparkled in the morning sun.The village that had been there only yesterday was now gone! "Alas! what has become of our poor neighbors?" cried the kind-hearted old people.
"They are not men and women any longer," answered the elder traveler, in a deep voice like distant thunder. "There was no beauty and no use in lives such as theirs, for they had no love for one another, and no pity in their hearts for those who were poor and weary. Therefore the lake that was here [pg 8] in the old, old days has flowed over them, and they will be men and women no more."
"Yes," said Mercury, with his mischievous smile, "these foolish people have all been changed into fishes because they had cold blood which never warmed their hearts, just as the fishes have."
"As for you, good Philemon, and you, kind Baucis," said the elder traveler, "you, indeed, gave a hearty welcome to the homeless strangers. You have done well, my dear old friends, and whatever wish you have most at heart will be granted."
Philemon and Baucis looked at one another, and then I do not know which spoke, but it seemed as if the voice came from them both. "Let us live together while we live, and let us die together, at the same time, for we have always loved one another."
"Be it so," said the elder stranger, and he held out his hands as if to bless them. The old couple bent their heads and fell on their knees to thank him, and when they lifted their eyes again, neither Mercury nor his companion was to be seen.
So Philemon and Baucis returned to the cottage, and to every traveler who passed that way they offered a drink of milk from the wonderful pitcher, and if the guest was a kind, gentle soul, he found the milk the sweetest and most refreshing he had ever tasted. But if a cross, bad-tempered fellow took even a sip, he found the pitcher full of sour milk, which made him twist his face with dislike and disappointment.
Baucis and Philemon lived a great, great many years and grew very old. And one summer morning when their friends came to share their breakfast, neither Baucis nor Philemon was to be found!
The guests looked everywhere, and all in vain. Then suddenly one of them noticed two beautiful trees in the garden, just in front of the door. One was an oak tree and the other a linden tree, and their branches were twisted together so that they seemed to be embracing.
No one had ever seen these trees before, and while they were all wondering how such fine trees could possibly have grown up in a single night, there came a gentle wind which [pg 9] set the branches moving, and then a mysterious voice was heard coming from the oak tree. "I am old Philemon," it said; and again another voice whispered, "And I am Baucis." And the people knew that the good old couple would live for a hundred years or more in the heart of these lovely trees. And oh, what a pleasant shade they flung around! Some kind soul built a seat under the branches, and whenever a traveler sat down to rest he heard a pleasant whisper of the leaves over his head, and he wondered why the sound should seem to say, "Welcome, dear traveler, welcome."
PandoraADAPTED BY C.E. SMITH
Long, long ago, when this old world was still very young, there lived a child named Epimetheus. He had neither father nor mother, and to keep him company, a little girl, who was fatherless and motherless like himself, was sent from a far country to live with him and be his playfellow. This child's name was Pandora.The first thing that Pandora saw, when she came to the cottage where Epimetheus lived, was a great wooden box. "What have you in that box, Epimetheus?" she asked. "That is a secret," answered Epimetheus, "and you must not ask any questions about it; the box was left here for safety, and I do not know what is in it." "But who gave it you?" asked Pandora, "and where did it come from?" "That is a secret too," answered Epimetheus. "How tiresome!" exclaimed Pandora, pouting her lip. "I wish the great ugly box were out of the way;" and she looked very cross.
"Come along, and let us play games," said Epimetheus; "do not let us think any more about it;" and they ran out to [pg 10] play with the other children, and for a while Pandora forgot all about the box.
But when she came back to the cottage, there it was in front of her, and instead of paying no heed to it, she began to say to herself: "Whatever can be inside it? I wish I just knew who brought it! Dear Epimetheus, do tell me; I know I cannot be happy till you tell me all about it."Then Epimetheus grew a little angry. "How can I tell you, Pandora?" he said, "I do not know any more than you do." "Well, you could open it," said Pandora, "and we could see for ourselves!" But Epimetheus looked so shocked at the very idea of opening a box that had been given to him in trust, that Pandora saw she had better not suggest such a thing again. "At least you can tell me how it came here," she said.
"It was left at the door," answered Epimetheus, "just before you came, by a queer person dressed in a very strange cloak; he had a cap that seemed to be partly made of feathers; it looked exactly as if he had wings."
"What kind of a staff had he?" asked Pandora. "Oh, the most curious staff you ever saw," cried Epimetheus: "it seemed like two serpents twisted round a stick."
"I know him," said Pandora thoughtfully. "It was Mercury, and he brought me here as well as the box. I am sure he meant the box for me, and perhaps there are pretty clothes in it for us to wear, and toys for us both to play with."
"It may be so," answered Epimetheus, turning away; "but until Mercury comes back and tells us that we may open it, neither of us has any right to lift the lid;" and he went out of the cottage.
"What a stupid boy he is!" muttered Pandora, "I do wish he had a little more spirit." Then she stood gazing at the box. She had called it ugly a hundred times, but it was really a very handsome box, and would have been an ornament in any room.
It was made of beautiful dark wood, so dark and so highly polished that Pandora could see her face in it. The edges and [pg 11] the corners were wonderfully carved. On these were faces of lovely women, and of the prettiest children, who seemed to be playing among the leaves and flowers. But the most beautiful face of all was one which had a wreath of flowers about its brow. All around it was the dark, smooth-polished wood with this strange face looking out from it, and some days Pandora thought it was laughing at her, while at other times it had a very grave look which made her rather afraid.
The box was not fastened with a lock and key like most boxes, but with a strange knot of gold cord. There never was a knot so queerly tied; it seemed to have no end and no beginning, but was twisted so cunningly, with so many ins and outs, that not even the cleverest fingers could undo it.
Pandora began to examine the knot just to see how it was made. "I really believe," she said to herself, "that I begin to see how it is done. I am sure I could tie it up again after undoing it. There could be no harm in that; I need not open the box even if I undo the knot." And the longer she looked at it, the more she wanted just to try.
So she took the gold cord in her fingers and examined it very closely. Then she raised her head, and happening to glance at the flower-wreathed face, she thought it was grinning at her. "I wonder whether it is smiling because I am doing wrong," thought Pandora, "I have a good mind to leave the box alone and run away."But just at that moment, as if by accident, she gave the knot a little shake, and the gold cord untwisted itself as if by magic, and there was the box without any fastening. "This is the strangest thing I have ever known," said Pandora, rather frightened, "What will Epimetheus say? How can I possibly tie it up again?"
She tried once or twice, but the knot would not come right. It had untied itself so suddenly she could not remember in the least how the cord had been twisted together. So there was nothing to be done but to let the box remain unfastened until Epimetheus should come home.
"But," thought Pandora; "when he finds the knot untied he will know that I have done it; how shall I ever make him [pg 12] believe that I have not looked into the box?" And then the naughty thought came into her head that, as Epimetheus would believe that she had looked into the box, she might just as well have a little peep.
She looked at the face with the wreath, and it seemed to smile at her invitingly, as much as to say: "Do not be afraid, what harm can there possibly be in raising the lid for a moment?" And then she thought she heard voices inside, tiny voices that whispered: "Let us out, dear Pandora, do let us out; we want very much to play with you if you will only let us out?"
"What can it be?" said Pandora. "Is there something alive in the box? Yes, I must just see, only one little peep and the lid will be shut down as safely as ever. There cannot really be any harm in just one little peep."
All this time Epimetheus had been playing with the other children in the fields, but he did not feel happy. This was the first time he had played without Pandora, and he was so cross and discontented that the other children could not think what was the matter with him. You see, up to this time everybody in the world had always been happy, no one had ever been ill, or naughty, or miserable; the world was new and beautiful, and the people who lived in it did not know what trouble meant. So Epimetheus could not understand what was the matter with himself, and he stopped trying to play games and went back to Pandora.
On the way home he gathered a bunch of lovely roses, and lilies, and orange-blossoms, and with these he made a wreath to give Pandora, who was very fond of flowers. He noticed there was a great black cloud in the sky, which was creeping nearer and nearer to the sun, and just as Ejpimetheus reached the cottage door the cloud went right over the sun and made everything look dark and sad.
Epimetheus went in quietly, for he wanted to surprise Pandora with the wreath of flowers. And what do you think he saw? The naughty little girl had put her hand on the lid of the box and was just going to open it. Epimetheus saw this quite well, and if he had cried out at once it would have given [pg 13] Pandora such a fright she would have let go the lid. But Epimetheus was very naughty too. Although he had said very little about the box, he was just as curious as Pandora was to see what was inside: if they really found anything pretty or valuable in it, he meant to take half of it for himself; so that he was just as naughty, and nearly as much to blame as his companion.
When Pandora raised the lid, the cottage had grown very dark, for the black cloud now covered the sun entirely and a heavy peal of thunder was heard. But Pandora was too busy and excited to notice this: she lifted the lid right up, and at once a swarm of creatures with wings flew out of the box, and a minute after she heard Epimetheus crying loudly: "Oh, I am stung, I am stung! You naughty Pandora, why did you open this wicked box?"
Pandora let the lid fall with a crash and started up to find out what had happened to her playmate. The thunder-cloud had made the room so dark that she could scarcely see, but she heard a loud buzz-buzzing, as if a great many huge flies had flown in, and soon she saw a crowd of ugly little shapes darting about, with wings like bats and with terribly long stings in their tails. It was one of these that had stung Epimetheus, and it was not long before Pandora began to scream with pain and fear. An ugly little monster had settled on her forehead, and would have stung her badly had not Epimetheus run forward and brushed it away.
Now I must tell you that these ugly creatures with stings, which had escaped from the box, were the whole family of earthly troubles. There were evil tempers, and a great many kinds of cares: and there were more than a hundred and fifty sorrows, and there were diseases in many painful shapes. In fact all the sorrows and worries that hurt people in the world to-day had been shut up in the magic-box, and given to Epimetheus and Pandora to keep safely, in order that the happy children in the world might never be troubled by them. If only these two had obeyed Mercury and had left the box alone as he told them, all would have gone well.
But you see what mischief they had done. The winged [pg 14] troubles flew out at the window and went all over the world: and they made people so unhappy that no one smiled for a great many days. It was very strange, too, that from this day flowers began to fade, and after a short time they died, whereas in the old times, before Pandora opened the box, they had been always fresh and beautiful.
Meanwhile Pandora and Epimetheus remained in the cottage: they were very miserable and in great pain, which made them both exceedingly cross. Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back to Pandora, while Pandora flung herself on the floor and cried bitterly, resting her head on the lid of the fatal box.
Suddenly, she heard a gentle tap-tap inside. "What can that be?" said Pandora, raising her head; and again came the tap, tap. It sounded like the knuckles of a tiny hand knocking lightly on the inside of the box."Who are you?" asked Pandora. A sweet little voice came from inside: "Only lift the lid and you will see."
But Pandora was afraid to lift the lid again. She looked across to Epimetheus, but he was so cross that he took no notice. Pandora sobbed: "No, no, I am afraid; there are so many troubles with stings flying about that we do not want any more?""Ah, but I am not one of these," the sweet voice said, "they are no relations of mine.
Come, come, dear Pandora, I am sure you will let me out."
The voice sounded so kind and cheery that it made Pandora feel better even to listen to it. Epimetheus too had heard the voice. He stopped crying. Then he came forward, and said: "Let me help you, Pandora, as the lid is very heavy."
So this time both the children opened the box, and out flew a bright, smiling little fairy, who brought light and sunshine with her. She flew to Epimetheus and with her finger touched his brow where the trouble had stung him, and immediately the pain was gone.Then she kissed Pandora, and her hurt was better at once. "Pray who are you, kind fairy?" Pandora asked. [pg 15]
"I am called Hope," answered the sunshiny figure. "I was shut up in the box so that I might be ready to comfort people when the family of troubles got loose in the world." "What lovely wings you have! They are just like a rainbow. And will you stay with us," asked Epimetheus, "for ever and ever?"
"Yes," said Hope, "I shall stay with you as long as you live. Sometimes you will not be able to see me, and you may think I am dead, but you will find that I come back again and again when you have given up expecting me, and you must always trust my promise that I will never really leave you."
"Yes, we do trust you," cried both children. And all the rest of their lives when the troubles came back and buzzed about their heads and left bitter stings of pain, Pandora and Epimetheus would remember whose fault it was that the troubles had ever come into the world at all, and they would then wait patiently till the fairy with the rainbow wings came back to heal and comfort them.
Once upon a time there lived a very rich King whose name was Midas, and he had a little daughter whom he loved very dearly. This King was fonder of gold than of anything else in the whole world: or if he did love anything better, it was the one little daughter who played so merrily beside her father's footstool.
But the more Midas loved his daughter, the more he wished to be rich for her sake. He thought, foolish man, that the best thing he could do for his child was to leave her the biggest pile of yellow glittering gold that had ever been heaped together since the world began. So he gave all his thoughts and all his time to this purpose.
When he worked in his garden, he used to wish that the [pg 16] roses had leaves made of gold, and once when his little daughter brought him a handful of yellow buttercups, he exclaimed, "Now if these had only been real gold they would have been worth gathering." He very soon forgot how beautiful the flowers, and the grass, and the trees were, and at the time my story begins Midas could scarcely bear to see or to touch anything that was not made of gold.
Every day he used to spend a great many hours in a dark, ugly room underground: it was here that he kept all his money, and whenever Midas wanted to be very happy he would lock himself into this miserable room and would spend hours and hours pouring the glittering coins out of his money-bags. Or he would count again and again the bars of gold which were kept in a big oak chest with a great iron lock in the lid, and sometimes he would carry a boxful of gold dust from the dark corner where it lay, and would look at the shining heap by the light that came from a tiny window.
To his greedy eyes there never seemed to be half enough; he was quite discontented. "What a happy man I should be," he said one day, "if only the whole world could be made of gold, and if it all belonged to me!"
Just then a shadow fell across the golden pile, and when Midas looked up he saw a young man with a cheery rosy face standing in the thin strip of sunshine that came through the little window. Midas was certain that he had carefully locked the door before he opened his money-bags, so he knew that no one, unless he were more than a mortal, could get in beside him. The stranger seemed so friendly and pleasant that Midas was not in the least afraid.
"May be," said Midas in a discontented voice, "but I wish it were much more; and think how many years it has taken me to gather it all! If only I could live for a thousand years, then I might be really rich."Then you are not satisfied?" asked the stranger. Midas shook his head. [pg 17] "What would satisfy you?" the stranger said. Midas looked at his visitor for a minute, and then said, "I am tired of getting money with so much trouble. I should like everything I touch to be changed into gold."
The stranger smiled, and his smile seemed to fill the room like a flood of sunshine. "Are you quite sure, Midas, that you would never be sorry if your wish were granted?" he asked."Quite sure," said Midas: "I ask nothing more to make me perfectly happy." "Be it as you wish, then," said the stranger: "from to-morrow at sunrise you will have your desire—everything you touch will be changed into gold."
The figure of the stranger then grew brighter and brighter, so that Midas had to close his eyes, and when he opened them again he saw only a yellow sunbeam in the room, and all around him glittered the precious gold which he had spent his life in gathering.
How Midas longed for the next day to come! He scarcely slept that night, and as soon as it was light he laid his hand on the chair beside his bed; then he nearly cried when he saw that nothing happened: the chair remained just as it was. "Could the stranger have made a mistake," he wondered, "or had it been a dream?"
He lay still, getting angrier and angrier each minute until at last the sun rose, and the first rays shone through his window and brightened the room. It seemed to Midas that the bright yellow sunbeam was reflected very curiously from the covering of his bed, and he sat up and looked more closely.
What was his delight when he saw that the bedcover on which his hands rested had become a woven cloth of the purest and brightest gold! He started up and caught hold of the bed-post—instantly it became a golden pillar. He pulled aside the window-curtain and the tassel grew heavy in his hand—it was a mass of gold! He took up a book from the table, and at his first touch it became a bundle of thin golden leaves, in which no reading could be seen.
Midas was delighted with his good fortune. He took his spectacles from his pocket and put them on, so that he might [pg 18] see more distinctly what he was about. But to his surprise he could not possibly see through them: the clear glasses had turned into gold, and, of course, though they were worth a great deal of money, they were of no more use as spectacles.
Midas thought this was rather troublesome, but he soon forgot all about it. He went downstairs, and how he laughed with pleasure when he noticed that the railing became a bar of shining gold as he rested his hand on it; even the rusty iron latch of the garden door turned yellow as soon as his fingers pressed it.
How lovely the garden was! In the old days Midas had been very fond of flowers, and had spent a great deal of money in getting rare trees and flowers with which to make his garden beautiful.
Red roses in full bloom scented the air: purple and white violets nestled under the rosebushes, and birds were singing happily in the cherry-trees, which were covered with snow-white blossoms. But since Midas had become so fond of gold he had lost all pleasure in his garden: this morning he did not even see how beautiful it was.
He was thinking of nothing but the wonderful gift the stranger had brought him, and he was sure he could make the garden of far more value than it had ever been. So he went from bush to bush and touched the flowers. And the beautiful pink and red color faded from the roses: the violets became stiff, and then glittered among bunches of hard yellow leaves: and showers of snow-white blossoms no longer fell from the cherry-trees; the tiny petals were all changed into flakes of solid gold, which glittered so brightly in the sunbeams that Midas could not bear to look at them.But he was quite satisfied with his morning's work, and went back to the palace for breakfast feeling very happy.
Just then he heard his little daughter crying bitterly, and she came running into the room sobbing as if her heart would break. "How now, little lady," he said, "pray what is the matter with you this morning?"
"Oh dear, oh dear, such a dreadful thing has happened!" answered the child. "I went to the garden to gather you [pg 19] some roses, and they are all spoiled; they have grown quite ugly, and stiff, and yellow, and they have no scent. What can be the matter?" and she cried bitterly.
Midas was ashamed to confess that he was to blame, so he said nothing, and they sat down at the table. The King was very hungry, and he poured out a cup of coffee and helped himself to some fish, but the instant his lips touched the coffee it became the color of gold, and the next moment it hardened into a solid lump. "Oh dear me!" exclaimed the King, rather surprised.
Then he looked at the nice little fish on his plate, and he gently touched its tail with his finger. To his horror it at once changed into gold. He took one of the delicious hot cakes, and he had scarcely broken it when the white flour changed into yellow crumbs which shone like grains of hard sea-sand.
"I do not see how I am going to get any breakfast," he said to himself, and he looked with envy at his little daughter, who had dried her tears and was eating her bread and milk hungrily. "I wonder if it will be the same at dinner," he thought, "and if so, how am I going to live if all my food is to be turned into gold?"
Midas began to get very anxious and to think about many things he had never thought of before. Here was the very richest breakfast that could be set before a King, and yet there was nothing that he could eat! The poorest workman sitting down to a crust of bread and a cup of water was better off than King Midas, whose dainty food was worth its weight in gold.He began to doubt whether, after all, riches were the only good thing in the world, and he was so hungry that he gave a groan.
His little daughter noticed that her father ate nothing, and at first she sat still looking at him and trying to find out what was the matter. Then she got down from her chair, and running to her father, she threw her arms lovingly round his knees.
Midas bent down and kissed her. He felt that his little [pg 20] daughter's love was a thousand times more precious than all the gold he had gained since the stranger came to visit him. "My precious, precious little girl!" he said, but there was no answer.
Alas! what had he done? The moment that his lips had touched his child's forehead, a change took place. Her sweet, rosy face, so full of love and happiness, hardened and became a glittering yellow color; her beautiful brown curls hung like wires of gold from the small head, and her soft, tender little figure grew stiff in his arms.
Midas had often said to people that his little daughter was worth her weight in gold, and it had become really true. Now when it was too late, he felt how much more precious was the warm tender heart that loved him than all the gold that could be piled up between the earth and sky.
He began to wring his hands and to wish that he was the poorest man in the wide world, if the loss of all his money might bring back the rosy color to his dear child's face.
While he was in despair he suddenly saw a stranger standing near the door, the same visitor he had seen yesterday for the first time in his treasure-room, and who had granted his wish."Well, friend Midas," he said, "pray how are you enjoying your new power?" Midas shook his head. "I am very miserable," he said. "Very miserable, are you?" exclaimed the stranger. "And how does that happen: have I not faithfully kept my promise; have you not everything that your heart desired?" "Gold is not everything," answered Midas, "and I have lost all that my heart really cared for."
"Ah!" said the stranger, "I see you have made some discoveries since yesterday. Tell me truly, which of these things do you really think is most worth—a cup of clear cold water and a crust of bread, or the power of turning everything you touch into gold; your own little daughter, alive and loving, or that solid statue of a child which would be valued at thousands of dollars?"
"O my child, my child!" sobbed Midas, wringing his hands. "I would not have given one of her curls for the power of [pg 21] changing all the world into gold, and I would give all I possess for a cup of cold water and a crust of bread.""You are wiser than you were, King Midas," said the stranger. "Tell me, do you really wish to get rid of your fatal gift?" "Yes," said Midas, "it is hateful to me."
"Go then," said the stranger, "and plunge into the river that flows at the bottom of the garden: take also a pitcher of the same water, and sprinkle it over anything that you wish to change back again from gold to its former substance."King Midas bowed low, and when he lifted his head the stranger was nowhere to be seen.
You may easily believe that King Midas lost no time in getting a big pitcher, then he ran towards the river. On reaching the water he jumped in without even waiting to take off his shoes. "How delightful!" he said, as he came out with his hair all dripping, "this is really a most refreshing bath, and surely it must have washed away the magic gift."
Then he dipped the pitcher into the water, and how glad he was to see that it became just a common earthen pitcher and not a golden one as it had been five minutes before! He was conscious, also of a change in himself: a cold, heavy weight seemed to have gone, and he felt light, and happy, and human once more. Maybe his heart had been changing into gold too, though he could not see it, and now it had softened again and become gentle and kind.
Midas hurried back to the palace with the pitcher of water, and the first thing he did was to sprinkle it by handfuls all over the golden figure of his little daughter. You would have laughed to see how the rosy color came back to her cheeks, and how she began to sneeze and choke, and how surprised she was to find herself dripping wet and her father still throwing water over her.You see she did not know that she had been a little golden statue, for she could not remember anything from the moment when she ran to kiss her father.
King Midas then led his daughter into the garden, where he sprinkled all the rest of the water over the rose-bushes, and [pg 22] the grass, and the trees; and in a minute they were blooming as freshly as ever, and the air was laden with the scent of the flowers.
There were two things left, which, as long as he lived, used to remind King Midas of the stranger's fatal gift. One was that the sands at the bottom of the river always sparkled like grains of gold: and the other, that his little daughter's curls were no longer brown. They had a golden tinge which had not been there before that miserable day when he had received the fatal gift, and when his kiss had changed them into gold.
CadmusADAPTED BY C.E. SMITH
Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix, the three sons of King Agenor, were playing near the seashore in their father's kingdom of Phoenicia, and their little sister Europa was beside them.
They had wandered to some distance from the King's palace and were now in a green field, on one side of which lay the sea, sparkling brightly in the sunshine, and with little waves breaking on the shore.
The three boys were very happy gathering flowers and making wreaths for their sister Europa. The little girl was almost hidden under the flowers and leaves, and her rosy face peeped merrily out among them. She was really the prettiest flower of them all.While they were busy and happy, a beautiful butterfly came flying past, and the three boys, crying out that it was a flower with wings, set off to try to catch it. Europa did not run after them. She was a little tired with playing all day long, so she sat still on the green grass and very soon she closed her eyes.
For a time she listened to the sea, which sounded, she thought, just like a voice saying, "Hush, hush," and telling her to go to [pg 23] sleep. But if she slept at all it was only for a minute. Then she heard something tramping on the grass and, when she looked up, there was a snow-white bull quite close to her!
Where could he have come from? Europa was very frightened, and she started up from among the tulips and lilies and cried out, "Cadmus, brother Cadmus, where are you? Come and drive this bull away." But her brother was too far off to hear her, and Europa was so frightened that her voice did not sound very loud; so there she stood with her blue eyes big with fear, and her pretty red mouth wide open, and her face as pale as the lilies that were lying on her golden hair.
As the bull did not touch her she began to peep at him, and she saw that he was a very beautiful animal; she even fancied he looked quite a kind bull. He had soft, tender, brown eyes, and horns as smooth and white as ivory: and when he breathed you could feel the scent of rosebuds and clover blossoms in the air.
The bull ran little races round Europa and allowed her to stroke his forehead with her small hands, and to hang wreaths of flowers on his horns. He was just like a pet lamb, and very soon Europa quite forgot how big and strong he really was and how frightened she had been. She pulled some grass and he ate it out of her hand and seemed quite pleased to be friends. He ran up and down the field as lightly as a bird hopping in a tree; his hoofs scarcely seemed to touch the grass, and once when he galloped a good long way Europa was afraid she would not see him again, and she called out, "Come back, you dear bull, I have got you a pink clover-blossom." Then he came running and bowed his head before Europa as if he knew she was a King's daughter, and knelt down at her feet, inviting her to get on his back and have a ride.
At first Europa was afraid: then she thought there could surely be no danger in having just one ride on the back of such a gentle animal, and the more she thought about it, the more she wanted to go.
What a surprise it would be to Cadmus, and Phoenix, and Cilix if they met her riding across the green field, and what fun it would be if they could all four ride round and round the [pg 24] field on the back of this beautiful white bull that was so tame and kind!
"I think I will do it," she said, and she looked round the field. Cadmus and his brothers were still chasing the butterfly away at the far end. "If I got on the bull's back I should soon be beside them," she thought. So she moved nearer, and the gentle white creature looked so pleased, and so kind, she could not resist any longer, and with a light bound she sprang up on his back: and there she sat holding an ivory horn in each hand to keep her steady.
"Go very gently, good bull," she said, and the animal gave a little leap in the air and came down as lightly as a feather. Then he began a race to that part of the field where the brothers were, and where they had just caught the splendid butterfly. Europa shouted with delight, and how surprised the brothers were to see their sister mounted on the back of a white bull!
They stood with their mouths wide open, not sure whether to be frightened or not. But the bull played round them as gently as a kitten, and Europa looked down all rosy and laughing, and they were quite envious. Then when he turned to take another gallop round the field, Europa waved her hand and called out "Good-by," as if she was off for a journey, and Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix shouted "Good-by" all in one breath. They all thought it such good fun.
And then, what do you think happened? The white bull set off as quickly as before, and ran straight down to the seashore. He scampered across the sand, then he took a big leap and plunged right in among the waves. The white spray rose in a shower all over him and Europa, and the poor child screamed with fright. The brothers ran as fast as they could to the edge of the water, but it was too late.
The white bull swam very fast and was soon far away in the wide blue sea, with only his snowy head and tail showing above the water. Poor Europa was holding on with one hand to the ivory horn and stretching the other back towards her dear brothers.
Cadmus wondered if this could be the cow he was to follow, and he thought he would look at her more closely, so he walked a little faster; but so did the cow. "Stop, cow," he cried, "hey brindle, stop," and he began to run; and much to his surprise so did the cow, and though he ran as hard as possible, he could not overtake her.
So he gave it up. "I do believe this may be the cow I was told about," he thought. "Any way, I may as well follow her and surely she will lie down somewhere."
On and on they went. Cadmus thought the cow would never stop, and other people who had heard the strange story began to follow too, and they were all very tired and very far away from home when at last the cow lay down. His companions were delighted and began to cut down wood to make a fire, and some ran to a stream to get water. Cadmus lay down to rest close beside the cow. He was wishing that his mother and brothers and Theseus had been with him now, [pg 28] when suddenly he was startled by cries and shouts and screams.
He ran towards the stream, and there he saw the head of a big serpent or dragon, with fiery eyes and with wide open jaws which showed rows and rows of horrible sharp teeth. Before Cadmus could reach it, the monster had killed all his poor companions and was busy devouring them. The stream was an enchanted one, and the dragon had been told to guard it so that no mortal might ever touch the water, and the people round about knew this, so that for a hundred years none of them had ever come near the spot.
The dragon had been asleep and was very hungry, and when he saw Cadmus he opened his huge jaws again, ready to devour him too. But Cadmus was very angry at the death of all his companions, and drawing his sword he rushed at the monster. With one big bound he leaped right into the dragon's mouth, so far down that the two rows of terrible teeth could not close on him or do him any harm. The dragon lashed with his tail furiously, but Cadmus stabbed him again and again, and in a short time the great monster lay dead.
"What shall I do now?" he said aloud. All his companions were dead, and he was alone once more. "Cadmus," said a voice, "pluck out the dragon's teeth and plant them in the earth."
Cadmus looked round and there was nobody to be seen. But he set to work and cut out the huge teeth with his sword, and then he made little holes in the ground and planted the teeth. In a few minutes the earth was covered with rows of armed men, fierce-looking soldiers with swords and helmets who stood looking at Cadmus in silence.
"Throw a stone among these men," came the voice again, and Cadmus obeyed. At once all the men began to fight, and they cut and stabbed each other so furiously that in a short time only five remained alive out of all the hundreds that had stood before him. "Cadmus," said the voice once more, "tell these men to stop fighting and help you to build a palace." And as soon as Cadmus spoke, the five big men sheathed their swords, and they began to carry stones, and to carve these for [pg 29] Cadmus, as if they had never thought of such a thing as fighting each other!
They built a house for each of themselves, and there was a beautiful palace for Cadmus made of marble, and of fine kinds of red and green stone, and there was a high tower with a flag floating from a tall gold flag-post.
When everything was ready, Cadmus went to take possession of his new house, and, as he entered the great hall, he saw a lady coming slowly towards him. She was very lovely and she wore a royal robe which shone like sunbeams, with a crown of stars on her golden hair, and round her neck was a string of the fairest pearls.
How much he had to tell her about Phoenix, and Cilix, and dear Theseus and of the poor Queen's lonely grave in the wilderness! But as he went forward to meet the beautiful lady he saw she was a stranger. He was thinking what he should say to her, when once again he heard the unknown voice speak.
"No, Cadmus," it said, "this is not your dear sister whom you have sought so faithfully all over the wide world. This is Harmonia, a daughter of the sky, who is given to you instead of sister and brother, and friend and mother. She is your Queen, and will make happy the home which you have won by so much suffering."
So King Cadmus lived in the palace with his beautiful Queen, and before many years passed there were rosy little children playing in the great hall, and on the marble steps of the palace, and running joyfully to meet King Cadmus as he came home from looking after his soldiers and his workmen.
And the five old soldiers that sprang from the dragon's teeth grew very fond of these little children, and they were never tired of showing them how to play with wooden swords and to blow on a penny trumpet, and beat a drum and march like soldiers to battle.
ProserpinaADAPTED BY C.E. SMITH
Mother Ceres was very fond of her little daughter Proserpina. She did not of ten let her go alone into the fields for fear she should be lost. But just at the time when my story begins she was very busy. She had to look after the wheat and the corn, and the apples and the pears, all over the world, and as the weather had been bad day after day she was afraid none of them would be ripe when harvest-time came.
So this morning Mother Ceres put on her turban made of scarlet poppies and got into her car. This car was drawn by a pair of winged dragons which went very fast, and Mother Ceres was just ready to start, when Proserpina said, "Dear mother, I shall be very lonely while you are away, may I run down to the sands, and ask some of the sea-children to come out of the water to play with me?"
"Yes, child, you may," answered Mother Ceres, "but you must take care not to stray away from them, and you are not to play in the fields by yourself with no one to take care of you."
Proserpina promised to remember what her mother said, and by the time the dragons with their big wings had whirled the car out of sight she was already on the shore, calling to the sea-children to come to play with her.
They knew Proserpina's voice and came at once: pretty children with wavy sea-green hair and shining faces, and they sat down on the wet sand where the waves could still break over them, and began to make a necklace for Proserpina of beautiful shells brought from their home at the bottom of the sea.
Proserpina was so delighted when they hung the necklace round her neck that she wanted to give them something in return. "Will you come with me into the fields," she asked, "and I will gather flowers and make you each a wreath?"
"Oh no, dear Proserpina," said the sea-children, "we may [pg 31] not go with you on the dry land. We must keep close beside the sea and let the waves wash over us every minute or two. If it were not for the salt water we should soon look like bunches of dried sea-weed instead of sea-children."
"That is a great pity," said Proserpina, "but if you wait for me here, I will run to the fields and be back again with my apron full of flowers before the waves have broken over you ten times. I long to make you some wreaths as beautiful as this necklace with all its colored shells."
"We will wait, then," said the sea-children: "we will lie under the water and pop up our heads every few minutes to see if you are coming."
Proserpina ran quickly to a field where only the day before she had seen a great many flowers; but the first she came to seemed rather faded, and forgetting what Mother Ceres had told her, she strayed a little farther into the fields. Never before had she found such beautiful flowers! Large sweet-scented violets, purple and white; deep pink roses; hyacinths with the biggest of blue bells; as well as many others she did not know. They seemed to grow up under her feet, and soon her apron was so full that the flowers were falling out of the corners.
Proserpina was just going to turn back to the sands to make the wreaths for the seachildren, when she cried out with delight. Before her was a bush covered with the most wonderful flowers in the world. "What beauties!" said Proserpina, and then she thought, "How strange! I looked at that spot only a moment ago; why did I not see the flowers?"
They were such lovely ones too. More than a hundred different kinds grew on the one bush: the brightest, gayest flowers Proserpina had ever seen. But there was a shiny look about them and about the leaves which she did not quite like. Somehow it made her wonder if this was a poison plant, and to tell the truth she was half inclined to turn round and run away."How silly I am!" she thought, taking courage: "it is really the most beautiful bush I ever saw. I will pull it up by the roots and carry it home to plant in mother's garden." [pg 32] Holding her apron full of flowers with one hand, Proserpina seized the large shrub with the other and pulled and pulled.
What deep roots that bush had! She pulled again with all her might, and the earth round the roots began to stir and crack, so she gave another big pull, and then she let go. She thought there was a rumbling noise right below her feet, and she wondered if the roots went down to some dragon's cave. Then she tried once again, and up came the bush so quickly that Proserpina nearly fell backwards. There she stood, holding the stem in her hand and looking at the big hole which its roots had left in the earth.
To her surprise this hole began to grow wider and wider, and deeper and deeper, and a rumbling noise came out of it. Louder and louder it grew, nearer and nearer it came, just like the tramp of horses' feet and the rattling of wheels.
Proserpina was too frightened now to run away, and soon she saw a wonderful thing. Two black horses, with smoke coming out of their nostrils and with long black tails and flowing black manes, came tearing their way out of the earth, and a splendid golden chariot was rattling at their heels.
The horses leaped out of the hole, chariot and all, and came close to the spot where Proserpina stood.
Then she saw there was a man in the chariot. He was very richly dressed, with a crown on his head all made of diamonds which sparkled like fire. He was a very handsome man, but looked rather cross and discontented, and he kept rubbing his eyes and covering them with his hand, as if he did not care much for the bright sunshine.
As soon as he saw Proserpina, the man waved to her to come a little nearer. "Do not be afraid," he said. "Come! would you not like to ride a little way with me in my beautiful chariot?"
But Proserpina was very frightened, and no wonder. The stranger did not look a very kind or pleasant man. His voice was so gruff and deep, and sounded just like the rumbling Proserpina had heard underneath the earth.She at once began to cry out, "Mother, mother! O Mother Ceres, come quickly and save me!" But her voice was very shaky and too faint for Mother Ceres to hear, for by this time she was many thousands of miles away making the corn grow in another country.
No sooner did Proserpina begin to cry out than the strange man leaped to the ground; he caught her in his arms and sprang into the chariot, then he shook the reins and shouted to the two black horses to set off. They began to gallop so fast that it was just like flying, and in less than a minute Proserpina had lost sight of the sunny fields where she and her mother had always lived.She screamed and screamed and all the beautiful flowers fell out of her apron to the ground. But Mother Ceres was too far away to know what was happening to her little daughter.
"Why are you so frightened, my little girl?" said the strange man, and he tried to soften his rough voice. "I promise not to do you any harm. I see you have been gathering flowers? Wait till we come to my palace and I will give you a garden full of prettier flowers than these, all made of diamonds and pearls and rubies. Can you guess who I am? They call me Pluto, and I am the King of the mines where all the diamonds and rubies and all the gold and silver are found: they all belong to me. Do you see this lovely crown on my head? I will let you have it to play with. Oh, I think we are going to be very good friends when we get out of this troublesome sunshine.""Let me go home," sobbed Proserpina, "let me go home."
"My home is better than your mother's," said King Pluto. "It is a palace made of gold, with crystal windows and with diamond lamps instead of sunshine; and there is a splendid throne; if you like you may sit on it and be my little Queen, and I will sit on the footstool."
"I do not care for golden palaces and thrones," sobbed Proserpina. "O mother, mother! Take me back to my mother."
"You are very foolish, Proserpina," he said, rather crossly. "I am doing all I can to make you happy, and I want very [pg 34] much to have a merry little girl to run upstairs and downstairs in my palace and make it brighter with her laughter. This is all I ask you to do for King Pluto.""Never" answered Proserpina, looking very miserable. "I shall never laugh again, till you take me back to my mother's cottage."
And the horses galloped on, and the wind whistled past the chariot, and Proserpina cried and cried till her poor little voice was almost cried away, and nothing was left but a whisper.
The road now began to get very dull and gloomy. On each side were black rocks and very thick trees and bushes that looked as if they never got any sunshine. It got darker and darker, as if night was coming, and still the black horses rushed on leaving the sunny home of Mother Ceres far behind.But the darker it grew, the happier King Pluto seemed to be. Proserpina began to peep at him, she thought he might not be such a wicked man after all. "Is it much further," she asked, "and will you carry me back when I have seen your palace?"
"We will talk of that by and by," answered Pluto. "Do you see these big gates? When we pass these we are at home; and look! there is my faithful dog at the door! Cerberus; Cerberus, come here, good dog."
Pluto pulled the horses' reins, and the chariot stopped between two big tall pillars. The dog got up and stood on his hind legs, so that he could put his paws on the chariot wheel. What a strange dog he was! A big, rough, ugly-looking monster, with three heads each fiercer than the other.
King Pluto patted his heads and the dog wagged his tail with delight. Proserpina was much afraid when she saw that his tail was a live dragon, with fiery eyes and big poisonous teeth."Will the dog bite me?" she asked, creeping closer to King Pluto. "How very ugly he is."
"Oh, never fear," Pluto answered; "he never bites people unless they try to come in here when I do not want them. Down, Cerberus. Now, Proserpina, we will drive on." The black horses started again and King Pluto seemed very happy to find himself once more at home.[pg 35] All along the road Proserpina could see diamonds, and rubies and precious stones sparkling, and there were bits of real gold among the rocks. It was a very rich place.
Not far from the gateway they came to an iron bridge. Pluto stopped the chariot and told Proserpina to look at the river which ran underneath. It was very black and muddy, and flowed slowly, very slowly, as if it had quite forgotten which way it wanted to go, and was in no hurry to flow anywhere."This is the river Lethe," said King Pluto; "do you not think it a very pleasant stream?" "I think it is very dismal," said Proserpina.
"Well, I like it," answered Pluto, who got rather cross when any one did not agree with him. "It is a strange kind of river. If you drink only a little sip of the water, you will at once forget all your care and sorrow. When we reach the palace, you shall have some in a golden cup, and then you will not cry any more for your mother, and will be perfectly happy with me.""Oh no, oh no!" said Proserpina, sobbing again. "O mother, mother, I will never forget you; I do not want to be happy by forgetting all about you."
"We shall see," said King Pluto; "you do not know what good times we will have in my palace. Here we are, just at the gate. Look at the big pillars; they are all made of solid gold."
He got out of the chariot and carried Proserpina in his arms up a long stair into the great hall of the palace. It was beautifully lit by hundreds of diamonds and rubies which shone like lamps. It was very rich and splendid to look at, but it was cold and lonely and Pluto must have longed for some one to keep him company; perhaps that was why he had stolen Proserpina from her sunny home.
King Pluto sent for his servants and told them to get ready a grand supper with all kinds of dainty food and sweet things such as children like. "And be sure not to forget a golden cup filled with the water of Lethe," he said to the servant."I will not eat anything," said Proserpina, "nor drink a single drop, even if you keep me for ever in your palace." [pg 36]
"I should be sorry for that," replied King Pluto. He really wished to be kind if he had only known how. "Wait till you see the nice things my cook will make for you, and then you will be hungry."
Now King Pluto had a secret reason why he wanted Proserpina to eat some food. You must understand that when people are carried off to the land of magic, if once they taste any food they can never go back to their friends.
If King Pluto had offered Proserpina some bread and milk she would very likely have taken it as soon as she was hungry, but all the cook's fine pastries and sweets were things she had never seen at home, and, instead of making her hungry, she was afraid to touch them.But now my story must leave King Pluto's palace, and we must see what Mother Ceres has been about.
You remember she had gone off in her chariot with the winged dragons to the other side of the world to see how the corn and fruit were growing. And while she was busy in a field she thought she heard Proserpina's voice calling her. She was sure her little daughter could not possibly be anywhere near, but the idea troubled her: and presently she left the fields before her work was half done and, ordering her dragons with the chariot, she drove off.
In less than an hour Mother Ceres got down at the door of her cottage. It was empty! At first she thought "Oh, Proserpina will still be playing on the shore with the sea-children." So she went to find her."Where is Proserpina, you naughty sea-children?" she asked; "tell me, have you taken her to your home under the sea?" "Oh no, Mother Ceres," they said, "she left us early in the day to gather flowers for a wreath, and we have seen nothing of her since." Ceres hurried off to ask all the neighbors. A poor fisherman had seen her little footprints in the sand as he went home with his basket of fish. A man in the fields had noticed her gathering flowers.
Several persons had heard the rattling of chariot wheels [pg 37] or the rumbling of distant thunder: and one old woman had heard a scream, but supposed it was only merriment, and had not even looked up.None of the neighbors knew where Proserpina was, and Mother Ceres decided she must seek her daughter further from home.
By this time it was night, so she lit a torch and set off, telling the neighbors she would never come back till Proserpina was found. In her hurry she quite forgot her chariot with the dragons; may be she thought she could search better on foot.
So she started on her sad journey, holding her torch in front of her, and looking carefully along every road and round every corner.
"Ha!" said Mother Ceres, examining it carefully, "there is mischief in this flower: it did not grow in the earth by any help of mine; it is the work of magic, and perhaps it has poisoned my poor child." And she hid it in her bosom.
All night long Ceres sought for her daughter. She knocked at the doors of farm-houses where the people were all asleep, and they came to see who was there, rubbing their eyes and yawning. They were very sorry for the poor mother when they heard her tale—but they knew nothing about Proserpina.
At every palace door, too, she knocked, so loudly that the servants ran quickly, expecting to find a great queen, and when they saw only a sad lonely woman with a burning torch in her hand, and a wreath of withered poppies on her head, they were angry and drove her rudely away.
But nobody had seen Proserpina, and Mother Ceres wandered about till the night was passed, without sitting down to rest, and without taking any food. She did not even remember to put out her torch, and it looked very pale and small in the bright morning sunshine.
It must have been a magic torch, for it burned dimly all day, and then when night came it shone with a beautiful red [pg 38] light, and neither the wind nor the rain put it out through all these weary days while Ceres sought for Proserpina.
It was not only men and women that Mother Ceres questioned about her daughter. In the woods and by the streams she met other creatures whose way of talking she could understand, and who knew many things that we have never learned.
Sometimes she tapped with her finger against an oak tree, and at once its rough bark would open and a beautiful maiden would appear: she was the spirit of the oak, living inside it, and as happy as could be when its green leaves danced in the breeze.
Then another time Ceres would find a spring bubbling out of a little hole in the earth, and she would play with her fingers in the water. Immediately up through the sandy bed a nymph with dripping hair would rise and float half out of the water, looking at Mother Ceres, and swaying up and down with the water bubbles.
But when the mother asked whether her poor lost child had stopped to drink of the fountain, the nymph with weeping eyes would answer "No," in a murmuring voice which was just like the sound of a running stream.
Often, too, she met fauns. These were little people with brown faces who looked as if they had played a great deal in the sun. They had hairy ears and little horns on their brows, and their legs were like goats' legs on which they danced merrily about the woods and fields. They were very kind creatures, and were very sorry for Mother Ceres when they heard that her daughter was lost.
And once she met a rude band of satyrs who had faces like monkeys and who had horses' tails behind; they were dancing and shouting in a rough, noisy manner, and they only laughed when Ceres told them how unhappy she was.
One day while she was crossing a lonely sheep-field she saw the god Pan: he was sitting at the foot of a tall rock, making music on a shepherd's flute. He too had horns on his brow, and hairy ears, and goat's feet. He knew Mother Ceres and answered her questions kindly, and he gave her some milk and honey to drink out of a wooden bowl. But he knew nothing of Proserpina.[pg 39]
And so Mother Ceres went wandering about for nine long days and nights. Now and then she found a withered flower, and these she picked up and put in her bosom, because she fancied they might have fallen from her daughter's hand. All day she went on through the hot sunshine, and at night the flame of her torch would gleam on the pathway, and she would continue her weary search without ever sitting down to rest.
On the tenth day she came to the mouth of a cave. It was dark inside, but a torch was burning dimly and lit up half of the gloomy place. Ceres peeped in and held up her own torch before her, and then she saw what looked like a woman, sitting on a heap of withered leaves, which the wind had blown into the cave. She was a very strange-looking woman: her head was shaped like a dog's, and round it she had a wreath of snakes.
As soon as she saw her, Mother Ceres knew that this was a queer kind of person who was always grumbling and unhappy. Her name was Hecate, and she would never say a word to other people unless they were unhappy too. "I am sad enough," thought poor Ceres, "to talk with Hecate:" so she stepped into the cave and sat down on the withered leaves beside the dog-headed woman."O Hecate," she said, "if ever you lose a daughter you will know what sorrow is. Tell me, for pity's sake, have you seen my poor child Proserpina pass by the mouth of your cave?"
"No, Mother Ceres," answered Hecate. "I have seen nothing of your daughter. But my ears, you know, are made so that all cries of distress or fright all over the world are heard by them. And nine days ago, as I sat in my cave, I heard the voice of a young girl sobbing as if in great distress. As well as I could judge, some dragon was carrying her away."
"You kill me by saying so," cried Mother Ceres, almost ready to faint; "where was the sound, and which way did it seem to go?"
"It passed along very quickly," said Hecate, "and there was a rumbling of wheels to the eastward. I cannot tell you any more. I advise you just to come and live here with me, and we will be the two most unhappy women in all the world."
"Not yet, dark Hecate," replied Ceres. "Will you first come with your torch and help me to seek for my child. When there is no more hope of finding her, then I will come back with you to your dark cave. But till I know that Proserpina is dead, I will not allow myself time to sorrow."
Hecate did not much like the idea of going abroad into the sunshine, but at last she agreed to go, and they set out together, each carrying a torch, although it was broad daylight and the sun was shining. Any people they met ran away without waiting to be spoken to, as soon as they caught sight of Hecate's wreath of snakes.
As the sad pair wandered on, a thought struck Ceres. "There is one person," she exclaimed, "who must have seen my child and can tell me what has become of her. Why did I not think of him sooner? It is Phoebus."
"What!" said Hecate, "the youth that always sits in the sunshine! Oh! pray do not think of going near him: he is a gay young fellow that will only smile in your face. And, besides, there is such a glare of sunshine about him that he will quite blind my poor eyes, which are weak with so much weeping.""You have promised to be my companion," answered Ceres. "Come, let us make haste, or the sunshine will be gone and Phoebus along with it."
So they set off in search of Phoebus, both sighing a great deal, and after a long journey they came to the sunniest spot in the whole world. There they saw a young man with curly golden hair which seemed to be made of sunbeams.
His clothes were like light summer clouds, and the smile on his face was so bright that Hecate held her hands before her eyes and muttered that she wished he would wear a veil! Phoebus had a lyre in his hands and was playing very sweet music, at the same time singing a merry song.
As Ceres and her dismal companion came near, Phoebus smiled on them so cheerfully that Hecate's wreath of snakes gave a spiteful hiss and Hecate wished she was back in her dark cave.But Ceres was too unhappy to know whether Phoebus smiled or looked angry. [pg 41]
"Phoebus" she said, "I am in great trouble and have come to you for help. Can you tell me what has become of my little daughter Proserpina?"
"Proserpina, Proserpina did you call her?" answered Phoebus, trying to remember. He had so many pleasant ideas in his head that he sometimes forgot what had happened no longer ago than yesterday.
"Ah yes! I remember now—a very lovely little girl. I am happy to tell you that I did see Proserpina not many days ago. You may be quite easy about her. She is safe and in good hands.""Oh, where is my dear child?" cried Ceres, clasping her hands and flinging herself at his feet.
"Why," replied Phoebus, "as the little girl was gathering flowers she was snatched up by King Pluto and carried off to his kingdom. I have never been there myself, but I am told the royal palace is splendidly built. Proserpina will have gold and silver and diamonds to play with, and I am sure even although there is no sunshine, she will have a very happy life."
"Hush! do not say such a thing," said Ceres. "What has she got to love? What are all these splendors if she has no one to care for? I must have her back. Good Phoebus, will you come with me to demand my daughter from this wicked Pluto?"
"Pray excuse me," answered Phoebus, with a bow. "I certainly wish you success, and I am sorry I am too busy to go with you. Besides, King Pluto does not care much for me. To tell you the truth, his dog with the three heads would never let me pass the gateway. I always carry a handful of sunbeams with me, and those, you know, are not allowed within King Pluto's kingdom."So the poor mother said good-by and hastened away along with Hecate.
Ceres had now found out what had become of her daughter, but she was not any happier than before. Indeed, her trouble seemed worse than ever. So long as Proserpina was above-ground there was some hope of getting her home again. But now that the poor child was shut up behind King Pluto's iron [pg 42] gates, with the three-headed Cerberus on guard beside them, there seemed no hope of her escape.
The dismal Hecate, who always looked on the darkest side of things, told Ceres she had better come back with her to the cave and spend the rest of her life in being miserable. But Ceres answered that Hecate could go back if she wished, but that for her part she would wander about all the world looking for the entrance to King Pluto's kingdom. So Hecate hurried off alone to her beloved cave, frightening a great many little children with her dog's face as she went.
Poor Mother Ceres! It is sad to think of her all alone, holding up her never-dying torch and wandering up and down the wide, wide world. So much did she suffer that in a very short time she began to look quite old. She wandered about with her hair hanging down her back, and she looked so wild that people took her for some poor mad woman, and never thought that this was Mother Ceres who took care of every seed which was sown in the ground and of all the fruit and flowers.
Now she gave herself no trouble about seedtime or harvest; there was nothing in which she seemed to feel any interest, except the children she saw at play or gathering flowers by the wayside. Then, indeed, she would stand and look at them with tears in her eyes.
And the children seemed to understand her sorrow and would gather in a little group about her knees and look up lovingly into her face, and Ceres, after giving them a kiss all round, would lead them home and advise their mothers never to let them stray out of sight. "For if they do," said she, "it may happen to you as it has happened to me: the ironhearted King Pluto may take a liking to your darlings and carry them away in his golden chariot."
At last, in her despair, Ceres made up her mind that not a stalk of grain, nor a blade of grass, not a potato, nor a turnip, nor any vegetable that is good for man or beast, should be allowed to grow till her daughter was sent back. She was so unhappy that she even forbade the flowers to bloom.
Now you can see what a terrible misfortune had fallen on [pg 43] the earth. The farmer plowed the ground and planted his seed, as usual, and there lay the black earth without a single green blade to be seen. The fields looked as brown in the sunny months of spring as ever they did in winter. The rich man's garden and the flower-plot in front of the laborer's cottage were both empty; even the children's gardens showed nothing but withered stalks. It was very sad to see the poor starving sheep and cattle that followed behind Ceres, bleating and lowing as if they knew that she could help them.
All the people begged her at least to let the grass grow, but Mother Ceres was too miserable to care for any one's trouble. "Never," she said. "If the earth is ever to be green again, it must grow along the path by which my daughter comes back to me."
At last, as there seemed to be no other way out of it, Mercury, the favorite messenger of the gods, was sent to King Pluto in the hope that he would set everything right again by giving up Proserpina.
Mercury went as quickly as he could to the great iron gates, and with the help of the wings on his shoes, he took a flying leap right over Cerberus with his three heads, and very soon he stood at the door of King Pluto's palace.The servants all knew him, as he had often been there in his short cloak, and cap, and shoes with the wings, and with his curious staff which had two snakes twisted round it.
He asked to see the King immediately, and Pluto, who had heard his voice from the top of the stairs, called out to him to come up at once, for he was always glad to listen to Mercury's cheery talk.
And while they are laughing together we must find out what Proserpina had been doing since we last heard about her.
It was now six months since she had been carried off from her home, and not a mouthful had she eaten, not even when the cook had made all kinds of sweet things and had ordered all the dainties which children usually like best.[pg 44] Proserpina was naturally a bright, merry little girl, and all this time she was not so unhappy as you may have thought.
In the big palace were a thousand rooms, and each was full of wonderful and beautiful things. It is true there was never any sunshine in these rooms, and Proserpina used to fancy that the shadowy light which came from the jeweled lamps was alive: it seemed to float before her as she walked between the golden pillars, and to close softly behind her in the echo of her footsteps.
And Proserpina knew that all the glitter of these precious stones was not worth a single sunbeam, nor could the rubies and emeralds which she played with ever be as dear to her as the daisies and buttercups she had gathered among the soft green grass.
King Pluto felt how much happier his palace was since Proserpina came, and so did all his servants. They loved to hear her childish voice laughing as she ran from room to room, and they felt less old and tired when they saw again how glad little children can be.
"My own little Proserpina," King Pluto used to say, "I wish you would like me a little better. Although I look rather a sad man, I am really fond of children, and if you would stay here with me always, it would make me happier than having hundreds of palaces like this."
"Ah," said Proserpina, "you should have tried to make me like you first before carrying me off, and now the best thing you can do is to let me go again; then I might remember you sometimes and think that you were as kind as you knew how to be. Perhaps I might come back to pay you a visit one day."
"No, no," answered Pluto, with his gloomy smile, "I will not trust you for that. You are too fond of living in the sunshine and gathering flowers. What an idle, childish thing to do! Do you not think that these diamonds which I have had dug out of the mine for you are far prettier than violets?"
"No, oh no! not half so pretty," said Proserpina, snatching them from Pluto's hand, and flinging them to the other end of the room. "O my sweet purple violets, shall I ever see you again?" and she began to cry bitterly.[pg 45]
But like most children, she soon stopped crying, and in a short time she was running up and down the rooms as when she had played on the sands with the sea-children. And King Pluto, sad and lonely, watched her and wished that he too was a child, and when Proserpina turned and saw the great King standing alone in his splendid hall, so grand and so lonely, with no one to love him, she felt sorry for him. She ran back and for the first time in all those six months she put her small hand in his. "I love you a little," she whispered, looking up into his face."Do you really, dear child?" cried Pluto, bending down his dark face to kiss her. But Proserpina was a little afraid, he was so dark and severe-looking, and she shrank back.
"Well," said Pluto, "it is just what I deserve after keeping you a prisoner all these months, and starving you besides. Are you not dreadfully hungry, is there nothing I can get you to eat?"In asking this Pluto was very cunning, as you will remember that if Proserpina once tasted any food in his kingdom, she would never again be able to go home.
"No, indeed," said Proserpina. "Your poor fat little cook is always making me all kinds of good things which I do not want. The one thing I should like to eat would be a slice of bread baked by my own mother, and a pear out of her garden."
When Pluto heard this he began to see that he had made a mistake in his way of trying to tempt Proserpina to eat. He wondered why he had never thought of this before, and he at once sent a servant with a large basket to get some of the finest and juiciest pears in the whole world.
But this was just at the time when, as we know, Mother Ceres in her despair had forbidden any flowers or fruit to grow on the earth, and the only thing King Pluto's servant could find, after seeking all over the world was a single dried-up pomegranate, so dried up as to be hardly worth eating. Still, since there was no better to be had, he brought it back to the palace, put it on a magnificent gold plate, and carried it to Proserpina.
Now it just happened that as the servant was bringing the [pg 46] pomegranate in at the back door of the palace, Mercury had gone up to the front steps with his message to King Pluto about Proserpina.
As soon as Proserpina saw the pomegranate on the golden plate, she told the servant to take it away again. "I shall not touch it, I can assure you," she said. "If I were ever so hungry, I should not think of eating such a dried-up miserable pomegranate as that."
"It is the only one in the world," said the servant, and he set down the plate and went away.
When he had gone, Proserpina could not help coming close to the table and looking at the dried-up pomegranate with eagerness. To tell the truth, when she saw something that really suited her taste, she felt all her six months' hunger come back at once.
To be sure it was a very poor-looking pomegranate, with no more juice in it than in an oyster-shell. But there was no choice of such things in King Pluto's palace, and this was the first fresh fruit Proserpina had ever seen there, and the last she was ever likely to see, and unless she ate it up at once, it would only get drier and drier and be quite unfit to eat.
"At least I may smell it," she thought, so she took up the pomegranate and held it to her nose, and somehow, being quite near to her mouth, the fruit found its way into that little red cave.Before Proserpina knew what she was about, her teeth had actually bitten it of their own accord. Just as this fatal deed was done, the door of the hall opened and King Pluto came in, followed by Mercury, who had been begging him to let his little prisoner go. At the first noise of their coming, Proserpina took the pomegranate from her mouth.
Mercury, who saw things very quickly, noticed that Proserpina looked a little uncomfortable, and when he saw the gold plate empty, he was sure she had been eating something.As for King Pluto, he never guessed the secret.
"My dear little Proserpina," said the King, sitting down and drawing her gently between his knees, "here is Mercury, [pg 47] who tells me that a great many sad things have happened to innocent people because I have kept you a prisoner down here. And to confess the truth I have been thinking myself that I really had no right to take you away from your mother. It was very stupid of me, but I thought this palace was so dull, and that I should be much happier if I just had a merry little girl to play in it, and I hoped you would take my crown for a toy and let me be your playmate. It was very foolish of me, I know.""No, it was not foolish," said Proserpina, "you have been very kind to me, and I have often been quite happy here with you."
"Thank you, dear," said King Pluto, "but I cannot help seeing that you think my palace a dark prison and me the hard-hearted jailor, and I should, indeed, be hard-hearted if I were to keep you longer than six months. So I give you your liberty. Go back, dear, with Mercury, to your mother."
Now, although you might not think so, Proserpina found it impossible to say good-by to King Pluto without being sorry, and she felt she ought to tell him about tasting the pomegranate. She even cried a little when she thought how lonely and dull the great palace with its jeweled lamps would be after she had left.
She would like to have thanked him many times, but Mercury hurried her away. "Come along quickly," he said, "as King Pluto may change his mind, and take care above all things that you say nothing about the pomegranate which the servant brought you on the gold plate."
In a short time they had passed the great gateway with the golden pillars, leaving Cerberus barking and growling with all his three heads at once, and beating his dragon tail on the ground. Along the dark, rocky road they went very quickly, and soon they reached the upper world again.
You can guess how excited and happy Proserpina was to see the bright sunshine. She noticed how green the grass grew on the path behind and on each side of her. Wherever she set her foot at once there rose a flower: violets and roses bloomed along the wayside; the grass and the corn began to[pg 48] grow with ten times their usual quickness to make up for the dreary months when Mother Ceres had forbidden them to appear above ground.
The hungry cattle began to eat, and went on eating all day after their long fast. And, I can assure you, it was a busy time with all the farmers when they found that summer was coming with a rush.As to the birds, they hopped about from tree to tree among the fresh, sweet blossoms, and sang for joy that the dreary days were over and the world was green and young again.
Mother Ceres had gone back to her empty cottage, and was sitting very sadly on the doorstep with her burning torch in her hand. She had been looking wearily at the flame for some moments, when all at once it flickered and went out."What does this mean?" she thought. "It was a magic torch, and should have gone on burning till Proserpina was found."
She looked up, and was surprised to see the bare brown fields suddenly turning green, just as you sometimes see them turn golden when the sun comes from behind a dark cloud."Does the Earth dare to disobey me?" exclaimed Mother Ceres angrily. "Did I not forbid it to be green until my child should be sent back to me?"
"Then open your arms, mother dear," cried a well-known voice, "and take me back again." And Proserpina came running along the pathway and flung herself on her mother's bosom.
It would be impossible to tell how happy they were; so happy that they cried a little, for people cry when they are very glad as well as when they are unhappy.
After a little while Mother Ceres looked anxiously at Proserpina. "My child," she said, "did you taste any food while you were in King Pluto's palace?"
"Dearest mother," answered Proserpina, "I will tell you the whole truth. Until this morning not a morsel of food had passed my lips. But a servant brought me a pomegranate on a golden-plate, a very dry pomegranate, with no juice inside, nothing but seeds and skin; and I was so hungry, and had not [pg 49] tasted any food for such a long time, that I took just one bite. The moment I tasted it King Pluto and Mercury came into the room. I had not swallowed a morsel, but O mother! I hope it was no harm, six pomegranate seeds remained in my mouth and I swallowed them."
"O miserable me!" said Mother Ceres. "For each of these six pomegranate seeds you must spend a month every year in King Pluto's palace. You are only half restored to me; you will be six months with me and then six months with the King of Darkness!"
"Do not be so vexed, mother dear," said Proserpina. "It was very unkind of King Pluto to carry me off, but then, as he says, it was such a dismal life for him to lead in that great palace all alone: and he says he has been much happier since he had me to run about the big rooms and to play beside him. If only he will let me spend six months every year with you, I think I can bear to spend the other six months beside him. After all, he was as kind as he knew how to be, but I am very glad he cannot keep me the whole year round."
The Story Of AtalantaADAPTED BY ANNA KLINGENSMITH
Atalanta was a maiden whose face you might truly say was boyish for a girl, yet too girlish for a boy. Her fortune had been told, and it was to this effect: "Atalanta, do not marry; marriage will be your ruin." Terrified by this oracle, she fled the society of men, and devoted herself to the sports of the chase. To all suitors (for she had many) she imposed a condition which was generally effectual in relieving her of their persecutions, "I will be the prize of him who shall conquer me in the race; but death must be the penalty of all who try and fail." In spite of this hard condition some would try. Hippomenes was to be judge of the race. "Can [pg 50] it be possible that any will be so rash as to risk so much for a wife?" said he. But when he saw her ravishing beauty as she prepared for the race, he changed his mind, and said, "Pardon me, youths, I knew not the prize you were competing for." As he surveyed them he wished them all to be beaten, and swelled with envy of anyone that seemed at all likely to win. While such were his thoughts, the virgin darted forward. As she ran she looked more beautiful than ever. The breezes seemed to give wings to her feet; her hair flew over her shoulders, and the gay fringe of her garment fluttered behind her. A ruddy hue tinged the whiteness of her skin, such as a crimson curtain casts on a marble wall. All her competitors were distanced, and were put to death without mercy. Hippomenes, not daunted by this result, fixing his eyes on the virgin, said, "Why boast of beating those laggards? I offer myself for the contest." Atalanta looked at him with a pitying countenance, and hardly knew whether she would rather conquer him or not. "What god can tempt one so young and handsome to throw himself away? I pity him, not for his beauty (yet he is beautiful), but for his youth. I wish he would give up the race, or if he will be so mad, I hope he may outrun me." While she hesitates, revolving these thoughts, the spectators grow impatient for the race, and her father prompts her to prepare. Then Hippomenes addressed a prayer to Venus: "Help me, Venus, for you have led me on." Venus heard and was propitious.
In the garden of her temple, in her own island of Cyprus, is a tree with yellow leaves and yellow branches and golden fruit. Hence she gathered three golden apples, and, unseen by any one else, gave them to Hippomenes, and told him how to use them. The signal is given; each starts from the goal and skims over the sand. So light their tread, you would almost have thought they might run over the river surface or over the waving grain without sinking. The cries of the spectators cheered Hippomenes,—"Now, now, do your best! haste, haste! you gain on her! relax not! one more effort!" It was doubtful whether the youth or the maiden heard these cries with the greater pleasure. But his breath began to fail him, his throat was dry, the goal yet far off. At that moment he [pg 51] threw down one of the golden apples. The virgin was all amazement. She stopped to pick it up. Hippomenes shot ahead. Shouts burst forth from all sides. She redoubled her efforts, and soon overtook him. Again he threw an apple. She stopped again, but again came up with him. The goal was near; one chance only remained. "Now, goddess," said he, "prosper your gift!" and threw the last apple off at one side. She looked at it, and hesitated; Venus impelled her to turn aside for it. She did so, and was vanquished. The youth carried off his prize.
Pyramus And ThisbeADAPTED BY ALICE ZIMMERN
In Babylon, the great and wonderful city on the Euphrates, there lived in two adjoining houses a youth and a maiden named Pyramus and Thisbe. Hardly a day passed without their meeting, and at last they came to know and love one another. But when Pyramus sought Thisbe in marriage, the parents would not hear of it, and even forbade the lovers to meet or speak to each other any more. But though they could no longer be openly together, they saw each other at a distance and sent messages by signs and tokens.
One day to their great delight they discovered a tiny crack in the wall between the two houses, through which they could hear each other speak. But a few words whispered through a chink in the wall could not satisfy two ardent lovers, and they tried to arrange a meeting. They would slip away one night unnoticed and meet somewhere outside the city. A spot near the tomb of Ninus was chosen, where a mulberry tree grew near a pleasant spring of water.
At nightfall Thisbe put on a thick veil, slipped out of the house unobserved and made her way in haste to the city gates. She was first at the trysting-place and sat down under the tree to wait for her lover. A strange noise made her look up, and [pg 52] she saw by the clear moonlight a lioness with bloody jaws coming to drink at the spring. Thisbe sprang up, and dropping her cloak in her haste ran to hide herself in a neighboring cave. The lioness, who had already eaten, did not care to pursue her, but finding the cloak lying on the ground, pulled it to bits and left the marks of blood on the torn mantle. Now Pyramus in his turn came to the place and found no Thisbe, but only her torn and bloodstained cloak. "Surely," he thought, "some beast must have devoured her, for here lies her cloak, all mangled and bloodstained. Alas, that I came too late! Her love for me led Thisbe to brave the perils of night and danger, and I was not here to protect and save her. She dies a victim to her love, but she shall not perish alone. One same night will see the end of both lovers. Come, ye lions, and devour me too, 'tis my one prayer. Yet 'tis a coward's part to pray for death when his own hands can give it."
With these words he drew Thisbe's cloak towards him, and covered it with kisses. "My blood too shall stain you," he cried, and plunged his sword with true aim in his breast. The blood spouted forth as from a fountain and stained the white fruit of the mulberry overhead.
While Pyramus lay dying under the tree, Thisbe had recovered from her fright, and now stole forth from her hiding-place, hoping that her lover might be at hand. What was her dismay when she saw Pyramus stretched lifeless on the ground. Kneeling down beside him, she washed his wound with her tears, and kissed his cold lips, calling on him in vain to speak. "Speak to me, Pyramus," she cried, "'tis your beloved Thisbe that calls."
At the sound of her voice Pyramus opened his failing eyes, and gave his love one last look, then he closed them for ever. When Thisbe saw her own cloak and the empty sheath, she guessed that, thinking her dead, he had sought death himself.
"'Twas by your own hand you fell," she cried, "a victim to love, and love will give my hand strength to do the like. Since those who were parted in life are united in death, perhaps our sorrowing parents will grant us the boon of a common tomb. May we rest side by side, even as we have fallen, and may this [pg 53] tree, which has witnessed our despair and our death, bear the traces for evermore. Let its fruit be clothed in mourning garb for the death of two hapless lovers."
With these words she threw herself on the sword of Pyramus. Her last prayer was granted, for one urn held the ashes of the faithful pair. And since that night the mulberry tree bears purple fruit to recall to all generations of lovers the cruel fate of Pyramus and Thisbe.
OrpheusADAPTED BY ALICE ZIMMERN
Orpheus, the Thracian singer, was the most famous of all the musicians of Greece. Apollo himself had given him his golden harp, and on it he played music of such wondrous power and beauty that rocks, trees and beasts would follow to hear him. Jason had persuaded Orpheus to accompany the Argonauts when they went to fetch back the golden fleece, for he knew that the perils of the way would be lightened by song. To the sound of his lyre the Argo had floated down to the sea, and he played so sweetly when they passed the rocks of the Sirens that the dreadful monsters sang their most alluring strains in vain.
Orpheus wedded the fair nymph Eurydice, whom he loved dearly, and who returned his love. But at their marriage the omens were not favorable. Hymen, the marriage god, came to it with a gloomy countenance and the wedding torches smoked and would not give forth a cheerful flame.
Indeed the happiness of Orpheus and Eurydice was to be but short-lived. For as the newmade bride wandered through the woods with the other nymphs a poisonous serpent stung her heel, and no remedy availed to save her. Orpheus was thrown into most passionate grief at his wife's death. He could not believe that he had lost her for ever, but prayed day and [pg 54] night without ceasing to the gods above to restore her to him. When they would not listen, he resolved to make one last effort to win her back. He would go down to the Lower World and seek her among the dead, and try whether any prayer or persuasion could move Pluto to restore his beloved.
Near Tænarum, in Laconia, was a cave among dark and gloomy rocks, through which led one of the entrances to the Lower World. This was the road by which Hercules descended when he went to carry off Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the threshold of Pluto. Undaunted by the terrors of the place, Orpheus passed through this gate and down a dark and dismal road to the kingdom of the dead. Here he came in safety through the crowd of ghosts and phantoms, and stood at last before the throne of Pluto and Proserpina. Then he touched the chords of his lyre and chanted these words:
"Great lords of the world below the earth, to which all we mortals must one day come, grant me to tell a simple tale and declare unto you the truth. Not to look upon the blackness of Tartarus have I come hither, nor yet to bind in chains the snaky heads on Cerberus. It is my wife I seek. A viper's sting has robbed her of the years that were her due. I should have borne my loss, indeed I tried to bear it, but I was overcome by Love, a god well known in the world above, and I think not without honor in your kingdom, unless the story of Proserpina's theft be a lying tale. I beseech you, by the realms of the dead, by mighty Chaos and the silence of your vast kingdom, revoke the untimely doom of Eurydice. All our lives are forfeit to you. 'Tis but a short delay, and late or soon we all hasten towards one goal. Hither all our footsteps tend. This is our last home, yours is the sole enduring rule over mankind. She too, when she shall have lived her allotted term of years, will surely come under your sway. Till then, I implore you, let her be mine. But if the Fates refuse a husband's prayers, I am resolved never to return hence. My death shall give you a double boon."
Thus he prayed and touched his harp in tune with his words. All around him the lifeless ghosts came flocking, and [pg 55] as they heard they wept. Tantalus forgot his hunger and thirst. Ixion's wheel stood still, the Danaids set aside their leaky urns and Sisyphus sat on his stone to listen. Never yet had such sweet strains been heard in the world of gloom. Then, for the first time, tears moistened the cheeks of the Furies, and even the king and queen of the dead were moved to pity. They summoned Eurydice, and she came, yet halting from her recent wound.
"Take her," says Pluto, "and lead her back to the light. But she must follow you at a distance, nor must you once turn round to look upon her till you have passed beyond these realms. Else the boon we grant you will be but vain."
A steep path led upward from the realm of darkness, and the way was hard to find through the gloom. In silence Orpheus led on, till the goal was close at hand and the welcoming light of the upper air began to penetrate the darkness. Then a sudden fear struck his heart. Had Eurydice really followed his steps, or had she turned back, and was all his toil in vain? Tom with anxiety and longing, he turned to gaze on his beloved. Dimly he saw her, but for the last time, for a power she could not resist drew her back. Orpheus stretched out his arms and tried to seize her, but he only clasped the empty air. "Farewell, a last farewell," she murmured, and vanished from his sight.
In vain Orpheus tried to follow her, in vain he besought Charon to carry him a second time across the waters of Acheron. Seven days he sat on the further bank without food or drink, nourished by his tears and grief. Then at last he knew that the gods below were pitiless; and full of sorrow he returned to the upper earth.
For three years he wandered among the mountains of Thrace, finding his only consolation in the music of his lyre, for he shunned all men and women and would have no bride after Eurydice.
One day he sat down to rest on a grassy hill in the sunshine, and played and sang to beguile his sorrow. As he played, the coolness of shady branches seemed all about him, and looking up he found himself in the midst of a wood. Oak, poplar, lime, beech, laurel, ash, pine, plane and maple and [pg 56] many another tree had gathered together here, drawn from their distant forest homes by the sounds of Orpheus's lyre. Yes, and the beasts and the birds of the field came too, and Orpheus sat in their midst and sang and played the tunes of sorrow.
Suddenly a great noise was heard of laughter and shouting and merry-making. For this was one of the feasts of Bacchus, and the women were celebrating his rites, wandering over the mountains with dance and revel. When they saw Orpheus they set up a shout of derision. "See," they cried, "the wretched singer who mocks at women and will have no bride but the dead. Come, let us kill him, and show that no man shall despise us unpunished."
With these words they began to throw wands and stones at him, but even the lifeless objects were softened by the music, and fell harmlessly to the ground. Then the women raised a wild shout and made such a clamor with trumpets and cymbals, that the soft tones of the harp were drowned by the noise. Now at last the shots took effect, and in their fury the women fell upon him, dealing blow on blow. Orpheus fell lifeless to the ground.
But he was not to die unwept. The little birds of the forest mourned for him, even the stony rocks wept, the trees shed their leaves with grief, and the dryads and naiads tore their hair and put on the garb of sorrow. Only the pitiless revelers knew no remorse. They seized the singer's head and threw it with his lyre into the river Hebrus. There it floated down stream and, strange to tell, the chords gave forth a lament, and the lifeless tongue uttered words. "Eurydice, Eurydice," it cried, till head and lyre were carried down to the sea, and on to Lesbos, the isle of sweet song, where in after years Alcaeus and Sappho tuned afresh the lyre of Orpheus.
But the shade of the dead singer went down to Hades, and found entrance at last. Thus Orpheus and Eurydice were re-united, and won in death the bliss that was denied them in life.
ADAPTED FROM A, AND E. KEARY'S VERSION I
Upon a summer's afternoon it happened that Baldur the Bright and Bold, beloved of men and the gods, found himself alone in his palace of Broadblink. Thor was walking among the valleys, his brow heavy with summer heat; Frey and Gerda sported on still waters in their cloud-leaf ship; Odin, for once, slept on the top of Air Throne; a noon-day stillness pervaded the whole earth; and Baldur in Broadblink, most sunlit of palaces, dreamed a dream.
The dream of Baldur was troubled. He knew not whence nor why; but when he awoke he found that a new and weighty care was within him. It was so heavy that Baldur could scarcely carry it, and yet he pressed it closely to his heart and said, "Lie there, and do not fall on any one but me." Then he rose up and walked out from the splendor of his hall, that he might seek his own mother, Frigga, and tell her what had happened. He found her in her crystal saloon, calm and kind, and ready to sympathize; so he walked up to her, his hands pressed closely on his heart, and lay down at her feet sighing."What is the matter, dear Baldur?" asked Frigga, gently. "I do not know, mother," answered he. "I do not know what the matter is; but I have a shadow in my heart." "Take it out, then, my son, and let me look at it," replied Frigga. [pg 58] "But I fear, mother, that if I do it will cover the whole earth."
Then Frigga laid her hand upon the heart of her son that she might feel the shadow's shape. Her brow became clouded as she felt it; her parted lips grew pale, and she cried out, "Oh! Baldur, my beloved son! the shadow is the shadow of death!"Then said Baldur, "I will die bravely, my mother." But Frigga answered, "You shall not die at all; for I will not sleep to-night until everything on earth has sworn to me that it will neither kill nor harm you."
So Frigga stood up, and called to her everything on earth that had power to hurt or slay. First she called all metals to her; and heavy iron-ore came lumbering up the hill into the crystal hall, brass and gold, copper, silver, lead, and steel, and stood before the Queen, who lifted her right hand high in the air, saying, "Swear to me that you will not injure Baldur"; and they all swore, and went. Then she called to her all stones; and huge granite came with crumbling sandstone, and white lime, and the round, smooth stones of the seashore, and Frigga raised her arm, saying, "Swear that you will not injure Baldur"; and they swore, and went. Then Frigga called to her the trees; and wide-spreading oak trees, with tall ash and sombre firs, came rushing up the hill, and Frigga raised her hand, and said, "Swear that you will not hurt Baldur"; and they said, "We swear," and went. After this Frigga called to her the diseases, who came blown by poisonous winds on wings of pain to the sound of moaning. Frigga said to them, "Swear"; and they sighed, "We swear," then flew away. Then Frigga called to her all beasts, birds, and venomous snakes, who came to her and swore, and disappeared. Then she stretched out her hand to Baldur, while a smile spread over her face, saying, "Now, my son, you cannot die."
Just then Odin came in, and when he had heard from Frigga the whole story, he looked even more mournful than she had done; neither did the cloud pass from his face when he was told of the oaths that had been taken."Why do you look so grave, my lord?" demanded Frigga at last. "Baldur cannot die now." [pg 59] But Odin asked very gravely, "Is the shadow gone out of our son's heart, or is it still there?" "It cannot be there," said Frigga, turning away her head resolutely, and folding her hands before her.
But Odin looked at Baldur, and saw how it was. The hands pressed to the heavy heart, the beautiful brow grown dim. Then immediately he arose, saddled Sleipnir, his eight-footed steed, mounted him, and, turning to Frigga, said, "I know of a dead prophetess, Frigga, who, when she was alive, could tell what was going to happen; her grave lies on the east side of Helheim, and I am going there to awake her, and ask whether any terrible grief is really coming upon us."
So saying Odin shook the bridle in his hand, and the eight-footed, with a bound, leaped forth, rushed like a whirlwind down the mountain of Asgard, and then dashed into a narrow defile between rocks.
Sleipnir went on through the defile a long way, until he came to a place where the earth opened her mouth. There Odin rode in and down a broad, steep, slanting road which led him to the cavern Gnipa, and the mouth of the cavern Gnipa yawned upon Niflheim. Then thought Odin to himself, "My journey is already done." But just as Sleipnir was about to leap through the jaws of the pit, Garm, the voracious dog who was chained to the rock, sprang forward, and tried to fasten himself upon Odin. Three times Odin shook him off, and still Garm, as fierce as ever, went on with the fight. At last Sleipnir leaped, and Odin thrust just at the same moment; then horse and rider cleared the entrance, and turned eastward towards the dead prophetess's grave, dripping blood along the road as they went; while the beaten Garm stood baying in the cavern's mouth.
When Odin came to the grave he got off his horse, and stood with his face northward, looking through barred enclosures into the city of Helheim itself. The servants of Hela were very busy there making preparations for some new guest—hanging gilded couches with curtains of anguish and splendid misery upon the walls. Then Odin's heart died within him, and he began to repeat mournful runes in a low tone.
But Odin raised his head and said again, "Only tell me one thing. Just now, as I looked into darkness, it seemed to me that I saw one on earth who would not weep for Baldur. Who was it?"
At this she grew very angry and said, "How couldst thou see in darkness? I know of only one who, by giving away his eye, gained light. No Vegtam art thou but Odin, chief of men."
At her angry words Odin became angry, too, and called out as loudly as he could, "No prophetess nor wise woman, but rather the mother of three giants."
"Go, go!" answered the prophetess, falling back in her grave; "no man shall waken me again until Loki have burst his chains and the Twilight of the Gods be come." After this Odin mounted the eight-footed once more and rode thoughtfully home.
When Odin came back to Asgard, Hermod took the bridle from his father's hand and told him that the rest of the gods were gone to the Peacestead—a broad, green plain which lay just outside the city. This was the playground of the gods, where they practised trials of skill and held tournaments and sham fights. These last were always conducted in the gentlest and most honorable manner; for the strongest law of the Peacestead was, that no angry blow should be struck, or spiteful word spoken, upon the sacred field; and for this reason some have thought it might be well if children also had a Peacestead to play in.
Odin was too tired from his journey to go to the Peacestead that afternoon; so he turned away and shut himself up in his palace of Gladsheim. But when he was gone, Loki came into the city by another way, and hearing from Hermod where the gods were, set off to join them.
When he got to the Peacestead, Loki found that the gods were standing round in a circle shooting at something, and he peeped between the shoulders of two of them to find out what it was. To his surprise he saw Baldur standing in the midst, erect and calm, whilst his friends and brothers were aiming their weapons at him. Some hewed at him with their swords,—others threw stones at him—some shot arrows pointed with steel, and Thor continually swung his great hammer at his head. "Well," said Loki to himself, "if this is the sport of Asgard, what must that of Jötunheim be? I wonder what Father Odin and Mother Frigga would say if they were here?" But as Loki still looked, he became even more surprised, for the sport went on, and Baldur was not hurt. Arrows aimed at his very heart glanced back again untinged with blood. The stones fell down from his broad, bright brow, and left no bruises there. Swords clave, but did not wound him; Thor's hammer struck him, and he was not crushed. At this Loki grew perfectly furious with envy and hatred. "And why is Baldur to be so honored," said [pg 62] he "that even steel and stone shall not hurt him?" Then Loki changed himself into a little, dark, bent old woman, with a stick, and hobbled away from the Peacestead to Frigga's crystal saloon. At the door he knocked with the stick."Come in!" said the kind voice of Frigga, and Loki lifted the latch.
Now when Frigga saw, from the other end of the hall, a little, bent, crippled old woman come hobbling up her crystal floor, she got up with true queenliness and met her halfway, holding out her hand and saying in the kindest manner, "Pray sit down, my poor old friend; for it seems to me that you have come from a great distance.""That I have, indeed," answered Loki in a tremulous, squeaking voice. "And did you happen to see anything of the gods," asked Frigga, "as you came?" "Just now I passed by the Peacestead and saw them at play." "What were they doing?" "Shooting at Baldur." Then Frigga bent over her work with a pleased smile on her face. "And nothing hurt him?" "Nothing," answered Loki, looking keenly at her. "No, no thing," murmured Frigga, still looking down and speaking half musingly to herself; "for all things have sworn to me that they will not." "Sworn!" exclaimed Loki, eagerly; "what is that you say? Has everything sworn then?"
"Everything," answered she, "excepting the little shrub mistletoe, which grows, you know, on the west side of Valhalla, and to which I said nothing, because I thought it was too young to swear.""Excellent!" thought Loki, and then he got up. "You're not going yet, are you?" said Frigga, stretching out her hand and looking up at last into the eyes of the old woman.
"I'm quite rested now, thank you," answered Loki in his squeaky voice, and then he hobbled out at the door, which [pg 63] clapped after him, and sent a cold gust into the room. Frigga shuddered, and thought that a serpent was gliding down the back of her neck.
When Loki had left the presence of Frigga, he changed himself back to his proper shape and went straight to the west side of Valhalla, where the mistletoe grew. Then he opened his knife and cut off a large bunch, saying these words, "Too young for Frigga's oaths, but not too weak for Loki's work." After which he set off for the Peacestead once more, the mistletoe in his hand. When he got there he found that the gods were still at their sport, standing round, taking aim, and talking eagerly, and Baldur did not seem tired.
But there was one who stood alone, leaning against a tree, and who took no part in what was going on. This was Hödur, Baldur's blind twin-brother; he stood with his head bent downwards, silent while the others were speaking, doing nothing when they were most eager; and Loki thought that there was a discontented expression on his face, just as if he were saying to himself, "Nobody takes any notice of me." So Loki went up to him and put his hand upon his shoulder.
"And why are you standing here all alone, my brave friend?" said he. "Why don't you throw something at Baldur? Hew at him with a sword, or show him some attention of that sort."
"I haven't a sword," answered Hödur, with an impatient gesture; "and you know as well as I do, Loki, that Father Odin does not approve of my wearing warlike weapons, or joining in sham fights, because I am blind."
"Oh! is that it?" said Loki. Well, I only know I shouldn't like to be left out of everything. However, I've got a twig of mistletoe here which I'll lend you if you like; a harmless little twig enough, but I shall be happy to guide your arm if you would like to throw it, and Baldur might take it as a compliment from his twin-brother.""Let me feel it," said Hödur, stretching out his groping hands. "This way, this way, my dear friend," said Loki, giving him the twig. "Now, as hard as ever you can, to do him honor; throw!" [pg 64] Hödur threw—Baldur fell, and the shadow of death covered the whole earth. III
One after another they turned and left the Peacestead, the friends and brothers of the slain. One after another they turned and went towards the city; crushed hearts, heavy footsteps, no word amongst them, a shadow upon all. The shadow was in Asgard, too— had walked through Frigga's hall and seated itself upon the threshold of Gladsheim. Odin had just come out to look at it, and Frigga stood by in mute despair as the gods came up.
"Loki did it! Loki did it!" they said at last in confused, hoarse whispers, and they looked from one to another,—upon Odin, upon Frigga, upon the shadow which they saw before them, and which they felt within. "Loki did it! Loki, Loki!" they went on saying; but it was of no use to repeat the name of Loki over and over again when there was another name they were too sad to utter but which filled all their hearts—Baldur. Frigga said it first, and then they all went to look at him lying down so peacefully on the grass—dead, dead."Carry him to the funeral pyre!" said Odin, at length; and four of the gods stooped down and lifted their dead brother.
Noiselessly they carried the body tenderly to the seashore and laid it upon the deck of the majestic ship, Ringhorn, which had been his. Then they stood waiting to see who would come to the funeral. Odin came, and on his shoulders sat his two ravens, whose croaking drew clouds down over the Asa's face, for Thought and Memory sang the same sad song that day. Frigga came,—Frey, Gerda, Freyja, Thor, Hoenir, Bragi, and Idun. Heimdall came sweeping over the tops of the mountains on Golden Mane, his swift, bright steed. Ægir the Old groaned from under the deep, and sent his daughters up to mourn around the dead. Frost-giants and mountain-giants came crowding round the rimy shores of Jötunheim to look [pg 65] across the sea upon the funeral of an Asa. Nanna came, Baldur's fair young wife; but when she saw the dead body of her husband, her own heart broke with grief, and the gods laid her beside him on the stately ship. After this Odin stepped forward and placed a ring on the breast of his son, whispering something at the same time in his ear; but when he and the rest of the gods tried to push Ringhorn into the sea before setting fire to it, they found their hearts too heavy to do it. So they beckoned to the giantess Hyrrokin to come over from Jötunheim and help them. She, with a single push, set the ship floating, and then, whilst Thor stood up holding his hammer high in the air, Odin lighted the funeral pile of Baldur and of Nanna.
So Ringhorn went floating towards the deep sea and the funeral fire burnt on. Its broad red flame burst forth heavenward, but when the smoke would have gone upward too, the winds came sobbing and carried it away.IV
When at last the ship Ringhorn had floated out so far to sea that it looked like a dull red lamp on the horizon, Frigga turned round and said, "Will any one of you, my children, perform a noble action and win my love forever?""I will," cried Hermod, before any one else had time to open his lips.
"Go, then, Hermod," answered Frigga, "saddle Sleipnir with all speed and ride down to Helheim; there seek out Hela, the stern mistress of the dead, and entreat her to send our beloved back to us again."
Hermod was gone in the twinkling of an eye, not in at the mouth of the earth and through the steep cavern down which Odin went to the dead prophetess's grave; he chose another way, though not a better one; for, go to Helheim as you will, the best is but a downward road, and so Hermod found it—downward, slanting, slippery, dark, and very cold. At last he came to [pg 66] the Giallar Bru—that sounding river which flows between the living and the dead, and to the bridge over it which is paved with stones of glittering gold. Hermod was surprised to see gold in such a place; but as he rode over the bridge, and looked down carefully at the stones, he saw that they were only tears which had been shed round the beds of the dying—only tears, and yet they made the way seem brighter. But when Hermod reached the other end of the bridge, he found the courageous woman who, for ages and ages, had been sitting there to watch the dead go by, and she stopped him saying:"What a noise you make! Who are you? Yesterday five troops of dead men went over the
Giallar Bridge and did not shake it so much as you have done. Besides," she added, looking more closely at Hermod, "you are not a dead man at all. Your lips are neither cold nor blue. Why, then, do you ride on the way to Helheim?""I seek Baldur," answered Hermod. "Tell me, have you seen him pass?" "Baldur," she said, "has ridden over the bridge; but there below, towards the north, lies the way to the Abodes of Death."
So Hermod went on the way until he came to the barred gates of Helheim itself. There he alighted, tightened his saddle-girths, remounted, clapped both spurs to his horse, and cleared the gate by one tremendous leap. Then Hermod found himself in a place where no living man had ever been before—the City of the Dead. Perhaps you think there is a great silence there, but you are mistaken. Hermod thought he had never in his life heard so much noise; for the echoes of all words were speaking together—words, some newly uttered and some ages old; but the dead men did not hear who flitted up and down the dark streets, for their ears had been stunned and become cold long since. Hermod rode on through the city until he came to the palace of Hela, which stood in the midst. Precipice was its threshold, the entrance-hall, Wide Storm, and yet Hermod was not too much afraid to seek the innermost rooms; so he went on to the banqueting hall, where Hela sat at the head of her table serving her new guests. Baldur, alas! sat [pg 67] at her right hand, and on her left his pale young wife. When Hela saw Hermod coming up the hall she smiled grimly, but beckoned to him at the same time to sit down, and told him that he might sup that night with her. It was a strange supper for a living man to sit down to. Hunger was the table; Starvation, Hela's knife; Delay, her man; Slowness, her maid; and Burning Thirst, her wine. After supper Hela led the way to the sleeping apartments. "You see," she said, turning to Hermod, "I am very anxious about the comfort of my guests. Here are beds of unrest provided for all, hung with curtains of Weariness, and look how all the walls are furnished with Despair."
So saying she strode away, leaving Hermod and Baldur together. The whole night they sat on those unquiet couches and talked. Hermod could speak of nothing but the past, and as he looked anxiously round the room his eyes became dim with tears. But Baldur seemed to see a light far off, and he spoke of what was to come.
The next morning Hermod went to Hela, and entreated her to let Baldur return to Asgard. He even offered to take his place in Helheim if she pleased; but Hela only laughed at this and said: "You talk a great deal about Baldur, and boast how much every one loves him; I will prove now if what you have told me be true. Let everything on earth, living or dead, weep for Baldur, and he shall go home again; but if one thing only refuse to weep, then let Helheim hold its own; he shall not go."
"Every one will weep willingly," said Hermod, as he mounted Sleipnir and rode towards the entrance of the city. Baldur went with him as far as the gate and began to send messages to all his friends in Asgard, but Hermod would not listen to many of them.
"You will soon come back to us," he said, "there is no use in sending messages." So Hermod darted homewards, and Baldur watched him through the bars of Helheim's gateway as he flew along."Not soon, not soon," said the dead Asa; but still he saw the light far off, and thought of what was to come. [pg 68]V
WEEPING "Well, Hermod, what did she say?" asked the gods from the top of the hill as they saw him coming; "make haste and tell us what she said." And Hermod came up.
"Oh! is that all?" they cried, as soon as he had delivered his message. "Nothing can be more easy," and then they all hurried off to tell Frigga. She was weeping already, and in five minutes there was not a tearless eye in Asgard."But this is not enough," said Odin; "the whole earth must know of our grief that it may weep with us."
Then the father of the gods called to him his messenger maidens—the beautiful Valkyries—and sent them out into all worlds with these three words on their lips, "Baldur is dead!" But the words were so dreadful that at first the messenger maidens could only whisper them in low tones as they went along, "Baldur is dead!" The dull, sad sounds flowed back on Asgard like a new river of grief, and it seemed to the gods as if they now wept for the first time—"Baldur is dead!"
"What is that the Valkyries are saying?" asked the men and women in all the country round, and when they heard rightly, men left their labor and lay down to weep—women dropped the buckets they were carrying to the well, and, leaning their faces over them, filled them with tears. The children crowded upon the doorsteps, or sat down at the corners of the streets, crying as if their own mothers were dead.The Valkyries passed on. "Baldur is dead!" they said to the empty fields; and straightway the grass and the wild field-flowers shed tears.
"Baldur is dead!" said the messenger maidens to the rocks and stones; and the very stones began to weep. "Baldur is dead!" the Valkyries cried; and even the old mammoth's bones which had lain for centuries under the hills, burst into tears, so that small rivers gushed forth from every mountain's side. "Baldur is dead!" said the messenger maidens as they swept over silent sands; and all the shells wept pearls. "Baldur is dead!" they cried to the sea, and to Jötunheim across the sea; [pg 69] and when the giants understood it, even they wept, while the sea rained spray to heaven. After this the Valkyries stepped from one stone to another until they reached a rock that stood alone in the middle of the sea; then, all together, they bent forward over the edge of it, stooped down and peeped over, that they might tell the monsters of the deep. "Baldur is dead!" they said, and the sea monsters and the fish wept. Then the messenger maidens looked at one another and said, "Surely our work is done." So they twined their arms round one another's waists, and set forth on the downward road to Helheim, there to claim Baldur from among the dead.
After he had sent forth his messenger maidens, Odin had seated himself on the top of Air Throne that he might see how the earth received his message. At first he watched the Valkyries as they stepped forth north and south, and east and west; but soon the whole earth's steaming tears rose up like a great cloud and hid everything from him. Then he looked down through the cloud and said, "Are you all weeping?" The Valkyries heard the sound of his voice as they went all together down the slippery road, and they turned round, stretching out their arms towards Air Throne, their long hair falling back, while, with choked voices and streaming eyes, they answered, "The world weeps, Father Odin; the world and we."
After this they went on their way until they came to the end of the cave Gnipa, where Garm was chained, and which yawned over Niflheim. "The world weeps," they said one to another by way of encouragement, for here the road was so dreadful; but just as they were about to pass through the mouth of Gnipa they came upon a haggard witch named Thaukt, who sat in the entrance with her back to them, and her face toward the abyss. "Baldur is dead! Weep, weep!" said the messenger maidens, as they tried to pass her; but Thaukt made answer:"What she doth hold, Let Hela keep; For naught care I, Though the world weep, O'er Baldur's bale. Live he or die With tearless eye, Old Thaukt shall wail." [pg 70] And with these words leaped into Niflheim with a yell of triumph.
"Surely that cry was the cry of Loki," said one of the maidens; but another pointed towards the city of Helheim, and there they saw the stern face of Hela looking over the wall.
"One has not wept," said the grim Queen, "and Helheim holds its own." So saying she motioned the maidens away with her long, cold hand.
Thor's Adventures Among The JötunsADAPTED BY JULIA GODDARD
Once upon a time Thor set out upon his travels, taking Loki with him, for despite Loki's spirit of mischief he often aided Thor, who doubtless, in the present expedition, felt that Loki might be of use to him.So they set off together in Thor's chariot, drawn by its two strong he-goats, and as night drew nigh, stopped at the hut of a peasant, where they asked food and shelter.
"Food I have none to give you," said the peasant. "I am a poor man and not able even to give supper to my children, but if you like to rest under my roof you are welcome to do so.""Never mind the food; I can manage that," said Thor, dismounting from the chariot and entering the hut. It was a poor place, and not at all fitted to receive one of the Asi, but Thor was glad enough to meet with it, wretched as it was. "You can kill the goats," said he; "they will make us an excellent meal." [pg 71]
The peasant could not help thinking that it was a pity to kill two such fine animals; but wisely thinking that this was no affair of his, and that the stranger had a right to do as he pleased with his own, he set himself to obey Thor's orders, and with the help of his daughter Raska soon spread a savory repast before the hungry god and his attendant."Sit down, all of you," said Thor; "there is enough and to spare."
So they all sat down, and the peasant and his children shared a more plentiful meal than had fallen to their lot lately. Thor and Loki also did ample justice to the food, and when supper was over the thunder-god bade the peasant gather the bones and place them in the goatskins, and making them into a bundle he left them on the floor until the next morning.
When the morning came and the early sun shone in through the crevices, Thor raised his hammer, and instead of the bundle of bones the peasant and his son and daughter saw the two goats standing as fresh and lively as if nothing had happened to them, saving that one of them halted a little in his walk.
When they sought to learn why this should be, it was found that Thialfe, the boy, in getting the marrow out of one of the bones, had broken it, and it was this that caused the goat to go lame.
Thor was very angry, and was very near killing not only Thialfe but also the peasant and his daughter Raska, but they begged so hard for their lives that he consented to spare them on condition that the boy and girl should follow him in his travels.
And in they all plunged, for Thialfe and Raska were used to a hardy life, and so were able to swim with scarcely more weariness than Thor and Loki, and were not long in reaching the opposite shore.[pg 72]
"The country does not improve," said Loki, looking round upon the desolate plain that lay outstretched between them and the borders of a dark forest, which they could just see in the far distance. One or two huge rocks thrust their jagged points high into the air, and great blocks of stone were scattered about, but there was no sign of herbage and not a tree to be seen nearer than the forest belt bounding the horizon. Heavy gray clouds were drawing nearer and nearer to the dreary earth, and twilight was fast approaching. "It looks not well," answered Thor, "but we must push on and perhaps may find it better as we go onward. Besides, night is drawing nigh, and as there are no dwellings to be seen we must try to gain the shelter of the forest before it is too dark to see where we are going."
So they pushed on, and though they looked to the right hand and to the left, soon found that they were in a land where no men lived. There was, therefore, nothing to be done but to quicken their speed, in order to reach the shelter of the forest. But though they strove to the utmost, the twilight deepened into darkness and the darkness became so deep by the time they reached the forest, that they only knew they had arrived there by Loki's striking his head against a low branch, and soon after this Thor cried out:"Good luck! I have found a house. Follow close after me and we will make ourselves comfortable for the night." For Thor in groping along had come to what he supposed to be a wall of solid masonry. "Where are you?" asked Loki, "for it is so dark that I cannot see you." "Here," answered Thor, stretching out his hand; "take hold and follow me." So Loki clutched Thor's arm, and Thialfe in turn seized the arm of Loki, whilst Raska clung to her brother and wished herself safe at home in her father's hut. And thus they groped their way along the wall, seeking to find an entrance to the house.
At last Thor found a huge entrance opening into a wide, hall, and passing through this they turned to the left into a [pg 73] large room which was quite empty, and here, after eating some food, they stretched themselves upon the hard floor and wearied out with the day's march, soon fell asleep.
But they did not sleep long. Their slumbers were broken by a rumbling sound as of a coming earthquake; the walls of the house shook, and peals of thunder echoed through the lofty chamber.
Thor sprang up. "We are scarcely safe here," he said; "let us seek some other room." Loki jumped up speedily, as did also Thialfe and Raska, who were in a great fright, wondering what dreadful thing was going to happen to them. They willingly followed Thor, hoping to find a safer place.
To the right they saw another room like a long gallery with a huge doorway, and into this Loki, Thialfe, and Raska crept, choosing the farthest corner of it; but Thor took his stand at the doorway to be on the watch if any fresh danger should threaten them.
After a somewhat uncomfortable rest, Loki, Thialfe, and Raska were not sorry to find that the day had dawned, though as there were no windows in the house, they only knew it by hearing the cock crow.
Thor was better off, for the doorway was so wide that the sunlight came pouring in without hindrance. Indeed the huge size of the doorway made Thor think that the builder must have given up all hope of ever finding a door large enough to fit into it.
He strolled away from the house, and the first thing that he saw was a huge giant fast asleep upon the greensward; and now he knew that the thunder that had so frightened them in the night had been nothing more or less than the loud snoring of the giant.
So wroth was Thor at the thought that such a thing should have made him afraid, that he fastened on his belt of strength and drew his sword and made towards the giant as though he would kill him on the spot.But the giant, opening his great round eyes, stared so steadily at Thor that the god became mazed and could do nothing but stare in return. At last, however, he found voice to ask, "What is your name?"
"My name," said the giant, raising himself on one elbow, thereby causing his head to rise so high into the air that Thor thought it was taking flight altogether, "is Skrymner; you, I believe, are the god Thor?""I am," answered the god. "Do you happen to have picked up my glove?" asked the giant carelessly.
Then Thor knew that what he and his companions had taken for a large house was only the giant's glove, and from this we may judge how huge a giant Skrymner must have been.
Thor made no answer, and Skrymner next asked whither Thor was traveling; and when he found that he was journeying to Utgard, offered to bear him company, as he too was going to the same place.Thor accepted the giant's offer, and after eating a hearty meal, all were ready for another day's march. Skrymner showed himself a kindly giant, and insisted upon carrying Thor's bag of meal, putting it into his own wallet, which he slung across his broad shoulders.
It must have been a strange sight, indeed, to see the great giant stalking along with his smaller companions at his heels; and we may well marvel how they managed to keep pace with him, or how Thor was able to raise his voice to such a pitch as to reach the giant's ears.Nevertheless all went well, and they trudged cheerfully along, never flagging in their talk. Once Skrymner took Raska on his shoulder, but the height made her so giddy that she was glad to come down again and walk quietly by the side of Thialfe.
When night overtook them they encamped under one of the great oak-trees, for they were not yet out of the bounds of the forest. Skrymner, to judge by his loud snoring, fell asleep the moment he lay down upon the ground, but Thor and his comrades were not so tired as to forget that they had tasted nothing since breakfast time. Accordingly they set to work [pg 75] to open the wallet that Skrymner had given into their hands before closing his eyes.But it was no easy task, and with all their efforts they failed to open it. Not a knot could they untie, and their fingers were chafed and aching. Neither were they more able to awaken Skyrmner, and Thor's anger waxed exceedingly fierce. "You shall pay for this," said he, flinging his hammer at the giant. Skrymner half opened the eye nearest to Thor, and said in a very sleepy voice, "Why will the leaves drop off the trees?" And then he snored as loudly as before.
Thor picked up his hammer, and approaching nearer drove it into the hinder part of the giant's head, who again, half waking up, muttered, "How troublesome the dust is!" Thor was exceedingly astonished at this, but thought nevertheless that he would once more make trial of his power; so coming up close to Skrymner he struck with such force as to drive the hammer up to the handle in the giant's cheek.Then Skrymner opened both eyes, and lazily lifting his finger to his face said, "I suppose there are birds about, for I fancied I felt a feather fall."
Now was Thor fairly disconcerted; and the next morning, when the giant told him that they must now part, as his road led him another way, he was by no means ill-pleased, and he let Skrymner go without so much as bidding him "good speed." Skrymner, however, seemed not to notice that Thor was glad to be quit of his company, and gave him some very friendly advice before he left him.
"If you will take my advice," said the giant, "you will give up this thought of visiting Utgard. The people there are all giants of greater stature even than I, and they make nothing of little men, such as you are. Nay, more, you yourself are likely to fare but badly amongst them, for I see that you are rather apt to think too much of yourself and to take too much upon you. Be wise while there is time, think of what I say, and don't go near the city."
"But I will go there," shouted Thor, almost choked with rage; "I will go in spite of all the Jötuns of Jötunheim. None [pg 76] shall hinder me, and the giants shall see and wonder at the mighty power of the god Thor."
And as he spoke the rising sun fell full upon the city of Utgard, whose huge brazen gates glittered in the sunlight. Even though they were so far away, Thor could see how high they were; and as he drew nearer, their vast size filled him with amazement; but when he reached them his wonder was beyond all words, for he and his companions seemed no larger than grasshoppers, in comparison with their height.
The gates were not open, for it was yet early; so Thor and his comrades crept through the bars, and entered the city. As they passed along the streets the houses were so tall that it was only by crossing to the opposite side of the broad road that they were able to see the windows in the topmost stories. And the streets were so wide that it was quite a journey across them.
Once a mouse darted out of a hole, and Raska screamed, for she thought it was a grisly bear. The mouse also shrieked and made much more noise than Raska, as well it might, for a cat so huge that Thialfe half thought it must be the monster of Midgard seized it, and giving it a pat with one of its paws laid it dead on the pavement.
As for the horses, their hoofs were terrible to look at, and Thialfe and Raska must have climbed up ladders if they wished to see their heads.
The people were quite as large as Skrymner had described and Thor and his companions were obliged to be very careful lest they should get trodden upon, as it was very doubtful if the people even saw them.
Still Thor walked along with the proud consciousness that he was the god Thor; and feeling that though he was so small he was yet a person of some importance, made his way to the palace, and desired to see the King.
After some little time he and his fellow travelers were ushered into the presence of Utgarda Loke, the King of the country. And Utgarda Loke, hearing the door open, raised his eyes, thinking to see some great courtier enter, but he knew nothing of the bows and greetings of Thor, until happening to [pg 77] cast his eyes to the ground, he saw a little man with his companions saluting him with much ceremony.The King had never seen such small men before, and there was something so absurd to him in the sight, that he burst out laughing. And then all the courtiers laughed also, pretending that they had not seen the little creatures before. It was some time before they all left off laughing, but at length there was a pause, and Thor essayed to make himself heard. "Though we are but small in comparison with the Jötuns," said he angrily, "we are by no means to be despised, but are gifted with powers that may surprise you." "Really!" answered Utgarda Loke, raising his eyebrows. And then he and his courtiers laughed louder than before.
At last there was another pause in their merriment, and the King added: "However, we are willing to give the strangers a fair trial in order to prove the truth of what their spokesman, whom I take to be the god Thor, says. How say you? What can this one do?" And he pointed to Loki."Please your Majesty, I am very great at eating," returned Loki. "Nay," answered Utgarda Loke, "you must grow a little before you are great at anything."
At which speech the courtiers again shouted with laughter; but Utgarda Loke, turning to his servants, bade them make trial of Loki's powers. So they brought a great trough full of food, and Loki was placed at one end, and a courtier named Loge at the other. They both fell to work to devour what was before them, and met at the middle of the trough. But it was found that while Loki had eaten the flesh of his portion, Loge had eaten, not only the flesh, but the bones also. Therefore Loki, was, of course, vanquished.
Then Utgarda Loke turned to Thialfe. "And pray, in what may this youth be specially skilled?" he asked.
And Thialfe was led to a plain of ice, as smooth as glass, and one named Hugr was set to run against him. But though [pg 78] Thialfe was the swiftest skater ever known in the world, yet Hugr glided past him so fleetly that he had returned to the starting-post before Thialfe had done more than a quarter of the distance.Three times did Thialfe match his speed against Hugr, and, three times beaten, withdrew from the contest as disconsolate as Loki. "And now may I ask what you can do yourself?" said the King to Thor. "I can drain a wine-cup with any one," replied the god. "Try him," said Utgarda Loke. And forthwith the royal cupbearer presented a drinking-horn to Thor. "If you are as great as you pretend to be," said the King, "you will drain it at one draught. Some people take two pulls at it, but the weakest among us can manage it in three." Thor took up the horn, and, being very thirsty, took a steady pull at it. He thought he had done very well, but on removing it from his lips he marveled to see how little had gone. A second time he took a draught, but the horn was far from being emptied. Again a third time he essayed to drain it, but it was full almost to the brim. Therefore he set it down in despair, and confessed himself unable to drain it.
"I am disappointed in you," said Utgarda Loke; "you are not half the man I took you for. I see it is no use asking you to do warrior's feats; I must try you in a simpler way, in a child's play that we have amongst us. You shall try to lift my cat from the ground."Thor turned quite scarlet, and then became white with rage. "Are you afraid?" asked Utgarde Loke; "you look so pale."
And a large gray cat came leaping along, and planted itself firmly before Thor, showing its sharp claws, and glaring upon him with its fiery eyes.
Thor seized it, but in spite of all his efforts he was only able to raise one of the cat's paws from the ground.
"Pooh! pooh!" exclaimed Utgarda Loke, "you are a mere baby, fit only for the nursery. I believe that my old nurse [pg 79] Hela would be more than a match for you. Here, Hela, come and wrestle with the mighty god Thor."And Utgarda Loke laughed disdainfully. Forth stepped a decrepit old woman, with lank cheeks and toothless jaws. Her eyes were sunken, her brow furrowed, and her scanty locks were white as snow.
She advanced towards Thor, and tried to throw him to the ground; but though he put forth his whole strength to withstand her, he was surprised to find how powerful she was, and that it needed all his efforts to keep his feet. For a long time he was successful, but at length she brought him down upon one knee, and Thor was obliged to acknowledge himself conquered.
Ashamed and mortified, he and his companions withdrew to a lodging for the night, and in the morning were making ready to leave the city quietly, when Utgarda Loke sent for them.He made them a splendid feast, and afterwards went with them beyond the city gates. "Now tell me honestly," said he to Thor, "what do you think of your success?" "I am beyond measure astounded and ashamed," replied the god.
"Ha! ha!" laughed Utgarda Loke. "I knew that you were. However, as we are well out of the city I don't mind telling you a secret or two. Doubtless you will receive a little comfort from my doing so, as you confess that your coming hither has been to no purpose.
"In the first place, you have been deceived by enchantments ever since you came within the borders of Jötunheim. I am the giant you met with on your way hither, and if I had known as much of your power then as I do now, you would never have found your way within the walls of Utgard.
"Certainly I had had some slight experience of it, for the three blows you gave me would have killed me had they fallen upon me. But it was not I, but a huge mountain that you struck at; and if you visit it again, you will find three valleys cleft in the rocks by the strokes of your hammer."As for the wallet, I had fastened it with a magic chain, so that you need not wonder that you could not open it. [pg 80] "Loge, with whom Loki strove, was no courtier, but a subtle devouring flame that consumed all before it." Here Loki uttered an exclamation of delight, but Thor bade him be silent, and Utgarda Loke went on: "Thialfe's enemy was Hugr, or Thought, and let man work away as hard as he pleases, Thought will still outrun him.
"As for yourself, the end of the drinking-horn, though you did not see it, reached the sea, and as fast as you emptied it, it filled again, so that you never could have drained it dry. But the next time that you stand upon the seashore, you will find how much less the ocean is by your draughts."The gray cat was no cat, but the great Serpent of Midgard, that twines round the world, and you lifted him so high that we were all quite frightened. "But your last feat was the most wonderful of all, for Hela was none other than Death. And never did I see any one before over whom Death had so little power.
"And now, my friend, go your way, and don't come near my city again, for I tell you plainly I do not want you there, and I shall use all kinds of enchantment to keep you out of it."As he ended his speech, Thor raised his hammer, but Utgarda Loke had vanished. "I will return to the city, and be avenged," said Thor. But lo! the giant city was nowhere to be seen. A fair pasture-land spread itself out around him, and through its midst a broad river flowed peacefully along. So Thor and his companions, musing upon their wonderful adventures, turned their steps homewards.
The Apples Of IdunADAPTED BY HAMILTON WRIGHT MABIE
Once upon a time Odin, Loki, and Hoenir started on a journey. They had often traveled together before on all sorts of errands, for they had a great many things to look [pg 81] after, and more than once they had fallen into trouble through the prying, meddlesome, malicious spirit of Loki, who was never so happy as when he was doing wrong. When the gods went on a journey they traveled fast and hard, for they were strong, active spirits who loved nothing so much as hard work, hard blows, storm, peril, and struggle. There were no roads through the country over which they made their way, only high mountains to be climbed by rocky paths, deep valleys into which the sun hardly looked during half the year, and swift-rushing streams, cold as ice, and treacherous to the surest foot and the strongest arm. Not a bird flew through the air, not an animal sprang through the trees. It was as still as a desert. The gods walked on and on, getting more tired and hungry at every step. The sun was sinking low over the steep, pine-crested mountains, and the travelers had neither breakfasted nor dined. Even Odin was beginning to feel the pangs of hunger, like the most ordinary mortal, when suddenly, entering a little valley, the famished gods came upon a herd of cattle. It was the work of a minute to kill a great ox and to have the carcass swinging in a huge pot over a roaring fire.
But never were gods so unlucky before! In spite of their hunger, the pot would not boil. They piled on the wood until the great flames crackled and licked the pot with their fiery tongues, but every time the cover was lifted there was the meat just as raw as when it was put in. It is easy to imagine that the travelers were not in very good humor. As they were talking about it, and wondering how it could be, a voice called out from the branches of the oak overhead, "If you will give me my fill, I'll make the pot boil."
The gods looked first at each other and then into the tree, and there they discovered a great eagle. They were glad enough to get their supper on almost any terms, so they told the eagle he might have what he wanted if he would only get the meat cooked. The bird was as good as his word, and in less time than it takes to tell it supper was ready. Then the eagle flew down and picked out both shoulders and both legs. This was a pretty large share, it must be confessed, and Loki, who was always angry when anybody got more than he, no sooner saw [pg 82] what the eagle had taken, than he seized a great pole and began to beat the rapacious bird unmercifully. Whereupon a very singular thing happened, as singular things always used to happen when the gods were concerned: the pole stuck fast in the huge talons of the eagle at one end, and Loki stuck fast at the other end. Struggle as he might, he could not get loose, and as the great bird sailed away over the tops of the trees, Loki went pounding along on the ground, striking against rocks and branches until he was bruised half to death.
The eagle was not an ordinary bird by any means, as Loki soon found when he begged for mercy. The giant Thjasse happened to be flying abroad in his eagle plumage when the hungry travelers came under the oak and tried to cook the ox. It was into his hands that Loki had fallen, and he was not to get away until he had promised to pay roundly for his freedom.
If there was one thing which the gods prized above their other treasures in Asgard, it was the beautiful fruit of Idun, kept by the goddess in a golden casket and given to the gods to keep them forever young and fair. Without these Apples all their power could not have kept them from getting old like the meanest of mortals. Without these Apples of Idun, Asgard itself would have lost its charm; for what would heaven be without youth and beauty forever shining through it?
Thjasse told Loki that he could not go unless he would promise to bring the Apples of Idun. Loki was wicked enough for anything; but when it came to robbing the gods of their immortality, even he hesitated. And while he hesitated the eagle dashed hither and thither, flinging him against the sides of the mountains and dragging him through the great tough boughs of the oaks until his courage gave out entirely, and he promised to steal the Apples out of Asgard and give them to the giant.
Loki was bruised and sore enough when he got on his feet again to hate the giant who handled him so roughly, with all his heart, but he was not unwilling to keep his promise to steal the Apples, if only for the sake of tormenting the other gods. But how was it to be done? Idun guarded the golden fruit of immortality with sleepless watchfulness. No one ever touched [pg 83] it but herself, and a beautiful sight it was to see her fair hands spread it forth for the morning feasts in Asgard. The power which Loki possessed lay not so much in his own strength, although he had a smooth way of deceiving people, as in the goodness of others who had no thought of his doing wrong because they never did wrong themselves.Not long after all this happened, Loki came carelessly up to Idun as she was gathering her Apples to put them away in the beautiful carven box which held them. "Good morning, goddess," said he. "How fair and golden your Apples are! "Yes," answered Idun; "the bloom of youth keeps them always beautiful." "I never saw anything like them," continued Loki slowly, as if he were talking about a matter of no importance, "until the other day."
Idun looked up at once with the greatest interest and curiosity in her face. She was very proud of her Apples, and she knew no earthly trees, however large and fair, bore the immortal fruit."Where have you seen any Apples like them?" she asked. "Oh, just outside the gates," said Loki indifferently. "If you care to see them I'll take you there. It will keep you but a moment. The tree is only a little way off." Idun was anxious to go at once. "Better take your Apples with you, to compare them with the others," said the wily god, as she prepared to go.
Idun gathered up the golden Apples and went out of Asgard, carrying with her all that made it heaven. No sooner was she beyond the gates than a mighty rushing sound was heard, like the coming of a tempest, and before she could think or act, the giant Thjasse, in his eagle plumage, was bearing her swiftly away through the air to his desolate, icy home in Thrymheim, where, after vainly trying to persuade her to let him eat the Apples and be forever young like the gods, he kept her a lonely prisoner.
Loki, after keeping his promise and delivering Idun into the hands of the giant, strayed back into Asgard as if nothing [pg 84] had happened. The next morning, when the gods assembled for their feast, there was no Idun. Day after day went past, and still the beautiful goddess did not come. Little by little the light of youth and beauty faded from the home of the gods, and they themselves became old and haggard. Their strong, young faces were lined with care and furrowed by age, their raven locks passed from gray to white, and their flashing eyes became dim and hollow. Bragi, the god of poetry, could make no music while his beautiful wife was gone he knew not whither.Morning after morning the faded light broke on paler and ever paler faces, until even in heaven the eternal light of youth seemed to be going out forever.
Finally the gods could bear the loss of power and joy no longer. They made rigorous inquiry. They tracked Loki on that fair morning when he led Idun beyond the gates; they seized him and brought him into solemn council, and when he read in their haggard faces the deadly hate which flamed in all their hearts against his treachery, his courage failed, and he promised to bring Idun back to Asgard if the goddess Freyja would lend him her falcon guise. No sooner said than done; and with eager gaze the gods watched him as he flew away, becoming at last only a dark moving speck against the sky.
After long and weary flight Loki came to Thrymheim, and was glad enough to find Thjassa gone to sea and Idun alone in his dreary house. He changed her instantly into a nut, and taking her thus disguised in his talons, flew away as fast as his falcon wings could carry him. And he had need of all his speed, for Thjasse, coming suddenly home and finding Idun and her precious fruit gone, guessed what had happened, and, putting on his eagle plumage, flew forth in a mighty rage, with vengeance in his heart. Like the rushing wings of a tempest, his mighty pinions beat the air and bore him swiftly onward. From mountain peak to mountain peak he measured his wide course, almost grazing at times the murmuring pine forests, and then sweeping high in mid-air with nothing above but the arching sky, and nothing beneath but the tossing sea.
At last he sees the falcon far ahead, and now his flight becomes like the flash of the lightning for swiftness, and like [pg 85] the rushing of clouds for uproar. The haggard faces of the gods line the walls of Asgard and watch the race with tremulous eagerness. Youth and immortality are staked upon the winning of Loki. He is weary enough and frightened enough, too, as the eagle sweeps on close behind him; but he makes desperate efforts to widen the distance between them. Little by little the eagle gains on the falcon. The gods grow white with fear; they rush off and prepare great fires upon the walls. With fainting, drooping wing the falcon passes over and drops exhausted by the wall. In an instant the fires have been lighted, and the great flames roar to heaven. The eagle sweeps across the fiery line a second later and falls, maimed and burned to the ground; where a dozen fierce hands smite the life out of him, and the great giant Thjasse perishes among his foes.
Idun resumes her natural form as Bragi rushes to meet her. The gods crowd round her. She spreads the feast, the golden Apples gleaming with unspeakable lustre in the eyes of the gods. They eat; and once more their faces glow with the beauty of immortal youth, their eyes flash with the radiance of divine power, and, while Idun stands like a star for beauty among the throng, the song of Bragi is heard once more; for poetry and immortality are wedded again.