Part 3 out of 4
wisest man in the whole world, and nothing but your wisdom and
courage can get us out of this danger. If you desert us, and go
to the enchanted palace, you will suffer the same fate as our
poor companions, and not a soul of us will ever see our dear
"As I am your king," answered Ulysses, "and wiser than any of
you, it is therefore the more my duty to see what has befallen
our comrades, and whether anything can yet be done to rescue
them. Wait for me here until tomorrow. If I do not then return,
you must hoist sail, and endeavor to find your way to our
native land. For my part, I am answerable for the fate of these
poor mariners, who have stood by my side in battle, and been so
often drenched to the skin, along with me, by the same
tempestuous surges. I will either bring them back with me, or
Had his followers dared, they would have detained him by force.
But King Ulysses frowned sternly on them, and shook his spear,
and bade them stop him at their peril. Seeing him so
determined, they let him go, and sat down on the sand, as
disconsolate a set of people as could be, waiting and praying
for his return.
It happened to Ulysses, just as before, that, when he had gone
a few steps from the edge of the cliff, the purple bird came
fluttering towards him, crying, "Peep, peep, pe--weep!" and
using all the art it could to persuade him to go no farther.
"What mean you, little bird?" cried Ulysses. "You are arrayed
like a king in purple and gold, and wear a golden crown upon
your head. Is it because I too am a king, that you desire so
earnestly to speak with me? If you can talk in human language,
say what you would have me do."
"Peep!" answered the purple bird, very dolorously. "Peep, peep,
Certainly there lay some heavy anguish at the little bird's
heart; and it was a sorrowful predicament that he could not, at
least, have the consolation of telling what it was. But Ulysses
had no time to waste in trying to get at the mystery. He
therefore quickened his pace, and had gone a good way along the
pleasant wood path, when there met him a young man of very
brisk and intelligent aspect, and clad in a rather singular
garb. He wore a short cloak and a sort of cap that seemed to be
furnished with a pair of wings; and from the lightness of his
step, you would have supposed that there might likewise be
wings on his feet. To enable him to walk still better (for he
was always on one journey or another) he carried a winged
staff, around which two serpents were wriggling and twisting.
In short, I have said enough to make you guess that it was
Quicksilver; and Ulysses (who knew him of old, and had learned
a great deal of his wisdom from him) recognized him in a
"Whither are you going in such a hurry, wise Ulysses?" asked
Quicksilver. "Do you not know that this island is enchanted?
The wicked enchantress (whose name is Circe, the sister of King
Aetes) dwells in the marble palace which you see yonder among
the trees. By her magic arts she changes every human being into
the brute, beast, or fowl whom he happens most to resemble."
"That little bird, which met me at the edge of the cliff,"
exclaimed Ulysses; "was he a human being once?"
"Yes," answered Quicksilver. "He was once a king, named Picus,
and a pretty good sort of a king, too, only rather too proud of
his purple robe, and his crown, and the golden chain about his
neck; so he was forced to take the shape of a gaudy-feathered
bird. The lions, and wolves, and tigers, who will come running
to meet you, in front of the palace, were formerly fierce and
cruel men, resembling in their disposition the wild beasts
whose forms they now rightfully wear."
"And my poor companions," said Ulysses. "Have they undergone a
similar change, through the arts of this wicked Circe?"
"You well know what gormandizers they were," replied
Quicksilver; and rogue that he was, he could not help laughing
at the joke. "So you will not be surprised to hear that they
have all taken the shapes of swine! If Circe had never done
anything worse, I really should not think her so very much to
"But can I do nothing to help them?" inquired Ulysses.
"It will require all your wisdom," said Quicksilver, "and a
little of my own into the bargain, to keep your royal and
sagacious self from being transformed into a fox. But do as I
bid you; and the matter may end better than it has begun."
While he was speaking, Quicksilver seemed to be in search of
something; he went stooping along the ground, and soon laid his
hand on a little plant with a snow-white flower, which he
plucked and smelt of. Ulysses had been looking at that very
spot only just before; and it appeared to him that the plant
had burst into full flower the instant when Quicksilver touched
it with his fingers.
"Take this flower, King Ulysses," said he. "Guard it as you do
your eyesight; for I can assure you it is exceedingly rare and
precious, and you might seek the whole earth over without ever
finding another like it. Keep it in your hand, and smell of it
frequently after you enter the palace, and while you are
talking with the enchantress. Especially when she offers you
food, or a draught of wine out of her goblet, be careful to
fill your nostrils with the flower's fragrance. Follow these
directions, and you may defy her magic arts to change you into
Quicksilver then gave him some further advice how to behave,
and bidding him be bold and prudent, again assured him that,
powerful as Circe was, he would have a fair prospect of coming
safely out of her enchanted palace. After listening
attentively, Ulysses thanked his good friend, and resumed his
way. But he had taken only a few steps, when, recollecting some
other questions which he wished to ask, he turned round again,
and beheld nobody on the spot where Quicksilver had stood; for
that winged cap of his, and those winged shoes, with the help
of the winged staff, had carried him quickly out of sight.
When Ulysses reached the lawn, in front of the palace, the
lions and other savage animals came bounding to meet him, and
would have fawned upon him and licked his feet. But the wise
king struck at them with his long spear, and sternly bade them
begone out of his path; for he knew that they had once been
bloodthirsty men, and would now tear him limb from limb,
instead of fawning upon him, could they do the mischief that
was in their hearts. The wild beasts yelped and glared at him,
and stood at a distance, while he ascended the palace steps.
On entering the hall, Ulysses saw the magic fountain in the
center of it. The up-gushing water had now again taken the
shape of a man in a long, white, fleecy robe, who appeared to
be making gestures of welcome. The king likewise heard the
noise of the shuttle in the loom and the sweet melody of the
beautiful woman's song, and then the pleasant voices of herself
and the four maidens talking together, with peals of merry
laughter intermixed. But Ulysses did not waste much time in
listening to the laughter or the song. He leaned his spear
against one of the pillars of the hall, and then, after
loosening his sword in the scabbard, stepped boldly forward,
and threw the folding doors wide open. The moment she beheld
his stately figure standing in the doorway, the beautiful woman
rose from the loom, and ran to meet him with a glad smile
throwing its sunshine over her face, and both her hands
"Welcome, brave stranger!" cried she. "We were expecting you."
And the nymph with the sea-green hair made a courtesy down to
the ground, and likewise bade him welcome; so did her sister
with the bodice of oaken bark, and she that sprinkled dew-drops
from her fingers' ends, and the fourth one with some oddity
which I cannot remember. And Circe, as the beautiful
enchantress was called (who had deluded so many persons that
she did not doubt of being able to delude Ulysses, not
imagining how wise he was), again addressed him:
"Your companions," said she, "have already been received into
my palace, and have enjoyed the hospitable treatment to which
the propriety of their behavior so well entitles them. If such
be your pleasure, you shall first take some refreshment, and
then join them in the elegant apartment which they now occupy.
See, I and my maidens have been weaving their figures into this
piece of tapestry."
She pointed to the web of beautifully-woven cloth in the loom.
Circe and the four nymphs must have been very diligently at
work since the arrival of the mariners; for a great many yards
of tapestry had now been wrought, in addition to what I before
described. In this new part, Ulysses saw his two and twenty
friends represented as sitting on cushions and canopied
thrones, greedily devouring dainties, and quaffing deep
draughts of wine. The work had not yet gone any further. O, no,
indeed. The enchantress was far too cunning to let Ulysses see
the mischief which her magic arts had since brought upon the
"As for yourself, valiant sir," said Circe, "judging by the
dignity of your aspect, I take you to be nothing less than a
king. Deign to follow me, and you shall be treated as befits
So Ulysses followed her into the oval saloon, where his two and
twenty comrades had devoured the banquet, which ended so
disastrously for themselves. But, all this while, he had held
the snow-white flower in his hand, and had constantly smelt of
it while Circe was speaking; and as he crossed the threshold of
the saloon, he took good care to inhale several long and deep
snuffs of its fragrance. Instead of two and twenty thrones,
which had before been ranged around the wall, there was now
only a single throne, in the center of the apartment. But this
was surely the most magnificent seat that ever a king or an
emperor reposed himself upon, all made of chased gold, studded
with precious stones, with a cushion that looked like a soft
heap of living roses, and overhung by a canopy of sunlight
which Circe knew how to weave into drapery. The enchantress
took Ulysses by the hand, and made him sit down upon this
dazzling throne. Then, clapping her hands, she summoned the
"Bring hither," said she, "the goblet that is set apart for
kings to drink out of. And fill it with the same delicious wine
which my royal brother, King Aetes, praised so highly, when he
last visited me with my fair daughter Medea. That good and
amiable child! Were she now here, it would delight her to see
me offering this wine to my honored guest."
But Ulysses, while the butler was gone for the wine, held the
snow-white flower to his nose.
"Is it a wholesome wine?" he asked.
At this the four maidens tittered; whereupon the enchantress
looked round at them, with an aspect of severity.
"It is the wholesomest juice that ever was squeezed out of the
grape," said she; "for, instead of disguising a man, as other
liquor is apt to do, it brings him to his true self, and shows
him as he ought to be."
The chief butler liked nothing better than to see people turned
into swine, or making any kind of a beast of themselves; so he
made haste to bring the royal goblet, filled with a liquid as
bright as gold, and which kept sparkling upward, and throwing a
sunny spray over the brim. But, delightfully as the wine
looked, it was mingled with the most potent enchantments that
Circe knew how to concoct. For every drop of the pure grape
juice there were two drops of the pure mischief; and the danger
of the thing was, that the mischief made it taste all the
better. The mere smell of the bubbles, which effervesced at the
brim, was enough to turn a man's beard into pig's bristles, or
make a lion's claws grow out of his fingers, or a fox's brush
"Drink, my noble guest," said Circe, smiling, as she presented
him with the goblet. "You will find in this draught a solace
for all your troubles."
King Ulysses took the goblet with his right hand, while with
his left he held the snow-white flower to his nostrils, and
drew in so long a breath that his lungs were quite filled with
its pure and simple fragrance. Then, drinking off all the wine,
he looked the enchantress calmly in the face.
"Wretch," cried Circe, giving him a smart stroke with her wand,
"how dare you keep your human shape a moment longer! Take the
form of the brute whom you most resemble. If a hog, go join
your fellow-swine in the sty; if a lion, a wolf, a tiger, go
howl with the wild beasts on the lawn; if a fox, go exercise
your craft in stealing poultry. Thou hast quaffed off my wine,
and canst be man no longer."
But, such was the virtue of the snow-white flower, instead of
wallowing down from his throne in swinish shape, or taking any
other brutal form, Ulysses looked even more manly and king-like
than before. He gave the magic goblet a toss, and sent it
clashing over the marble floor to the farthest end of the
saloon. Then, drawing his sword, he seized the enchantress by
her beautiful ringlets, and made a gesture as if he meant to
strike off her head at one blow.
"Wicked Circe," cried he, in a terrible voice, "this sword
shall put an end to thy enchant meets. Thou shalt die, vile
wretch, and do no more mischief in the world, by tempting human
beings into the vices which make beasts of them."
The tone and countenance of Ulysses were so awful, and his
sword gleamed so brightly, and seemed to have so intolerably
keen an edge, that Circe was almost killed by the mere fright,
without waiting for a blow. The chief butler scrambled out of
the saloon, picking up the golden goblet as he went; and the
enchantress and the four maidens fell on their knees, wringing
their hands, and screaming for mercy.
"Spare me!" cried Circe. "Spare me, royal and wise Ulysses. For
now I know that thou art he of whom Quicksilver forewarned me,
the most prudent of mortals, against whom no enchantments can
prevail. Thou only couldst have conquered Circe. Spare me,
wisest of men. I will show thee true hospitality, and even give
myself to be thy slave, and this magnificent palace to be
henceforth thy home."
The four nymphs, meanwhile, were making a most piteous ado; and
especially the ocean nymph, with the sea-green hair, wept a
great deal of salt water, and the fountain nymph, besides
scattering dewdrops from her fingers' ends, nearly melted away
into tears. But Ulysses would not be pacified until Circe had
taken a solemn oath to change back his companions, and as many
others as he should direct, from their present forms of beast
or bird into their former shapes of men.
"On these conditions," said he, "I consent to spare your life.
Otherwise you must die upon the spot."
With a drawn sword hanging over her, the enchantress would
readily have consented to do as much good as she had hitherto
done mischief, however little she might like such employment.
She therefore led Ulysses out of the back entrance of the
palace, and showed him the swine in their sty. There were about
fifty of these unclean beasts in the whole herd; and though the
greater part were hogs by birth and education, there was
wonderfully little difference to be seen betwixt them and their
new brethren, who had so recently worn the human shape. To
speak critically, indeed, the latter rather carried the thing
to excess, and seemed to make it a point to wallow in the
miriest part of the sty, and otherwise to outdo the original
swine in their own natural vocation. When men once turn to
brutes, the trifle of man's wit that remains in them adds
tenfold to their brutality.
The comrades of Ulysses, however, had not quite lost the
remembrance of having formerly stood erect. When he approached
the sty, two and twenty enormous swine separated themselves
from the herd, and scampered towards him, with such a chorus of
horrible squealing as made him clap both hands to his ears. And
yet they did not seem to know what they wanted, nor whether
they were merely hungry, or miserable from some other cause. It
was curious, in the midst of their distress, to observe them
thrusting their noses into the mire, in quest of something to
eat. The nymph with the bodice of oaken bark (she was the
hamadryad of an oak) threw a handful of acorns among them; and
the two and twenty hogs scrambled and fought for the prize, as
if they had tasted not so much as a noggin of sour milk for a
"These must certainly be my comrades," said Ulysses. "I
recognize their dispositions. They are hardly worth the trouble
of changing them into the human form again. Nevertheless, we
will have it done, lest their bad example should corrupt the
other hogs. Let them take their original shapes, therefore,
Dame Circe, if your skill is equal to the task. It will require
greater magic, I trow, than it did to make swine of them."
So Circe waved her wand again, and repeated a few magic words,
at the sound of which the two and twenty hogs pricked up their
pendulous ears. It was a wonder to behold how their snouts grew
shorter and shorter, and their mouths (which they seemed to be
sorry for, because they could not gobble so expeditiously)
smaller and smaller, and how one and another began to stand
upon his hind legs, and scratch his nose with his fore
trotters. At first the spectators hardly knew whether to call
them hogs or men, but by and by came to the conclusion that
they rather resembled the latter. Finally, there stood the
twenty-two comrades of Ulysses, looking pretty much the same as
when they left the vessel.
You must not imagine, however, that the swinish quality had
entirely gone out of them. When once it fastens itself into a
person's character, it is very difficult getting rid of it.
This was proved by the hamadryad, who, being exceedingly fond
of mischief, threw another handful of acorns before the twenty-
two newly-restored people; whereupon down they wallowed in a
moment, and gobbled them up in a very shameful way. Then,
recollecting themselves, they scrambled to their feet, and
looked more than commonly foolish.
"Thanks, noble Ulysses!" they cried. "From brute beasts you
have restored us to the condition of men again."
"Do not put yourselves to the trouble of thanking me," said the
wise king. "I fear I have done but little for you."
To say the truth, there was a suspicious kind of a grunt in
their voices, and, for a long time afterwards, they spoke
gruffly, and were apt to set up a squeal.
"It must depend on your own future behavior," added Ulysses,
"whether you do not find your way back to the sty."
At this moment, the note of a bird sounded from the branch of a
"Peep, peep, pe--wee--e!"
It was the purple bird, who, all this while, had been sitting
over their heads, watching what was going forward, and hoping
that Ulysses would remember how he had done his utmost to keep
him and his followers out of harm's way. Ulysses ordered Circe
instantly to make a king of this good little fowl, and leave
him exactly as she found him. Hardly were the words spoken, and
before the bird had time to utter another "pe--weep," King
Picus leaped down from the bough of a tree, as majestic a
sovereign as any in the world, dressed in a long purple robe
and gorgeous yellow stockings, with a splendidly wrought collar
about his neck, and a golden crown upon his head. He and King
Ulysses exchanged with one another the courtesies which belong
to their elevated rank. But from that time forth, King Picus
was no longer proud of his crown and his trappings of royalty,
nor of the fact of his being a king; he felt himself merely the
upper servant of his people, and that it must be his life-long
labor to make them better and happier.
As for the lions, tigers, and wolves (though Circe would have
restored them to their former shapes at his slightest word),
Ulysses thought it advisable that they should remain as they
now were, and thus give warning of their cruel dispositions,
instead of going about under the guise of men, and pretending
to human sympathies, while their hearts had the blood-
thirstiness of wild beasts. So he let them howl as much as they
liked, but never troubled his head about them. And, when
everything was settled according to his pleasure, he sent to
summon the remainder of his comrades, whom he had left at the
sea-shore. These being arrived, with the prudent Eurylochus at
their head, they all made themselves comfortable in Circe's
enchanted palace, until quite rested and refreshed from the
toils and hardships of their voyage.
THE POMEGRANATE SEEDS.
Mother Ceres was exceedingly fond of her daughter Proserpina,
and seldom let her go alone into the fields. But, just at the
time when my story begins, the good lady was very busy, because
she had the care of the wheat, and the Indian corn, and the rye
and barley and, in short, of the crops of every kind, all over
the earth; and as the season had thus far been uncommonly
backward, it was necessary to make the harvest ripen more
speedily than usual. So she put on her turban, made of poppies
(a kind of flower which she was always noted for wearing), and
got into her car drawn by a pair of winged dragons, and was
just ready to set off.
"Dear mother," said Proserpina, "I shall be very lonely while
you are away. May I not run down to the shore, and ask some of
the sea nymphs to come up out of the waves and play with me?"
"Yes, child," answered Mother Ceres. "The sea nymphs are good
creatures, and will never lead you into any harm. But you must
take care not to stray away from them, nor go wandering about
the fields by yourself. Young girls, without their mothers to
take care of them, are very apt to get into mischief."
The child promised to be as prudent as if she were a grown-up
woman; and, by the time the winged dragons had whirled the car
out of sight, she was already on the shore, calling to the sea
nymphs to come and play with her. They knew Proserpina's voice,
and were not long in showing their glistening faces and
sea-green hair above the water, at the bottom of which was
their home. They brought along with them a great many beautiful
shells; and sitting down on the moist sand, where the surf wave
broke over them, they busied themselves in making a necklace,
which they hung round Proserpina's neck. By way of showing her
gratitude, the child besought them to go with her a little way
into the fields, so that they might gather abundance of
flowers, with which she would make each of her kind playmates a
"O no, dear Proserpina," cried the sea nymphs; "we dare not go
with you upon the dry land. We are apt to grow faint, unless at
every breath we can snuff up the salt breeze of the ocean. And
don't you see how careful we are to let the surf wave break
over us every moment or two, so as to keep ourselves
comfortably moist? If it were not for that, we should look like
bunches of uprooted seaweed dried in the sun.
"It is a great pity," said Proserpina. "But do you wait for me
here, and I will run and gather my apron full of flowers, and
be back again before the surf wave has broken ten times over
you. I long to make you some wreaths that shall be as lovely as
this necklace of many colored shells."
"We will wait, then," answered the sea nymphs. "But while you
are gone, we may as well lie down on a bank of soft sponge
under the water. The air to-day is a little too dry for our
comfort. But we will pop up our heads every few minutes to see
if you are coming."
The young Proserpina ran quickly to a spot where, only the day
before, she had seen a great many flowers. These, however, were
now a little past their bloom; and wishing to give her friends
the freshest and loveliest blossoms, she strayed farther into
the fields, and found some that made her scream with delight.
Never had she met with such exquisite flowers before--violets
so large and fragrant--roses with so rich and delicate a
blush--such superb hyacinths and such aromatic pinks--and many
others, some of which seemed to be of new shapes and colors.
Two or three times, moreover, she could not help thinking that
a tuft of most splendid flowers had suddenly sprouted out of
the earth before her very eyes, as if on purpose to tempt her a
few steps farther. Proserpina's apron was soon filled, and
brimming over with delightful blossoms. She was on the point of
turning back in order to rejoin the sea nymphs, and sit with
them on the moist sands, all twining wreaths together. But, a
little farther on, what should she behold? It was a large
shrub, completely covered with the most magnificent flowers in
"The darlings!" cried Proserpina; and then she thought to
herself, "I was looking at that spot only a moment ago. How
strange it is that I did not see the flowers!"
The nearer she approached the shrub, the more attractive it
looked, until she came quite close to it; and then, although
its beauty was richer than words can tell, she hardly knew
whether to like it or not. It bore above a hundred flowers of
the most brilliant hues, and each different from the others,
but all having a kind of resemblance among themselves, which
showed them to be sister blossoms. But there was a deep, glossy
luster on the leaves of the shrub, and on the petals of the
flowers, that made Proserpina doubt whether they might not be
poisonous. To tell you the truth, foolish as it may seem, she
was half inclined to turn round and run away.
"What a silly child I am!" thought she, taking courage. "It is
really the most beautiful shrub that ever sprang out of the
earth. I will pull it up by the roots, and carry it home, and
plant it in my mother's garden."
Holding up her apron full of flowers with her left hand,
Proserpina seized the large shrub with the other, and pulled,
and pulled, but was hardly able to loosen the soil about its
roots. What a deep-rooted plant it was! Again the girl pulled
with all her might, and observed that the earth began to stir
and crack to some distance around the stem. She gave another
pull, but relaxed her hold, fancying that there was a rumbling
sound right beneath her feet. Did the roots extend down into
some enchanted cavern? Then laughing at herself for so childish
a notion, she made another effort: up came the shrub, and
Proserpina staggered back, holding the stem triumphantly in her
hand, and gazing at the deep hole which its roots had left in
Much to her astonishment, this hole kept spreading wider and
wider, and growing deeper and deeper, until it really seemed to
have no bottom; and all the while, there came a rumbling noise
out of its depths, louder and louder, and nearer and nearer,
and sounding like the tramp of horses' hoofs and the rattling
of wheels. Too much frightened to run away, she stood straining
her eyes into this wonderful cavity, and soon saw a team of
four sable horses, snorting smoke out of their nostrils, and
tearing their way out of the earth with a splendid golden
chariot whirling at their heels. They leaped out of the
bottomless hole, chariot and all; and there they were, tossing
their black manes, flourishing their black tails, and
curvetting with every one of their hoofs off the ground at
once, close by the spot where Proserpina stood. In the chariot
sat the figure of a man, richly dressed, with a crown on his
head, all flaming with diamonds. He was of a noble aspect, and
rather handsome, but looked sullen and discontented; and he
kept rubbing his eyes and shading them with his hand, as if he
did not live enough in the sunshine to be very fond of its
As soon as this personage saw the affrighted Proserpina, he
beckoned her to come a little nearer.
"Do not be afraid," said he, with as cheerful a smile as he
knew how to put on. "Come! Will you not like to ride a little
way with me, in my beautiful chariot?"
But Proserpina was so alarmed, that she wished for nothing but
to get out of his reach. And no wonder. The stranger did not
look remarkably good-natured, in spite of his smile; and as for
his voice, its tones were deep and stern, and sounded as much
like the rumbling of an earthquake underground than anything
else. As is always the case with children in trouble,
Proserpina's first thought was to call for her mother.
"Mother, Mother Ceres!" cried she, all in a tremble. "Come
quickly and save me."
But her voice was too faint for her mother to hear. Indeed, it
is most probable that Ceres was then a thousand miles off,
making the corn grow in some far distant country. Nor could it
have availed her poor daughter, even had she been within
hearing; for no sooner did Proserpina begin to cry out, than
the stranger leaped to the ground, caught the child in his
arms, and again mounted the chariot, shook the reins, and
shouted to the four black horses to set off. They immediately
broke into so swift a gallop, that it seemed rather like flying
through the air than running along the earth. In a moment,
Proserpina lost sight of the pleasant vale of Enna, in which
she had always dwelt. Another instant, and even the summit of
Mount Aetna had become so blue in the distance, that she could
scarcely distinguish it from the smoke that gushed out of its
crater. But still the poor child screamed, and scattered her
apron full of flowers along the way, and left a long cry
trailing behind the chariot; and many mothers, to whose ears it
came, ran quickly to see if any mischief had befallen their
children. But Mother Ceres was a great way off, and could not
hear the cry.
As they rode on, the stranger did his best to soothe her.
"Why should you be so frightened, my pretty child?" said he,
trying to soften his rough voice. "I promise not to do you any
harm. What! you have been gathering flowers? Wait till we come
to my palace, and I will give you a garden full of prettier
flowers than those, all made of pearls, and diamonds, and
rubies. Can you guess who I am? They call my name Pluto; and I
am the king of diamonds and all other precious stones. Every
atom of the gold and silver that lies under the earth belongs
to me, to say nothing of the copper and iron, and of the coal
mines, which supply me with abundance of fuel. Do you see this
splendid crown upon my head? You may have it for a plaything.
O, we shall be very good friends, and you will find me more
agreeable than you expect, when once we get out of this
"Let me go home!" cried Proserpina. "Let me go home!"
"My home is better than your mother's," answered King Pluto.
"It is a palace, all made of gold, with crystal windows; and
because there is little or no sunshine thereabouts, the
apartments are illuminated with diamond lamps. You never saw
anything half so magnificent as my throne. If you like, you may
sit down on it, and be my little queen, and I will sit on the
"I don't care for golden palaces and thrones," sobbed
Proserpina. "Oh, my mother, my mother! Carry me back to my
But King Pluto, as he called himself, only shouted to his
steeds to go faster.
"Pray do not be foolish, Proserpina," said he, in rather a
sullen tone. "I offer you my palace and my crown, and all the
riches that are under the earth; and you treat me as if I were
doing you an injury. The one thing which my palace needs is a
merry little maid, to run upstairs and down, and cheer up the
rooms with her smile. And this is what you must do for King
"Never!" answered Proserpina, looking as miserable as she
could. "I shall never smile again till you set me down at my
But she might just as well have talked to the wind that
whistled past them, for Pluto urged on his horses, and went
faster than ever. Proserpina continued to cry out, and screamed
so long and so loudly that her poor little voice was almost
screamed away; and when it was nothing but a whisper, she
happened to cast her eyes over a great broad field of waving
grain--and whom do you think she saw? Who, but Mother Ceres,
making the corn grow, and too busy to notice the golden chariot
as it went rattling along. The child mustered all her strength,
and gave one more scream, but was out of sight before Ceres had
time to turn her head.
King Pluto had taken a road which now began to grow excessively
gloomy. It was bordered on each side with rocks and precipices,
between which the rumbling of the chariot wheels was
reverberated with a noise like rolling thunder. The trees and
bushes that grew in the crevices of the rocks had very dismal
foliage; and by and by, although it was hardly noon, the air
became obscured with a gray twilight. The black horses had
rushed along so swiftly, that they were already beyond the
limits of the sunshine. But the duskier it grew, the more did
Pluto's visage assume an air of satisfaction. After all, he was
not an ill-looking person, especially when he left off twisting
his features into a smile that did not belong to them.
Proserpina peeped at his face through the gathering dusk, and
hoped that he might not be so very wicked as she at first
"Ah, this twilight is truly refreshing," said King Pluto,
"after being so tormented with that ugly and impertinent glare
of the sun. How much more agreeable is lamplight or torchlight,
more particularly when reflected from diamonds! It will be a
magnificent sight, when we get to my palace."
"Is it much farther?" asked Proserpina. "And will you carry me
back when I have seen it?"
"We will talk of that by and by," answered Pluto. "We are just
entering my dominions. Do you see that tall gateway before us?
When we pass those gates, we are at home. And there lies my
faithful mastiff at the threshold. Cerberus! Cerberus! Come
hither, my good dog!"
So saying, Pluto pulled at the reins, and stopped the chariot
right between the tall, massive pillars of the gateway. The
mastiff of which he had spoken got up from the threshold, and
stood on his hinder legs, so as to put his fore paws on the
chariot wheel. But, my stars, what a strange dog it was! Why,
he was a big, rough, ugly-looking monster, with three separate
heads, and each of them fiercer than the two others; but fierce
as they were, King Pluto patted them all. He seemed as fond of
his three-headed dog as if it had been a sweet little spaniel,
with silken ears and curly hair. Cerberus, on the other hand,
was evidently rejoiced to see his master, and expressed his
attachment, as other dogs do, by wagging his tail at a great
rate. Proserpina's eyes being drawn to it by its brisk motion,
she saw that this tail was neither more nor less than a live
dragon, with fiery eyes, and fangs that had a very poisonous
aspect. And while the three-headed Cerberus was fawning so
lovingly on King Pluto, there was the dragon tail wagging
against its will, and looking as cross and ill-natured as you
can imagine, on its own separate account.
"Will the dog bite me?" asked Proserpina, shrinking closer to
Pluto. "What an ugly creature he is!"
"O, never fear," answered her companion. "He never harms
people, unless they try to enter my dominions without being
sent for, or to get away when I wish to keep them here. Down,
Cerberus! Now, my pretty Proserpina, we will drive on."
On went the chariot, and King Pluto seemed greatly pleased to
find himself once more in his own kingdom. He drew Proserpina's
attention to the rich veins of gold that were to be seen among
the rocks, and pointed to several places where one stroke of a
pickaxe would loosen a bushel of diamonds. All along the road,
indeed, there were sparkling gems, which would have been of
inestimable value above ground, but which here were reckoned of
the meaner sort and hardly worth a beggar's stooping for.
Not far from the gateway, they came to a bridge, which seemed
to be built of iron. Pluto stopped the chariot, and bade
Proserpina look at the stream which was gliding so lazily
beneath it. Never in her life had she beheld so torpid, so
black, so muddy-looking a stream; its waters reflected no
images of anything that was on the banks, and it moved as
sluggishly as if it had quite forgotten which way it ought to
flow, and had rather stagnate than flow either one way or the
"This is the River Lethe," observed King Pluto. "Is it not a
very pleasant stream?"
"I think it a very dismal one," answered Proserpina.
"It suits my taste, however," answered Pluto, who was apt to be
sullen when anybody disagreed with him. "At all events, its
water has one excellent quality; for a single draught of it
makes people forget every care and sorrow that has hitherto
tormented them. Only sip a little of it, my dear Proserpina,
and you will instantly cease to grieve for your mother, and
will have nothing in your memory that can prevent your being
perfectly happy in my palace. I will send for some, in a golden
goblet, the moment we arrive."
"O, no, no, no!" cried Proserpina, weeping afresh. "I had a
thousand times rather be miserable with remembering my mother,
than be happy in forgetting her. That dear, dear mother! I
never, never will forget her."
"We shall see," said King Pluto. "You do not know what fine
times we will have in my palace. Here we are just at the
portal. These pillars are solid gold, I assure you."
He alighted from the chariot, and taking Proserpina in his
arms, carried her up a lofty flight of steps into the great
hall of the palace. It was splendidly illuminated by means of
large precious stones, of various hues, which seemed to burn
like so many lamps, and glowed with a hundred-fold radiance all
through the vast apartment. And yet there was a kind of gloom
in the midst of this enchanted light; nor was there a single
object in the hall that was really agreeable to behold, except
the little Proserpina herself, a lovely child, with one earthly
flower which she had not let fall from her hand. It is my
opinion that even King Pluto had never been happy in his
palace, and that this was the true reason why he had stolen
away Proserpina, in order that he might have something to love,
instead of cheating his heart any longer with this tiresome
magnificence. And, though he pretended to dislike the sunshine
of the upper world, yet the effect of the child's presence,
bedimmed as she was by her tears, was as if a faint and watery
sunbeam had somehow or other found its way into the enchanted
Pluto now summoned his domestics, and bade them lose no time in
preparing a most sumptuous banquet, and above all things, not
to fail of setting a golden beaker of the water of Lethe by
"I will neither drink that nor anything else," said Proserpina.
"Nor will I taste a morsel of food, even if you keep me forever
in your palace."
"I should be sorry for that," replied King Pluto, patting her
cheek; for he really wished to be kind, if he had only known
how. "You are a spoiled child, I perceive, my little
Proserpina; but when you see the nice things which my cook will
make for you, your appetite will quickly come again."
Then, sending for the head cook, he gave strict orders that all
sorts of delicacies, such as young people are usually fond of,
should be set before Proserpina. He had a secret motive in
this; for, you are to understand, it is a fixed law, that when
persons are carried off to the land of magic, if they once
taste any food there, they can never get back to their friends.
Now, if King Pluto had been cunning enough to offer Proserpina
some fruit, or bread and milk (which was the simple fare to
which the child had always been accustomed), it is very
probable that she would soon have been tempted to eat it. But
he left the matter entirely to his cook, who, like all other
cooks, considered nothing fit to eat unless it were rich
pastry, or highly-seasoned meat, or spiced sweet cakes--things
which Proserpina's mother had never given her, and the smell of
which quite took away her appetite, instead of sharpening it.
But my story must now clamber out of King Pluto's dominions,
and see what Mother Ceres had been about, since she was bereft
of her daughter. We had a glimpse of her, as you remember, half
hidden among the waving grain, while the four black steeds were
swiftly whirling along the chariot, in which her beloved
Proserpina was so unwillingly borne away. You recollect, too,
the loud scream which Proserpina gave, just when the chariot
was out of sight.
Of all the child's outcries, this last shriek was the only one
that reached the ears of Mother Ceres. She had mistaken the
rumbling of the chariot wheels for a peal of thunder, and
imagined that a shower was coming up, and that it would assist
her in making the corn grow. But, at the sound of Proserpina's
shriek, she started, and looked about in every direction, not
knowing whence it came, but feeling almost certain that it was
her daughter's voice. It seemed so unaccountable, however, that
the girl should have strayed over so many lands and seas (which
she herself could not have traversed without the aid of her
winged dragons), that the good Ceres tried to believe that it
must be the child of some other parent, and not her own darling
Proserpina, who had uttered this lamentable cry. Nevertheless,
it troubled her with a vast many tender fears, such as are
ready to bestir themselves in every mother's heart, when she
finds it necessary to go away from her dear children without
leaving them under the care of some maiden aunt, or other such
faithful guardian. So she quickly left the field in which she
had been so busy; and, as her work was not half done, the grain
looked, next day, as if it needed both sun and rain, and as if
it were blighted in the ear, and had something the matter with
The pair of dragons must have had very nimble wings; for, in
less than an hour, Mother Ceres had alighted at the door of her
home, and found it empty. Knowing, however, that the child was
fond of sporting on the sea-shore, she hastened thither as fast
as she could, and there beheld the wet faces of the poor sea
nymphs peeping over a wave. All this while, the good creatures
had been waiting on the bank of sponge, and once, every half
minute or so, had popped up their four heads above water, to
see if their playmate were yet coming back. When they saw
Mother Ceres, they sat down on the crest of the surf wave, and
let it toss them ashore at her feet.
"Where is Proserpina?" cried Ceres. "Where is my child? Tell
me, you naughty sea nymphs, have you enticed her under the
"O, no, good Mother Ceres," said the innocent sea nymphs,
tossing back their green ringlets, and looking her in the face.
"We never should dream of such a thing. Proserpina has been at
play with us, it is true; but she left us a long while ago,
meaning only to run a little way upon the dry land, and gather
some flowers for a wreath. This was early in the day, and we
have seen nothing of her since."
Ceres scarcely waited to hear what the nymphs had to say,
before she hurried off to make inquiries all through the
neighborhood. But nobody told her anything that would enable
the poor mother to guess what had become of Proserpina. A
fisherman, it is true, had noticed her little footprints in the
sand, as he went homeward along the beach with a basket of
fish; a rustic had seen the child stooping to gather flowers;
several persons had heard either the rattling of chariot
wheels, or the rumbling of distant thunder; and one old woman,
while plucking vervain and catnip, had heard a scream, but
supposed it to be some childish nonsense, and therefore did not
take the trouble to look up. The stupid people! It took them
such a tedious while to tell the nothing that they knew, that
it was dark night before Mother Ceres found out that she must
seek her daughter elsewhere. So she lighted a torch, and set
forth, resolving never to come back until Proserpina was
In her haste and trouble of mind, she quite forgot her car and
the winged dragons; or, it may be, she thought that she could
follow up the search more thoroughly on foot. At all events,
this was the way in which she began her sorrowful journey,
holding her torch before her, and looking carefully at every
object along the path. And as it happened, she had not gone far
before she found one of the magnificent flowers which grew on
the shrub that Proserpina had pulled up.
"Ha!" thought Mother Ceres, examining it by torchlight. "Here
is mischief in this flower! The earth did not produce it by any
help of mine, nor of its own accord. It is the work of
enchantment, and is therefore poisonous; and perhaps it has
poisoned my poor child."
But she put the poisonous flower in her bosom, not knowing
whether she might ever find any other memorial of Proserpina.
All night long, at the door of every cottage and farm-house,
Ceres knocked, and called up the weary laborers to inquire if
they had seen her child; and they stood, gaping and half-
asleep, at the threshold, and answered her pityingly, and
besought her to come in and rest. At the portal of every
palace, too, she made so loud a summons that the menials
hurried to throw open the gate, thinking that it must be some
great king or queen, who would demand a banquet for supper and
a stately chamber to repose in. And when they saw only a sad
and anxious woman, with a torch in her hand and a wreath of
withered poppies on her head, they spoke rudely, and sometimes
threatened to set the dogs upon her. But nobody had seen
Proserpina, nor could give Mother Ceres the least hint which
way to seek her. Thus passed the night; and still she continued
her search without sitting down to rest, or stopping to take
food, or even remembering to put out the torch although first
the rosy dawn, and then the glad light of the morning sun, made
its red flame look thin and pale. But I wonder what sort of
stuff this torch was made of; for it burned dimly through the
day, and, at night, was as bright as ever, and never was
extinguished by the rain or wind, in all the weary days and
nights while Ceres was seeking for Proserpina.
It was not merely of human beings that she asked tidings of her
daughter. In the woods and by the streams, she met creatures of
another nature, who used, in those old times, to haunt the
pleasant and solitary places, and were very sociable with
persons who understood their language and customs, as Mother
Ceres did. Sometimes, for instance, she tapped with her finger
against the knotted trunk of a majestic oak; and immediately
its rude bark would cleave asunder, and forth would step a
beautiful maiden, who was the hamadryad of the oak, dwelling
inside of it, and sharing its long life, and rejoicing when its
green leaves sported with the breeze. But not one of these
leafy damsels had seen Proserpina. Then, going a little
farther, Ceres would, perhaps, come to a fountain, gushing out
of a pebbly hollow in the earth, and would dabble with her hand
in the water. Behold, up through its sandy and pebbly bed,
along with the fountain's gush, a young woman with dripping
hair would arise, and stand gazing at Mother Ceres, half out of
the water, and undulating up and down with its ever- restless
motion. But when the mother asked whether her poor lost child
had stopped to drink out of the fountain, the naiad, with
weeping eyes (for these water-nymphs had tears to spare for
everybody's grief, would answer "No!" in a murmuring voice,
which was just like the murmur of the stream.
Often, likewise, she encountered fauns, who looked like
sunburnt country people, except that they had hairy ears, and
little horns upon their foreheads, and the hinder legs of
goats, on which they gamboled merrily about the woods and
fields. They were a frolicsome kind of creature but grew as sad
as their cheerful dispositions would allow, when Ceres inquired
for her daughter, and they had no good news to tell. But
sometimes she same suddenly upon a rude gang of satyrs, who had
faces like monkeys, and horses' tails behind them, and who were
generally dancing in a very boisterous manner, with shouts of
noisy laughter. When she stopped to question them, they would
only laugh the louder, and make new merriment out of the lone
woman's distress. How unkind of those ugly satyrs! And once,
while crossing a solitary sheep pasture, she saw a personage
named Pan, seated at the foot of a tall rock, and making music
on a shepherd's flute. He, too, had horns, and hairy ears, and
goats' feet; but, being acquainted with Mother Ceres, he
answered her question as civilly as he knew how, and invited
her to taste some milk and honey out of a wooden bowl. But
neither could Pan tell her what had become of Proserpina, any
better than the rest of these wild people.
And thus Mother Ceres went wandering about for nine long days
and nights, finding no trace of Proserpina, unless it were now
and then a withered flower; and these she picked up and put in
her bosom, because she fancied that they might have fallen from
her poor child's hand. All day she traveled onward through the
hot sun; and, at night again, the flame of the torch would
redden and gleam along the pathway, and she continued her
search by its light, without ever sitting down to rest.
On the tenth day, she chanced to espy the mouth of a cavern
within which (though it was bright noon everywhere else) there
would have been only a dusky twilight; but it so happened that
a torch was burning there. It flickered, and struggled with the
duskiness, but could not half light up the gloomy cavern with
all its melancholy glimmer. Ceres was resolved to leave no spot
without a search; so she peeped into the entrance of the cave,
and lighted it up a little more, by holding her own torch
before her. In so doing, she caught a glimpse of what seemed to
be a woman, sitting on the brown leaves of the last autumn, a
great heap of which had been swept into the cave by the wind.
This woman (if woman it were) was by no means so beautiful as
many of her sex; for her head, they tell me, was shaped very
much like a dog's, and, by way of ornament, she wore a wreath
of snakes around it. But Mother Ceres, the moment she saw her,
knew that this was an odd kind of a person, who put all her
enjoyment in being miserable, and never would have a word to
say to other people, unless they were as melancholy and
wretched as she herself delighted to be.
"I am wretched enough now," thought poor Ceres, "to talk with
this melancholy Hecate, were she ten times sadder than ever she
was yet." So she stepped into the cave, and sat down on the
withered leaves by the dog-headed woman's side. In all the
world, since her daughter's loss, she had found no other
"O Hecate," said she, "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 cavern?"
"No," answered Hecate, in a cracked voice, and sighing betwixt
every word or two; "no, Mother Ceres, I have seen nothing of
your daughter. But my ears, you must know, are made in such a
way, that all cries of distress and affright all over the world
are pretty sure to find their way to them; and nine days ago,
as I sat in my cave, making myself very miserable, I heard the
voice of a young girl, shrieking as if in great distress.
Something terrible has happened to the child, you may rest
assured. As well as I could judge, a dragon, or some other
cruel monster, was carrying her away."
"You kill me by saying so," cried Ceres, almost ready to faint.
"Where was the sound, and which way did it seem to go?"
"It passed very swiftly along," said Hecate, "and, at the same
time, there was a heavy rumbling of wheels towards the
eastward. I can tell you nothing more, except that, in my
honest opinion, you will never see your daughter again. The
best advice I can give you is, to take up your abode in this
cavern, where we will be the two most wretched women in the
"Not yet, dark Hecate," replied Ceres. "But do you first come
with your torch, and help me to seek for my lost child. And
when there shall be no more hope of finding her (if that black
day is ordained to come), then, if you will give me room to
fling myself down, either on these withered leaves or on the
naked rock, I will show what it is to be miserable. But, until
I know that she has perished from the face of the earth, I will
not allow myself space even to grieve."
The dismal Hecate did not much like the idea of going abroad
into the sunny world. But then she reflected that the sorrow of
the disconsolate Ceres would be like a gloomy twilight round
about them both, let the sun shine ever so brightly, and that
therefore she might enjoy her bad spirits quite as well as if
she were to stay in the cave. So she finally consented to go,
and they set out together, both carrying torches, although it
was broad daylight and clear sunshine. The torchlight seemed to
make a gloom; so that the people whom they met, along the road,
could not very distinctly see their figures; and, indeed, if
they once caught a glimpse of Hecate, with the wreath of snakes
round her forehead, they generally thought it prudent to run
away, without waiting for a second glance.
As the pair traveled along in this woe-begone manner, a thought
"There is one person," she exclaimed, "who must have seen my
poor child, and can doubtless tell what has become of her. Why
did not I think of him before? It is Phoebus."
"What," said Hecate, "the young man that always sits in the
sunshine? O, pray do not think of going near him. He is a gay,
light, frivolous young fellow, and will only smile in your
face. And besides, there is such a glare of the sun about him,
that he will quite blind my poor eyes, which I have almost wept
"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."
Accordingly, they went along in quest of Phoebus, both of them
sighing grievously, and Hecate, to say the truth, making a
great deal worse lamentation than Ceres; for all the pleasure
she had, you know, lay in being miserable, and therefore she
made the most of it. By and by, after a pretty long journey,
they arrived at the sunniest spot in the whole world. There
they beheld a beautiful young man, with long, curling ringlets,
which seemed to be made of golden sunbeams; his garments were
like light summer clouds; and the expression of his face was so
exceedingly vivid, that Hecate held her hands before her eyes,
muttering that he ought to wear a black veil. Phoebus (for this
was the very person whom they were seeking) had a lyre in his
hands, and was making its chords tremble with sweet music; at
the same time singing a most exquisite song, which he had
recently composed. For, beside a great many other
accomplishments, this young man was renowned for his admirable
As Ceres and her dismal companion approached him, Phoebus
smiled on them so cheerfully that Hecate's wreath of snakes
gave a spiteful hiss, and Hecate heartily wished herself back
in her cave. But as for Ceres, she was too earnest in her grief
either to know or care whether Phoebus smiled or frowned.
"Phoebus!" exclaimed she, "I am in great trouble, and have come
to you for assistance. Can you tell me what has become of my
dear child Proserpina?"
"Proserpina! Proserpina, did you call her name?" answered
Phoebus, endeavoring to recollect; for there was such a
continual flow of pleasant ideas in his mind, that he was apt
to forget what had happened no longer ago than yesterday. "Ah,
yes, I remember her now. A very lovely child, indeed. I am
happy to tell you, my dear madam, that I did see the little
Proserpina not many days ago. You may make yourself perfectly
easy about her. She is safe, and in excellent hands."
"O, where is my dear child?" cried Ceres, clasping her hands,
and flinging herself at his feet.
"Why," said Phoebus--and as he spoke he kept touching his lyre
so as to make a thread of music run in and out among his
words--"as the little damsel was gathering flowers (and she has
really a very exquisite taste for flowers), she was suddenly
snatched up by King Pluto, and carried off to his dominions. I
have never been in that part of the universe; but the royal
palace, I am told, is built in a very noble style of
architecture, and of the most splendid and costly materials.
Gold, diamonds, pearls, and all manner of precious stones will
be your daughter's ordinary playthings. I recommend to you, my
dear lady, to give yourself no uneasiness. Proserpina's sense
of beauty will be duly gratified, and even in spite of the lack
of sunshine, she will lead a very enviable life."
"Hush! Say not such a word!" answered Ceres, indignantly. "What
is there to gratify her heart? What are all the splendors you
speak of without affection? I must have her back again. Will
you go with me you go with me, Phoebus, to demand my daughter
of this wicked Pluto?"
"Pray excuse me," replied Phoebus, with an elegant obeisance.
"I certainly wish you success, and regret that my own affairs
are so immediately pressing that I cannot have the pleasure of
attending you. Besides, I am not upon the best of terms with
King Pluto. To tell you the truth, his three-headed mastiff
would never let me pass the gateway; for I should be compelled
to take a sheaf of sunbeams along with me, and those, you know,
are forbidden things in Pluto's kingdom."
"Ah, Phoebus," said Ceres, with bitter meaning in her words,
"you have a harp instead of a heart. Farewell."
"Will not you stay a moment," asked Phoebus, "and hear me turn
the pretty and touching story of Proserpina into extemporary verses?"
But Ceres shook her head, and hastened away, along with Hecate.
Phoebus (who, as I have told you, was an exquisite poet)
forthwith began to make an ode about the poor mother's grief;
and, if we were to judge of his sensibility by this beautiful
production, he must have been endowed with a very tender heart.
But when a poet gets into the habit of using his heartstrings
to make chords for his lyre, he may thrum upon them as much as
he will, without any great pain to himself. Accordingly, though
Phoebus sang a very sad song, he was as merry all the while as
were the sunbeams amid which he dwelt.
Poor Mother Ceres had now found out what had become of her
daughter, but was not a whit happier than before. Her case, on
the contrary, looked more desperate than ever. As long as
Proserpina was above ground, there might have been hopes of
regaining her. But now that the poor child was shut up within
the iron gates of the king of the mines, at the threshold of
which lay the three-headed Cerberus, there seemed no
possibility of her ever making her escape. The dismal Hecate,
who loved to take the darkest view of things, told Ceres that
she had better come with her to the cavern, and spend the rest
of her life in being miserable. Ceres answered, that Hecate was
welcome to go back thither herself, but that, for her part, she
would wander about the earth in quest of the entrance to King
Pluto's dominions. And Hecate took her at her word, and hurried
back to her beloved cave, frightening a great many little
children with a glimpse of her dog's face as she went.
Poor Mother Ceres! It is melancholy to think of her, pursuing
her toilsome way, all alone, and holding up that never-dying
torch, the flame of which seemed an emblem of the grief and
hope that burned together in her heart.
So much did she suffer, that, though her aspect had been quite
youthful when her troubles began, she grew to look like an
elderly person in a very brief time. She cared not how she was
dressed, nor had she ever thought of flinging away the wreath
of withered poppies, which she put on the very morning of
Proserpina's disappearance. She roamed about in so wild a way,
and with her hair so disheveled, that people took her for some
distracted creature, and never dreamed that this was Mother
Ceres, who had the oversight of every seed which the husbandman
planted. Nowadays, however, she gave herself no trouble about
seed time nor harvest, but left the farmers to take care of
their own affairs, and the crops to fade or flourish, as the
case might be. There was nothing, now, in which Ceres seemed to
feel an interest, unless when she saw children at play, or
gathering flowers along the wayside. Then, indeed, she would
stand and gaze at them with tears in her eyes. The children,
too, appeared to have a sympathy with her grief, and would
cluster themselves in a little group about her knees, and look
up wistfully in her face; and Ceres, after giving them a kiss
all round, would lead them to their homes, 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 to
me, that the iron-hearted King Pluto will take a liking to your
darlings, and snatch them up in his chariot, and carry them
One day, during her pilgrimage in quest of the entrance to
Pluto's kingdom, she came to the palace of King Cereus, who
reigned at Eleusis. Ascending a lofty flight of steps, she
entered the portal, and found the royal household in very great
alarm about the queen's baby. The infant, it seems, was sickly
(being troubled with its teeth, I suppose), and would take no
food, and was all the time moaning with pain. The queen--her
name was Metanira--was desirous of funding a nurse; and when
she beheld a woman of matronly aspect coming up the palace
steps, she thought, in her own mind, that here was the very
person whom she needed. So Queen Metanira ran to the door, with
the poor wailing baby in her arms, and besought Ceres to take
charge of it, or, at least, to tell her what would do it good.
"Will you trust the child entirely to me?" asked Ceres.
"Yes, and gladly, too," answered the queen, "if you will devote
all your time to him. For I can see that you have been a
"You are right," said Ceres. "I once had a child of my own.
Well; I will be the nurse of this poor, sickly boy. But beware,
I warn you, that you do not interfere with any kind of
treatment which I may judge proper for him. If you do so, the
poor infant must suffer for his mother's folly."
Then she kissed the child, and it seemed to do him good; for he
smiled and nestled closely into her bosom.
So Mother Ceres set her torch in a corner (where it kept
burning all the while), and took up her abode in the palace of
King Cereus, as nurse to the little Prince Demophoon. She
treated him as if he were her own child, and allowed neither
the king nor the queen to say whether he should be bathed in
warm or cold water, or what he should eat, or how often he
should take the air, or when he should be put to bed. You would
hardly believe me, if I were to tell how quickly the baby
prince got rid of his ailments, and grew fat, and rosy, and
strong, and how he had two rows of ivory teeth in less time
than any other little fellow, before or since. Instead of the
palest, and wretchedest, and puniest imp in the world (as his
own mother confessed him to be, when Ceres first took him in
charge), he was now a strapping baby, crowing, laughing,
kicking up his heels, and rolling from one end of the room to
the other. All the good women of the neighborhood crowded to
the palace, and held up their hands, in unutterable amazement,
at the beauty and wholesomeness of this darling little prince.
Their wonder was the greater, because he was never seen to
taste any food; not even so much as a cup of milk.
"Pray, nurse," the queen kept saying, "how is it that you make
the child thrive so?"
"I was a mother once," Ceres always replied; "and having nursed
my own child, I know what other children need."
But Queen Metanira, as was very natural, had a great curiosity
to know precisely what the nurse did to her child. One night,
therefore, she hid herself in the chamber where Ceres and the
little prince were accustomed to sleep. There was a fire in the
chimney, and it had now crumbled into great coals and embers,
which lay glowing on the hearth, with a blaze flickering up now
and then, and flinging a warm and ruddy light upon the walls.
Ceres sat before the hearth with the child in her lap, and the
firelight making her shadow dance upon the ceiling overhead.
She undressed the little prince, and bathed him all over with
some fragrant liquid out of a vase. The next thing she did was
to rake back the red embers, and make a hollow place among
them, just where the backlog had been. At last, while the baby
was crowing, and clapping its fat little hands, and laughing in
the nurse's face (just as you may have seen your little brother
or sister do before going into its warm bath), Ceres suddenly
laid him, all naked as he was, in the hollow among the red-hot
embers. She then raked the ashes over him, and turned quietly
You may imagine, if you can, how Queen Metanira shrieked,
thinking nothing less than that her dear child would be burned
to a cinder. She burst forth from her hiding-place, and running
to the hearth, raked open the fire, and snatched up poor little
Prince Demophoon out of his bed of live coals, one of which he
was gripping in each of his fists. He immediately set up a
grievous cry, as babies are apt to do, when rudely startled out
of a sound sleep. To the queen's astonishment and joy, she
could perceive no token of the child's being injured by the hot
fire in which he had lain. She now turned to Mother Ceres, and
asked her to explain the mystery.
"Foolish woman," answered Ceres, "did you not promise to
intrust this poor infant entirely to me? You little know the
mischief you have done him. Had you left him to my care, he
would have grown up like a child of celestial birth, endowed
with superhuman strength and intelligence, and would have lived
forever. Do you imagine that earthly children are to become
immortal without being tempered to it in the fiercest heat of
the fire? But you have ruined your own son. For though he will
be a strong man and a hero in his day, yet, on account of your
folly, he will grow old, and finally die, like the sons of
other women. The weak tenderness of his mother has cost the
poor boy an immortality. Farewell."
Saying these words, she kissed the little Prince Demophoon, and
sighed to think what he had lost, and took her departure
without heeding Queen Metanira, who entreated her to remain,
and cover up the child among the hot embers as often as she
pleased. Poor baby! He never slept so warmly again.
While she dwelt in the king's palace, Mother Ceres had been so
continually occupied with taking care of the young prince, that
her heart was a little lightened of its grief for Proserpina.
But now, having nothing else to busy herself about, she became
just as wretched as before. At length, in her despair, she came
to the dreadful resolution that not a stalk of grain, nor a
blade of grass, not a potato, nor a turnip, nor any other
vegetable that was good for man or beast to eat, should be
suffered to grow until her daughter were restored. She even
forbade the flowers to bloom, lest somebody's heart should be
cheered by their beauty.
Now, as not so much as a head of asparagus ever presumed to
poke itself out of the ground, without the especial permission
of Ceres, you may conceive what a terrible calamity had here
fallen upon the earth. The husbandmen plowed and planted as
usual; but there lay the rich black furrows, all as barren as a
desert of sand. The pastures looked as brown in the sweet month
of June as ever they did in chill November. The rich man's
broad acres and the cottager's small garden patch were equally
blighted. Every little girl's flower bed showed nothing but dry
stalks. The old people shook their white heads, and said that
the earth had grown aged like themselves, and was no longer
capable of wearing the warm smile of summer on its face. It was
really piteous to see the poor, starving cattle and sheep, how
they followed behind Ceres, lowing and bleating, as if their
instinct taught them to expect help from her; and everybody
that was acquainted with her power besought her to have mercy
on the human race, and, at all events, to let the grass grow.
But Mother Ceres, though naturally of an affectionate
disposition, was now inexorable.
"Never," said she. "If the earth is ever again to see any
verdure, it must first grow along the path which my daughter
will tread in coming back to me."
Finally, as there seemed to be no other remedy, our old friend
Quicksilver was sent post-haste to King Pluto, in hopes that he
might be persuaded to undo the mischief he had done, and to set
everything right again, by giving up Proserpina. Quicksilver
accordingly made the best of his way to the great gate, took a
flying leap right over the three-headed mastiff, and stood at
the door of the palace in an inconceivably short time. The
servants knew him both by his face and garb; for his short
cloak, and his winged cap and shoes, and his snaky staff had
often been seen thereabouts in times gone by. He requested to
be shown immediately into the king's presence; and Pluto, who
heard his voice from the top of the stairs, and who loved to
recreate himself with Quicksilver's merry talk, called out to
him to come up. And while they settle their business together,
we must inquire what Proserpina had been doing ever since we
saw her last.
The child had declared, as you may remember, that she would not
taste a mouthful of food as long as she should be compelled to
remain in King Pluto's palace. How she contrived to maintain
her resolution, and at the same time to keep herself tolerably
plump and rosy, is more than I can explain; but some young
ladies, I am given to understand, possess the faculty of living
on air, and Proserpina seems to have possessed it too. At any
rate, it was now six months since she left the outside of the
earth; and not a morsel, so far as the attendants were able to
testify, had yet passed between her teeth. This was the more
creditable to Proserpina, inasmuch as King Pluto had caused her
to be tempted day by day, with all manner of sweetmeats, and
richly-preserved fruits, and delicacies of every sort, such as
young people are generally most fond of. But her good mother
had often told her of the hurtfulness of these things; and for
that reason alone, if there had been no other, she would have
resolutely refused to taste them.
All this time, being of a cheerful and active disposition, the
little damsel was not quite so unhappy as you may have
supposed. The immense palace had a thousand rooms, and was full
of beautiful and wonderful objects. There was a never-ceasing
gloom, it is true, which half hid itself among the innumerable
pillars, gliding before the child as she wandered among them,
and treading stealthily behind her in the echo of her
footsteps. Neither was all the dazzle of the precious stones,
which flamed with their own light, worth one gleam of natural
sunshine; nor could the most brilliant of the many-colored
gems, which Proserpina had for playthings, vie with the simple
beauty of the flowers she used to gather. But still, whenever
the girl went among those gilded halls and chambers, it seemed
as if she carried nature and sunshine along with her, and as if
she scattered dewy blossoms on her right hand and on her left.
After Proserpina came, the palace was no longer the same abode
of stately artifice and dismal magnificence that it had before
been. The inhabitants all felt this, and King Pluto more than
any of them.
"My own little Proserpina," he used to say. "I wish you could
like me a little better. We gloomy and cloudy-natured persons
have often as warm hearts, at bottom, as those of a more
cheerful character. If you would only stay with me of your own
accord, it would make me happier than the possession of a
hundred such palaces as this."
"Ah," said Proserpina, "you should have tried to make me like
you before carrying me off. And the best thing you can now 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,
too, one day or other, I might come back, and pay you a visit."
"No, no," answered Pluto, with his gloomy smile, "I will not
trust you for that. You are too fond of living in the broad
daylight, and gathering flowers. What an idle and childish
taste that is! Are not these gems, which I have ordered to be
dug for you, and which are richer than any in my crown--are
they not prettier than a violet?"
"Not half so pretty," said Proserpina, snatching the gems from
Pluto's hand, and flinging them to the other end of the hall.
"O my sweet violets, shall I never see you again?"
And then she burst into tears. But young people's tears have
very little saltness or acidity in them, and do not inflame the
eyes so much as those of grown persons; so that it is not to be
wondered at, if, a few moments afterwards, Proserpina was
sporting through the hall almost as merrily as she and the four
sea nymphs had sported along the edge of the surf wave. King
Pluto gazed after her, and wished that he, too, was a child.
And little Proserpina, when she turned about, and beheld this
great king standing in his splendid hall, and looking so grand,
and so melancholy, and so lonesome, was smitten with a kind of
pity. She ran back to him, and, for the first time in all her
life, put her small, soft hand in his.
"I love you a little," whispered she, looking up in his face.
"Do you, indeed, my dear child?" cried Pluto, bending his dark
face down to kiss her; but Proserpina shrank away from the
kiss, for, though his features were noble, they were very dusky
and grim. "Well, I have not deserved it of you, after keeping
you a prisoner for so many months, and starving you besides.
Are you not terribly hungry? Is there nothing which I can get
you to eat?"
In asking this question, the king of the mines had a very
cunning purpose; for, you will recollect, if Proserpina tasted
a morsel of food in his dominions, she would never afterwards
be at liberty to quit them.
"No indeed," said Proserpina. "Your head cook is always baking,
and stewing, and roasting, and rolling out paste, and
contriving one dish or another, which he imagines may be to my
liking. But he might just as well save himself the trouble,
poor, fat little man that he is. I have no appetite for
anything in the world, unless it were a slice of bread, of my
mother's own baking, or a little fruit out of her garden."
When Pluto heard this, he began to see that he had mistaken the
best method of tempting Proserpina to eat. The cook's made
dishes and artificial dainties were not half so delicious, in
the good child's opinion, as the simple fare to which Mother
Ceres had accustomed her. Wondering that he had never thought
of it before, the king now sent one of his trusty attendants
with a large basket, to get some of the finest and juiciest
pears, peaches, and plums which could anywhere be found in the
upper world. Unfortunately, however, this was during the time
when Ceres had forbidden any fruits or vegetables to grow; and,
after seeking all over the earth, King Pluto's servant found
only a single pomegranate, and that so dried up as not to be
worth eating. Nevertheless, since there was no better to be
had, he brought this dry, old withered pomegranate home to the
put it on a magnificent golden salver, and carried it up to
Proserpina. Now, it happened, curiously enough, that, just as
the servant was bringing the pomegranate into the back door of
the palace, our friend Quicksilver had gone up the front steps,
on his errand to get Proserpina away from King Pluto.
As soon as Proserpina saw the pomegranate on the golden salver,
she told the servant he had better take it away again.
"I shall not touch it, I assure you," said she. "If I were ever
so hungry, I should never think of eating such a miserable, dry
pomegranate as that."
"It is the only one in the world," said the servant.
He set down the golden salver, with the wizened pomegranate
upon it, and left the room. When he was gone, Proserpina could
not help coming close to the table, and looking at this poor
specimen of dried fruit with a great deal of eagerness; for, to
say the truth, on seeing something that suited her taste, she
felt all the six months' appetite taking possession of her at
once. To be sure, it was a very wretched-looking pomegranate,
and seemed to have no more juice in it than an oyster shell.
But there was no choice of such things in King Pluto's palace.
This was the first fruit she had seen there, and the last she
was ever likely to see; and unless she ate it up immediately,
it would grow drier than it already was, and be wholly unfit to
"At least, I may smell it," thought Proserpina.
So she took up the pomegranate, and applied it to her nose;
and, somehow or other, being in such close neighborhood to her
mouth, the fruit found its way into that little red cave. Dear
me! what an everlasting pity! 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
apartment opened, and in came King Pluto, followed by
Quicksilver, who had been urging him to let his little prisoner
go. At the first noise of their entrance, Proserpina withdrew
the pomegranate from her mouth. But Quicksilver (whose eyes
were very keen, and his wits the sharpest that ever anybody
had) perceived that the child was a little confused; and seeing
the empty salver, he suspected that she had been taking a sly
nibble of something or other. As for honest Pluto, he never
guessed at the secret.
"My little Proserpina," said the king, sitting down, and
affectionately drawing her between his knees, "here is
Quicksilver, who tells me that a great many misfortunes have
befallen innocent people on account of my detaining you in my
dominions. To confess the truth, I myself had already reflected
that it was an unjustifiable act to take you away from your
good mother. But, then, you must consider, my dear child, that
this vast palace is apt to be gloomy (although the precious
stones certainly shine very bright), and that I am not of the
most cheerful disposition, and that therefore it was a natural
thing enough to seek for the society of some merrier creature
than myself. I hoped you would take my crown for a plaything,
and me--ah, you laugh, naughty Proserpina--me, grim as I am,
for a playmate. It was a silly expectation."
"Not so extremely silly," whispered Proserpina. "You have
really amused me very much, sometimes."
"Thank you," said King Pluto, rather dryly. "But I can see
plainly enough, that you think my palace a dusky prison, and me
the iron-hearted keeper of it. And an iron heart I should
surely have, if I could detain you here any longer, my poor
child, when it is now six months since you tasted food. I give
you your liberty. Go with Quicksilver. Hasten home to your dear
Now, although you may not have supposed it, Proserpina found it
impossible to take leave of poor King Pluto without some
regrets, and a good deal of compunction for not telling him
about the pomegranate. She even shed a tear or two, thinking
how lonely and cheerless the great palace would seem to him,
with all its ugly glare of artificial light, after she
herself--his one little ray of natural sunshine, whom he had
stolen, to be sure, but only because he valued her so
much--after she should have departed. I know not how many kind
things she might have said to the disconsolate king of the
mines, had not Quicksilver hurried her way.
"Come along quickly," whispered he in her ear, "or his majesty
may change his royal mind. And take care, above all things,
that you say nothing of what was brought you on the golden
In a very short time, they had passed the great gateway
(leaving the three-headed Cerberus, barking, and yelping, and
growling, with threefold din, behind them), and emerged upon
the surface of the earth. It was delightful to behold, as
Proserpina hastened along, how the path grew verdant behind and
on either side of her. Wherever she set her blessed foot, there
was at once a dewy flower. The violets gushed up along the
wayside. The grass and the grain began to sprout with tenfold
vigor and luxuriance, to make up for the dreary months that had
been wasted in barrenness. The starved cattle immediately set
to work grazing, after their long fast, and ate enormously, all
day, and got up at midnight to eat more.
But I can assure you it was a busy time of year with the
farmers, when they found the summer coming upon them with such
a rush. Nor must I forget to say, that all the birds in the
whole world hopped about upon the newly-blossoming trees, and
sang together, in a prodigious ecstasy of joy.
Mother Ceres had returned to her deserted home, and was sitting
disconsolately on the doorstep, with her torch burning in her
hand. She had been idly watching the flame for some moments
past, when, all at once, it flickered and went out.
"What does this mean?" thought she. "It was an enchanted torch,
and should have kept burning till my child came back."
Lifting her eyes, she was surprised to see a sudden verdure
flashing over the brown and barren fields, exactly as you may
have observed a golden hue gleaming far and wide across the
landscape, from the just risen sun.
"Does the earth disobey me?" exclaimed Mother Ceres,
indignantly. "Does it presume to be green, when I have bidden
it be barren, until my daughter shall be restored to my arms?"
"Then open your arms, dear mother," cried a well-known voice,
"and take your little daughter into them."
And Proserpina came running, and flung herself upon her
mother's bosom. Their mutual transport is not to be described.
The grief of their separation had caused both of them to shed a
great many tears; and now they shed a great many more, because
their joy could not so well express itself in any other way.
When their hearts had grown a little more quiet, Mother Ceres
looked anxiously at Proserpina.
"My child," said she, "did you taste any food while you were in
King Pluto's palace?"
"Dearest mother," exclaimed Proserpina, "I will tell you the
whole truth. Until this very morning, not a morsel of food had
passed my lips. But to-day, they brought me a pomegranate (a
very dry one it was, and all shriveled up, till there was
little left of it but seeds and skin), and having seen no fruit
for so long a time, and being faint with hunger, I was tempted
just to bite it. The instant I tasted it, King Pluto and
Quicksilver came into the room. I had not swallowed a morsel;
but--dear mother, I hope it was no harm--but six of the
pomegranate seeds, I am afraid, remained in my mouth."
"Ah, unfortunate child, and miserable me!" exclaimed Ceres.
"For each of those six pomegranate seeds you must spend one
month of every year in King Pluto's palace. You are but half
restored to your mother. Only six months with me, and six with
that good-for-nothing King of Darkness!"
"Do not speak so harshly of poor King Pluto," said Prosperina,
kissing her mother. "He has some very good qualities; and I
really think I can bear to spend six months in his palace, if
he will only let me spend the other six with you. He certainly
did very wrong to carry me off; but then, as he says, it was
but a dismal sort of life for him, to live in that great gloomy
place, all alone; and it has made a wonderful change in his
spirits to have a little girl to run up stairs and down. There
is some comfort in making him so happy; and so, upon the whole,
dearest mother, let us be thankful that he is not to keep me
the whole year round."
THE GOLDEN FLEECE.
When Jason, the son of the dethroned King of Iolchos, was a
little boy, he was sent away from his parents, and placed under
the queerest schoolmaster that ever you heard of. This learned
person was one of the people, or quadrupeds, called Centaurs.
He lived in a cavern, and had the body and legs of a white
horse, with the head and shoulders of a man. His name was
Chiron; and, in spite of his odd appearance, he was a very
excellent teacher, and had several scholars, who afterwards did
him credit by making a great figure in the world. The famous
Hercules was one, and so was Achilles, and Philoctetes
likewise, and Aesculapius, who acquired immense repute as a
doctor. The good Chiron taught his pupils how to play upon the
harp, and how to cure diseases, and how to use the sword and
shield, together with various other branches of education, in
which the lads of those days used to be instructed, instead of
writing and arithmetic.
I have sometimes suspected that Master Chiron was not really
very different from other people, but that, being a
kind-hearted and merry old fellow, he was in the habit of
making believe that he was a horse, and scrambling about the
schoolroom on all fours, and letting the little boys ride upon
his back. And so, when his scholars had grown up, and grown
old, and were trotting their grandchildren on their knees, they
told them about the sports of their school days; and these
young folks took the idea that their grandfathers had been
taught their letters by a Centaur, half man and half horse.
Little children, not quite understanding what is said to them,
often get such absurd notions into their heads, you know.
Be that as it may, it has always been told for a fact (and
always will be told, as long as the world lasts), that Chiron,
with the head of a schoolmaster, had the body and legs of a
horse. Just imagine the grave old gentleman clattering and
stamping into the schoolroom on his four hoofs, perhaps
treading on some little fellow's toes, flourishing his switch
tail instead of a rod, and, now and then, trotting out of doors
to eat a mouthful of grass! I wonder what the blacksmith
charged him for a set of iron shoes?
So Jason dwelt in the cave, with this four-footed Chiron, from
the time that he was an infant, only a few months old, until he
had grown to the full height of a man. He became a very good
harper, I suppose, and skilful in the use of weapons, and
tolerably acquainted with herbs and other doctor's stuff, and,
above all, an admirable horseman; for, in teaching young people
to ride, the good Chiron must have been without a rival among
schoolmasters. At length, being now a tall and athletic youth,
Jason resolved to seek his fortune in the world, without asking
Chiron's advice, or telling him anything about the matter. This
was very unwise, to be sure; and I hope none of you, my little
hearers, will ever follow Jason's example.
But, you are to understand, he had heard how that he himself
was a prince royal, and how his father, King Jason, had been
deprived of the kingdom of Iolchos by a certain Pelias, who
would also have killed Jason, had he not been hidden in the
Centaur's cave. And, being come to the strength of a man, Jason
determined to set all this business to rights, and to punish
the wicked Pelias for wronging his dear father, and to cast him
down from the throne, and seat himself there instead.
With this intention, he took a spear in each hand, and threw a
leopard's skin over his shoulders, to keep off the rain, and
set forth on his travels, with his long yellow ringlets waving
in the wind. The part of his dress on which he most prided
himself was a pair of sandals, that had been his father's. They
were handsomely embroidered, and were tied upon his feet with
strings of gold. But his whole attire was such as people did
not very often see; and as he passed along, the women and
children ran to the doors and windows, wondering whither this
beautiful youth was journeying, with his leopard's skin and his
golden-tied sandals, and what heroic deeds he meant to perform,
with a spear in his right hand and another in his left.
I know not how far Jason had traveled, when he came to a
turbulent river, which rushed right across his pathway, with
specks of white foam among its black eddies, hurrying
tumultuously onward, and roaring angrily as it went. Though not
a very broad river in the dry seasons of the year, it was now
swollen by heavy rains and by the melting of the snow on the
sides of Mount Olympus; and it thundered so loudly, and looked
so wild and dangerous, that Jason, bold as he was, thought it
prudent to pause upon the brink. The bed of the stream seemed
to be strewn with sharp and rugged rocks, some of which thrust
themselves above the water. By and by, an uprooted tree, with
shattered branches, came drifting along the current, and got
entangled among the rocks. Now and then, a drowned sheep, and
once the carcass of a cow, floated past.
In short, the swollen river had already done a great deal of
mischief. It was evidently too deep for Jason to wade, and too
boisterous for him to swim; he could see no bridge; and as for
a boat, had there been any, the rocks would have broken it to
pieces in an instant.
"See the poor lad," said a cracked voice close to his side. "He
must have had but a poor education, since he does not know how
to cross a little stream like this. Or is he afraid of wetting
his fine golden-stringed sandals? It is a pity his four-footed
schoolmaster is not here to carry him safely across on his
Jason looked round greatly surprised, for he did not know that
anybody was near. But beside him stood an old woman, with a
ragged mantle over her head, leaning on a staff, the top of
which was carved into the shape of a cuckoo. She looked very
aged, and wrinkled, and infirm; and yet her eyes, which were as
brown as those of an ox, were so extremely large and beautiful,
that, when they were fixed on Jason's eyes, he could see
nothing else but them. The old woman had a pomegranate in her
hand, although the fruit was then quite out of season.
"Whither are you going, Jason?" she now asked.
She seemed to know his name, you will observe; and, indeed,
those great brown eyes looked as if they had a knowledge of
everything, whether past or to come. While Jason was gazing at
her, a peacock strutted forward, and took his stand at the old
"I am going to Iolchos," answered the young man, "to bid the
wicked King Pelias come down from my father's throne, and let
me reign in his stead."
"Ah, well, then," said the old woman, still with the same
cracked voice, "if that is all your business, you need not be
in a very great hurry. Just take me on your back, there's a
good youth, and carry me across the river. I and my peacock
have something to do on the other side, as well as yourself."
"Good mother," replied Jason, "your business can hardly be so
important as the pulling down a king from his throne. Besides,
as you may see for yourself, the river is very boisterous; and
if I should chance to stumble, it would sweep both of us away
more easily than it has carried off yonder uprooted tree. I
would gladly help you if I could; but I doubt whether I am
strong enough to carry you across."
"Then," said she, very scornfully, "neither are you strong
enough to pull King Pelias off his throne. And, Jason, unless
you will help an old woman at her need, you ought not to be a
king. What are kings made for, save to succor the feeble and
distressed? But do as you please. Either take me on your back,
or with my poor old limbs I shall try my best to struggle
across the stream."
Saying this, the old woman poked with her staff in the river,
as if to find the safest place in its rocky bed where she might
make the first step. But Jason, by this time, had grown ashamed
of his reluctance to help her. He felt that he could never
forgive himself, if this poor feeble creature should come to
any harm in attempting to wrestle against the headlong current.
The good Chiron, whether half horse or no, had taught him that
the noblest use of his strength was to assist the weak; and
also that he must treat every young woman as if she were his
sister, and every old one like a mother. Remembering these
maxims, the vigorous and beautiful young man knelt down, and
requested the good dame to mount upon his back.
"The passage seems to me not very safe," he remarked. "But as
your business is so urgent, I will try to carry you across. If
the river sweeps you away, it shall take me too."
"That, no doubt, will be a great comfort to both of us," quoth
the old woman. "But never fear. We shall get safely across."
So she threw her arms around Jason's neck; and lifting her from
the ground, he stepped boldly into the raging and foaming
current, and began to stagger away from the shore. As for the
peacock, it alighted on the old dame's shoulder. Jason's two
spears, one in each hand, kept him from stumbling, and enabled
him to feel his way among the hidden rocks; although every
instant, he expected that his companion and himself would go
down the stream, together with the driftwood of shattered
trees, and the carcasses of the sheep and cow. Down came the
cold, snowy torrent from the steep side of Olympus, raging and
thundering as if it had a real spite against Jason, or, at all
events, were determined to snatch off his living burden from
his shoulders. When he was half way across, the uprooted tree
(which I have already told you about) broke loose from among
the rocks, and bore down upon him, with all its splintered
branches sticking out like the hundred arms of the giant
Briareus. It rushed past, however, without touching him. But
the next moment his foot was caught in a crevice between two
rocks, and stuck there so fast, that, in the effort to get
free, he lost one of his golden-stringed sandals.
At this accident Jason could not help uttering a cry of
"What is the matter, Jason?" asked the old woman.
"Matter enough," said the young man. "I have lost a sandal here
among the rocks. And what sort of a figure shall I cut, at the
court of King Pelias, with a golden-stringed sandal on one
foot, and the other foot bare!"
"Do not take it to heart," answered his companion cheerily.
"You never met with better fortune than in losing that sandal.
It satisfies me that you are the very person whom the Speaking
Oak has been talking about."
There was no time, just then, to inquire what the Speaking Oak
had said. But the briskness of her tone encouraged the young
man; and, besides, he had never in his life felt so vigorous
and mighty as since taking this old woman on his back. Instead
of being exhausted, he gathered strength as he went on; and,
struggling up against the torrent, he at last gained the
opposite shore, clambered up the bank, and set down the old
dame and her peacock safely on the grass. As soon as this was
done, however, he could not help looking rather despondently at
his bare foot, with only a remnant of the golden string of the
sandal clinging round his ankle.
"You will get a handsomer pair of sandals by and by," said the
old woman, with a kindly look out of her beautiful brown eyes.
"Only let King Pelias get a glimpse of that bare foot, and you
shall see him turn as pale as ashes, I promise you. There is
your path. Go along, my good Jason, and my blessing go with
you. And when you sit on your throne remember the old woman
whom you helped over the river."
With these words, she hobbled away, giving him a smile over her
shoulder as she departed.
Whether the light of her beautiful brown eyes threw a glory
round about her, or whatever the cause might be, Jason fancied
that there was something very noble and majestic in her figure,
after all, and that, though her gait seemed to be a rheumatic
hobble, yet she moved with as much grace and dignity as any
queen on earth. Her peacock, which had now fluttered down from
her shoulder, strutted behind her in a prodigious pomp, and
spread out its magnificent tail on purpose for Jason to admire
When the old dame and her peacock were out of sight, Jason set
forward on his journey. After traveling a pretty long distance,
he came to a town situated at the foot of a mountain, and not a
great way from the shore of the sea. On the outside of the town
there was an immense crowd of people, not only men and women,
but children too, all in their best clothes, and evidently
enjoying a holiday. The crowd was thickest towards the
sea-shore; and in that direction, over the people's heads,
Jason saw a wreath of smoke curling upward to the blue sky. He
inquired of one of the multitude what town it was near by, and
why so many persons were here assembled together.
"This is the kingdom of Iolchos," answered the man, "and we are
the subjects of King Pelias. Our monarch has summoned us
together, that we may see him sacrifice a black bull to
Neptune, who, they say, is his majesty's father. Yonder is the
king, where you see the smoke going up from the altar."
While the man spoke he eyed Jason with great curiosity; for his
garb was quite unlike that of the Iolchians, and it looked very
odd to see a youth with a leopard's skin over his shoulders,
and each hand grasping a spear. Jason perceived, too, that the
man stared particularly at his feet, one of which, you
remember, was bare, while the other was decorated with his
father's golden-stringed sandal.
"Look at him! only look at him!" said the man to his next
neighbor. "Do you see? He wears but one sandal!"
Upon this, first one person, and then another, began to stare
at Jason, and everybody seemed to be greatly struck with
something in his aspect; though they turned their eyes much
oftener towards his feet than to any other part of his figure.
Besides, he could hear them whispering to one another.
"One sandal! One sandal!" they kept saying. "The man with one
sandal! Here he is at last! Whence has he come? What does he
mean to do? What will the king say to the one-sandaled man?"
Poor Jason was greatly abashed, and made up his mind that the
people of Iolchos were exceedingly ill-bred, to take such
public notice of an accidental deficiency in his dress.
Meanwhile, whether it were that they hustled him forward, or
that Jason, of his own accord, thrust a passage through the
crowd, it so happened that he soon found himself close to the
smoking altar, where King Pelias was sacrificing the black
bull. The murmur and hum of the multitude, in their surprise at
the spectacle of Jason with his one bare foot, grew so loud
that it disturbed the ceremonies; and the king, holding the
great knife with which he was just going to cut the bull's
throat, turned angrily about, and fixed his eyes on Jason. The
people had now withdrawn from around him, so that the youth
stood in an open space, near the smoking altar, front to front
with the angry King Pelias.
"Who are you?" cried the king, with a terrible frown. "And how
dare you make this disturbance, while I am sacrificing a black
bull to my father Neptune?"
"It is no fault of mine," answered Jason. "Your majesty must
blame the rudeness of your subjects, who have raised all this
tumult because one of my feet happens to be bare."
When Jason said this, the king gave a quick startled glance
down at his feet.
"Ha!" muttered he, "here is the one-sandaled fellow, sure
enough! What can I do with him?"
And he clutched more closely the great knife in his hand, as if
he were half a mind to slay Jason, instead of the black bull.
The people round about caught up the king's words, indistinctly
as they were uttered; and first there was a murmur amongst
them, and then a loud shout.
"The one-sandaled man has come! The prophecy must be
For you are to know, that, many years before, King Pelias had
been told by the Speaking Oak of Dodona, that a man with one
sandal should cast him down from his throne. On this account,
he had given strict orders that nobody should ever come into
his presence, unless both sandals were securely tied upon his
feet; and he kept an officer in his palace, whose sole business
it was to examine people's sandals, and to supply them with a
new pair, at the expense of the royal treasury, as soon as the
old ones began to wear out. In the whole course of the king's
reign, he had never been thrown into such a fright and
agitation as by the spectacle of poor Jason's bare foot. But,
as he was naturally a bold and hard-hearted man, he soon took
courage, and began to consider in what way he might rid himself
of this terrible one-sandaled stranger.
"My good young man," said King Pelias, taking the softest tone
imaginable, in order to throw Jason off his guard, "you are
excessively welcome to my kingdom. Judging by your dress, you
must have traveled a long distance, for it is not the fashion
to wear leopard skins in this part of the world. Pray what may
I call your name? and where did you receive your education?"
"My name is Jason," answered the young stranger. "Ever since my
infancy, I have dwelt in the cave of Chiron the Centaur. He was
my instructor, and taught me music, and horsemanship, and how
to cure wounds, and likewise how to inflict wounds with my
"I have heard of Chiron the schoolmaster," replied King Pelias,
"and how that there is an immense deal of learning and wisdom
in his head, although it happens to be set on a horse's body.
It gives me great delight to see one of his scholars at my
court. But to test how much you have profited under so
excellent a teacher, will you allow me to ask you a single
"I do not pretend to be very wise," said Jason. "But ask me
what you please, and I will answer to the best of my ability."
Now King Pelias meant cunningly to entrap the young man, and to
make him say something that should be the cause of mischief and
distraction to himself. So, with a crafty and evil smile upon