Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Types of Children's Literature by Edited by Walter Barnes

Part 7 out of 11

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

of rapture and affection.

At last the sultan broke silence, and said, "I would believe, daughter,
your joy to see me makes you seem as little changed as if no misfortune
had befallen you; yet I cannot be persuaded but that you have suffered
much alarm; for a large palace cannot be so suddenly transported as
yours has been, without causing great fright and apprehension. I would
have you tell me all that has happened, and conceal nothing from me."

The princess, who took great pleasure in giving the sultan the
satisfaction he demanded, said, "If I appear so little altered, I beg
of your Majesty to consider that I received new life yesterday morning
by the presence of my dear husband and deliverer Aladdin, whom I looked
upon and bewailed as lost to me; and the happiness of seeing and
embracing of whom has almost recovered me to my former state of health.
My greatest suffering was only to find myself forced from your Majesty
and my dear husband; not only from the love I bore my husband, but from
the uneasiness I labored under through fear that he, though innocent,
might feel the effects of your anger, to which I knew he was left
exposed. I suffered but little from the insolence of the wretch who had
carried me off; for having secured the ascendant over him, I always put
a stop to his disagreeable overtures, and was as little constrained as
I am at present.

"As to what relates to my transportation, Aladdin had no concern in it:
I was myself the innocent cause of it." To persuade the sultan of the
truth of what she said, she gave him a full account how the African
magician had disguised himself, and offered to change new lamps for old
ones; how she had amused herself in making that exchange, being
entirely ignorant of the secret and importance of the wonderful lamp;
how the palace and herself were carried away and transported into
Africa, with the African magician, who was recognized by two of her
women and the eunuch who made the exchange of the lamp, when he had the
audacity, after the success of his daring enterprise, to propose
himself for her husband; how he persecuted her till Aladdin's arrival;
how they had concerted measures to get the lamp from him again, and the
success they had fortunately met with by her dissimulation in inviting
him to supper, and giving him the cup with the powder prepared for him.
"For the rest," added she, "I leave it to Aladdin to recount."

Aladdin had not much to tell the sultan, but only said, "When the
private door was opened I went up into the great hall, where I found
the magician lying dead on the sofa; and as I thought it not proper for
the princess to stay there any longer, I desired her to go down into
her own apartment, with her women and eunuchs. As soon as I was alone,
and had taken the lamp out of the magician's breast, I made use of the
same secret he had done, to remove the palace, and carry off the
princess; and by that means the palace was reconveyed to the place
where it stood before; and I have the happiness to restore the princess
to your Majesty, as you commanded me. But that your Majesty may not
think that I impose upon you, if you will give yourself the trouble to
go up into the hall, you may see the magician punished as he deserved."

The sultan, to be assured of the truth, rose instantly, and went into
the hall, where, when he saw the African magician dead, and his face
already livid by the strength of the poison, he embraced Aladdin with
great tenderness, and said, "My son, be not displeased at my
proceedings against you; they arose from my paternal love; and
therefore you ought to forgive the excesses to which it hurried me."
"Sir," replied Aladdin, "I have not the least reason to complain of
your Majesty's conduct, since you did nothing but what your duty
required. This infamous magician, the basest of men, was the sole cause
of my misfortune. When your Majesty has leisure, I will give you an
account of another villainous action he was guilty of towards me, which
was no less black and base than this, from which I was preserved by the
providence of God in a very miraculous way." "I will take an
opportunity, and that very shortly," replied the sultan, "to hear it;
but in the meantime let us think only of rejoicing, and the removal of
this odious object."

Aladdin ordered the magician's corpse to be removed and thrown upon a
dunghill, for birds and beasts to prey upon. In the meantime, the
sultan commanded the drums, trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments of
music to announce his joy to the public, and a festival of ten days to
be proclaimed for the return of the princess and Aladdin.

Thus Aladdin escaped once more the almost inevitable danger of losing
his life; but this was not the last, since he ran as great a hazard a
third time; the circumstances of which I shall relate.

The African magician had a younger brother, who was equally skillful as
a necromancer, and even surpassed him in villainy and pernicious
designs. As they did not live together, or in the same city, but
oftentimes when one was in the East, the other was in the West, they
failed not every year to inform themselves, by their art, each where
the other resided, and whether they stood in need of one another's

Some time after the African magician had failed in his enterprise
against Aladdin, his younger brother, who had heard no tidings of him,
and was not in Africa, but in a distant country, had the wish to know
in what part of the world he sojourned, the state of his health, and
what he was doing; and as he, as well as his brother, always carried a
geomantic square instrument about him, he prepared the sand, cast the
points, and drew the figures. On examining the planetary mansions, he
found that his brother was no longer living, but had been poisoned; and
by another observation, that he was in the capital of the kingdom of
China; also that the person who had poisoned him was of mean birth,
though married to a princess, a sultan's daughter.

When the magician had informed himself of his brother's fate, he lost
no time in useless regret, which could not restore him to life; but
resolving immediately to revenge his death, departed for China; where,
after crossing plains, rivers, mountains, deserts, and a long tract of
country without delay, he arrived after incredible fatigues.

When he came to the capital of China, he took a lodging. The next day
he walked through the town not so much to observe the beauties, which
were indifferent to him, as to take proper measures to execute his
pernicious designs. He introduced himself into the most frequented
places, where he listened to everybody's discourse. In a place where
people resort to divert themselves with games of various kinds, and
where some were conversing, while others played, he heard some persons
talk of the virtue and piety of a woman called Fatima, who was retired
from the world, and of the miracles she wrought. As he fancied that
this woman might be serviceable to him in the project he had conceived,
he took one of the company aside, and requested to be informed more
particularly who that holy woman was, and what sort of miracles she

"What!" said the person whom he had addressed, "have you never seen or
heard of her? She is the admiration of the whole town, for her fasting,
her austerities, and her exemplary life. Except Mondays and Fridays,
she never stirs out of her little cell; and on those days on which she
comes into town she does an infinite deal of good; for there is not a
person that has the headache but is cured by her laying her hand upon

The magician wanted no further information. He only asked the person in
what part of the town this holy woman's cell was situated. After he had
informed himself on this head, he determined on the detestable design
of murdering her and assuming her character. With this view he watched
all her steps the first day she went out after he had made this
inquiry, without losing sight of her till evening, when he saw her
reenter her cell. When he had fully observed the place, he went to one
of those houses where they sell a certain hot liquor, and where any
person may pass the night, particularly in the great heats, when the
people of that country prefer lying on a mat to a bed. About midnight,
after the magician had satisfied the master of the house for what
little he had called for, he went out, and proceeded directly to the
cell of Fatima. He had no difficulty to open the door, which was only
fastened with a latch, and he shut it again after he had entered,
without any noise. When he entered the cell, he perceived Fatima by
moonlight lying in the air on a sofa covered only by an old mat, with
her head leaning against the wall. He awakened her, and clapped a
dagger to her breast.

The pious Fatima opening her eyes, was much surprised to see a man with
a dagger at her breast ready to stab her, and who said to her, "If you
cry out, or make the least noise, I will kill you; but get up, and do
as I shall direct you."

Fatima, who had lain down in her habit, got up, trembling with fear.
"Do not be so much frightened," said the magician; "I only want your
habit, give it me and take mine." Accordingly Fatima and he changed
clothes. He then said to her, "Color my face, that I may be like you;"
but perceiving that the poor creature could not help trembling, to
encourage her he said, "I tell you again you need not fear anything: I
swear by the name of God I will not take away your life." Fatima
lighted her lamp, led him into the cell, and dipping a soft brush in a
certain liquor, rubbed it over his face, assured him the color would
not change, and that his face was of the same hue as her own: after
which, she put her own head-dress on his head, also a veil, with which
she showed him how to hide his face as he passed through the town.
After this, she put a long string of beads about his neck, which hung
down to the middle of his body, and giving him the stick she used to
walk with, in his hand, brought him a looking-glass, and bade him look
if he was not as like her as possible. The magician found himself
disguised as he wished to be; but he did not keep the oath he so
solemnly swore to the good Fatima; but instead of stabbing her, for
fear the blood might discover him, he strangled her; and when he found
she was dead, threw her body into a cistern just by the cell.

The magician, thus disguised like the holy woman Fatima, spent the
remainder of the night in the cell. The next morning, two hours after
sunrise, though it was not a day the holy woman used to go out on, he
crept out of the cell, being well persuaded that nobody would ask him
any questions; or, if they should, he had an answer ready for them. As
one of the first things he did after his arrival was to find out
Aladdin's palace, where he was to complete his designs, he went
directly thither.

As soon as the people saw the holy woman, as they imagined him to be,
they presently gathered about him in a great crowd. Some begged his
blessing, others kissed his hand, and others, more reserved, only the
hem of his garment; while others, whether their heads ached, or they
wished to be preserved against that disorder, stooped for him to lay
his hands upon them; which he did, muttering some words in form of
prayer; and, in short, counterfeited so well, that everybody took him
for the holy woman.

After frequently stopping to satisfy people of this description, who
received neither good nor harm from this imposition of hands, he came
at last to the square before Aladdin's palace. The crowd was so great
that the eagerness to get at him increased in proportion. Those who
were the most zealous and strong forced their way through the crowd.
There were such quarrels, and so great a noise, that the princess, who
was in the hall of four-and-twenty windows, heard it, and asked what
was the matter; but nobody being able to give her an answer, she
ordered them to inquire and inform her. One of her women looked out of
a window, and then told her it was a great crowd of people collected
about the holy woman to be cured of the headache by the imposition of
her hands.

The princess, who had long heard of this holy woman, but had never seen
her, was very desirous to have some conversation with her, which the
chief of the eunuchs perceiving, told her it was an easy matter to
bring her to her, if she desired and commanded it; and the princess
expressing her wishes, he immediately sent four eunuchs for the
pretended holy woman.

As soon as the crowd saw the eunuchs, they made way, and the magician
perceiving also that they were coming for him, advanced to meet them,
overjoyed to find his plot proceeded so well. "Holy woman," said one of
the eunuchs, "the princess wants to see you, and has sent us for you."
"The princess does me too great an honor," replied the false Fatima; "I
am ready to obey her command," and at the same time followed the
eunuchs to the palace.

When the magician, who under a holy garment disguised a wicked heart,
was introduced into the great hall, and perceived the princess, he
began a prayer, which contained a long enumeration of vows and good
wishes for the princess's health and prosperity, and that she might
have everything she desired. He then displayed all his hypocritical
rhetoric, to insinuate himself into the princess's favor under the
cloak of piety, which it was no hard matter for him to do; for as the
princess herself was naturally good, she was easily persuaded that all
the world were like her, especially those who made profession of
serving God in solitude.

When the pretended Fatima had finished his long harangue, the princess
said to him, "I thank you, good mother, for your prayers; I have great
confidence in them, and hope God will hear them. Come, and sit by me."
The false Fatima sat down with affected modesty: the princess then
resuming her discourse, said, "My good mother, I have one thing to
request, which you must not refuse me; it is, to stay with me, that you
may edify me with your way of living; and that I may learn from your
good example how to serve God." "Princess," said the counterfeit
Fatima, "I beg of you not to ask what I cannot consent to, without
neglecting my prayers and devotion." "That shall be no hindrance to
you," answered the princess; "I have a great many apartments
unoccupied; you shall choose which you like best, and have as much
liberty to perform your devotions as if you were in your own cell."

The magician, who desired nothing more than to introduce himself into
the palace, where it would be much easier matter for him to execute his
designs, under the favor and protection of the princess, than if he had
been forced to come and go from the cell to the palace, did not urge
much to excuse himself from accepting the obliging offer which the
princess made him. "Princess," said he, "whatever resolution a poor
wretched woman as I am may have made to renounce the pomp and grandeur
of this world, I dare not presume to oppose the will and commands of so
pious and charitable a princess."

Upon this the princess, rising up, said, "Come with me, I will show
you what vacant apartments I have, that you may make choice of that you
like best." The magician followed the princess, and of all the
apartments she showed him, made choice of that which was the worst
furnished, saying, It was too good for him, and that he only accepted
of it to please her.

Afterwards the princess would have brought him back again into the
great hall to make him dine with her; but he considering that he should
then be obliged to show his face, which he had always taken care to
conceal; and fearing that the princess should find out that he was not
Fatima, he begged of her earnestly to excuse him, telling her that he
never ate anything but bread and dried fruits, and desiring to eat
that slight repast in his own apartment. The princess granted his
request, saying, "You may be as free here, good mother, as if you were
in your own cell; I will order you a dinner, but remember I expect you
as soon as you have finished your repast."

After the princess had dined, and the false Fatima had been informed by
one of the eunuchs that she was risen from table, he failed not to wait
upon her. "My good mother," said the princess, "I am overjoyed to have
the company of so holy a woman as yourself, who will confer a blessing
upon this palace. But now I am speaking of the palace, Pray how do you
like it? And before I show it all to you, tell me first what you think
of this hall."

Upon this question, the counterfeit Fatima, who, to act his part the
better, affected to hang down his head, without so much as ever once
lifting it, at last looked up, and surveyed the hall from one end to
the other. When he had examined it well, he said to the princess, "As
far as such a solitary being as I am, who am unacquainted with what the
world calls beautiful, can judge, this hall is truly admirable and most
beautiful; there wants but one thing." "What is that, good mother?"
demanded the princess. "Tell me, I conjure you. For my part, I always
believed, and have heard say, it wanted nothing; but if it does, it
shall be supplied."

"Princess," said the false Fatima, with great dissimulation, "forgive
me the liberty I have taken; but my opinion is, if it can be of any
importance, that if a roc's egg were hung up in the middle of the dome,
this hall would have no parallel in the four quarters of the world, and
your palace would be the wonder of the universe."

"My good mother," said the princess, "what bird is a roc, and where may
one get an egg?" "Princess," replied the pretended Fatima, "it is a
bird of prodigious size, which inhabits the summit of Mount Caucasus;
the architect who built your palace can get you one."

After the princess had thanked the false Fatima for what she believed
her good advice, she conversed with her upon other matters; but could
not forget the roc's egg, which she resolved to request of Aladdin when
he returned from hunting. He had been gone six days, which the magician
knew, and therefore took advantage of his absence; but he returned that
evening after the false Fatima had taken leave of the princess, and
retired to his apartment. As soon as he arrived, he went directly to
the princess's apartment, saluted and embraced her, but she seemed to
receive him coldly. "My princess," said he, "I think you are not so
cheerful as you used to be; has anything happened during my absence,
which has displeased you, or given you any trouble or dissatisfaction?
In the name of God do not conceal it from me; I will leave nothing
undone that is in my power to please you." "It is a trifling matter,"
replied the princess, "which gives me so little concern that I could
not have thought you could have perceived it in my countenance; but
since you have unexpectedly discovered some alteration, I will no
longer disguise a matter of so little consequence from you.

"I always believed," continued the princess, "that our palace was the
most superb, magnificent, and complete in the world: but I will tell
you now what I find fault with, upon examining the hall of four-and-
twenty windows. Do not you think with me, that it would be complete if
a roc's egg were hung up in the midst of the dome?" "Princess," replied
Aladdin, "it is enough that you think there wants such an ornament; you
shall see by the diligence used to supply that deficiency, that there
is nothing which I would not do for your sake."

Aladdin left the princess Buddir al Buddoor that moment, and went up
into the hall of four-and-twenty windows, where pulling out of his
bosom the lamp, which, after the danger he had been exposed to, he
always carried about him, he rubbed it; upon which the genie
immediately appeared. "Genie," said Aladdin, "there wants a roc's egg
to be hung up in the midst of the dome; I command thee, in the name of
this lamp, to repair the deficiency." Aladdin had no sooner pronounced
these words, than the genie gave so loud and terrible a cry, that the
hall shook, and Aladdin could scarcely stand upright. "What! wretch,"
said the genie, in a voice that would have made the most undaunted man
tremble, "is it not enough that I and my companions have done
everything for you, but you, by an unheard-of ingratitude, must command
me to bring my master, and hang him up in the midst of this dome? This
attempt deserves that you, your wife, and your palace, should be
immediately reduced to ashes: but you are happy that this request does
not come from yourself. Know, then, that the true author is the brother
of the African magician, your enemy, whom you have destroyed as he
deserved. He is now in your palace, disguised in the habit of the holy
woman Fatima, whom he has murdered; and it is he who has suggested to
your wife to make this pernicious demand. His design is to kill you,
therefore take care of yourself." After these words, the genie

Aladdin lost not a word of what the genie had said. He had heard talk
of the holy woman Fatima, and how she pretended to cure the headache.
He returned to the princess's apartment, and without mentioning a word
of what had happened, sat down, and complained of a great pain which
had suddenly seized his head; upon which the princess ordered the holy
woman to be called, and then told him how she had invited her to the
palace, and that she had appointed her an apartment.

When the pretended Fatima came, Aladdin said, "Come hither, good
mother; I am glad to see you here at so fortunate a time; I am
tormented with a violent pain in my head, and request your assistance,
by the confidence I have in your good prayers, and hope you will not
refuse me that favor which you do to so many persons afflicted with
this complaint." So saying, he arose, but held down his head. The
counterfeit Fatima advanced towards him, with his hand all the time on
a dagger concealed in his girdle under his gown; which Aladdin
observing, he seized his hand before he had drawn it, pierced him to
the heart with his own dagger, and then pushed him down on the floor.

"My dear husband, what have you done?" cried the princess in surprise.
"You have killed the holy woman." "No, my princess," answered Aladdin,
with emotion, "I have not killed Fatima, but a villain, who would have
assassinated me, if I had not prevented him. This wicked wretch," added
he, uncovering his face, "has strangled Fatima, whom you accuse me of
killing, and disguised himself in her clothes with intent to murder me:
but that you may know him better, he is brother to the African
magician." Aladdin then informed her how he came to know these
particulars, and afterwards ordered the dead body to be taken away.

Thus was Aladdin delivered from the persecution of two brothers, who
were magicians. Within a few years afterwards, the sultan died in a
good old age, and as he left no male children, the princess Buddir al
Buddoor, as lawful heir of the throne, succeeded him, and communicating
the power to Aladdin, they reigned together many years, and left a
numerous and illustrious posterity.




Nathaniel Hawthorne

Perseus was the son of Dana, who was the daughter of a king. And when
Perseus was a very little boy, some wicked people put his mother and
himself into a chest, and set them afloat upon the sea. The wind blew
freshly, and drove the chest away from the shore, and the uneasy
billows tossed it up and down; while Dana clasped her child closely to
her bosom, and dreaded that some big wave would dash its foamy crest
over them both. The chest sailed on, however, and neither sank nor was
upset; until, when night was coining, it floated so near an island that
it got entangled in a fisherman's nets, and was drawn out high and dry
upon the sand. The island was called Seriphus, and it was reigned over
by King Polydectes, who happened to be the fisherman's brother.

This fisherman, I am glad to tell you, was an exceedingly humane and
upright man. He showed great kindness to Dana and her little boy; and
continued to befriend them, until Perseus had grown to be a handsome
youth, very strong and active, and skillful in the use of arms. Long
before this time King Polydectes had seen the two strangers--the mother
and her child--who had come to his dominions in a floating chest. As he
was not good and kind, like his brother the fisherman, but extremely
wicked, he resolved to send Perseus on a dangerous enterprise, in which
he would probably be killed, and then to do some great mischief to
Dana herself. So this bad-hearted king spent a long while in
considering what was the most dangerous thing that a young man could
possibly undertake to perform. At last, having hit upon an enterprise
that promised to turn out as fatally as he desired, he sent for the
youthful Perseus.

The young man came to the palace, and found the king sitting upon his

"Perseus," said King Polydectes, smiling craftily upon him, "you are
grown up a fine young man. You and your good mother have received a
great deal of kindness from myself, as well as from my worthy brother,
the fisherman, and I suppose you would not be sorry to repay some of

"Please, your Majesty," answered Perseus, "I would willingly risk my
life to do so."

"Well, then," continued the king, still with a cunning smile on his
lips, "I have a little adventure to propose to you; and, as you are a
brave and enterprising youth, you will doubtless look upon it as a
great piece of good luck to have so rare an opportunity of
distinguishing yourself. You must know, my good Perseus, I think of
getting married to the beautiful Princess Hippodamia; and it is
customary, on these occasions, to make the bride a present of some
farfetched and elegant curiosity. I have been a little perplexed, I
must honestly confess, where to obtain anything likely to please a
princess of her exquisite taste. But, this morning, I flatter myself, I
have thought of precisely the article."

"And can I assist your Majesty in obtaining it?" cried Perseus,

"You can, if you are as brave a youth as I believe you to be," replied
King Polydectes, with the utmost graciousness of manner. "The bridal
gift which I have set my heart on presenting to the beautiful
Hippodamia is the head of the Gorgon Medusa, with the snaky locks; and
I depend on you, my dear Perseus, to bring it to me. So, as I am
anxious to settle affairs with the princess, the sooner you go in quest
of the Gorgon, the better I shall be pleased."

"I will set out tomorrow morning," answered Perseus.

"Pray do so, my gallant youth," rejoined the king. "And, Perseus, in
cutting off the Gorgon's head, be careful to make a clean stroke, so as
not to injure its appearance. You must bring it home in the very best
condition, in order to suit the exquisite taste of the beautiful
Princess Hippodamia."

Perseus left the palace, but was scarcely out of hearing before
Polydectes burst into a laugh; being greatly amused, wicked king that
he was, to find how readily the young man fell into the snare. The news
quickly spread abroad, that Perseus had undertaken to cut off the head
of Medusa with the snaky locks. Everybody was rejoiced; for most of the
inhabitants of the island were as wicked as the king himself, and would
have liked nothing better than to see some enormous mischief happen to
Danae and her son. The only good man in this unfortunate island of
Seriphus appears to have been the fisherman. As Perseus walked along,
therefore, the people pointed after him, and made mouths, and winked to
one another, and ridiculed him as loudly as they dared.

"Ho, ho!" cried they; "Medusa's snakes will sting him soundly!"

Now, there were three Gorgons alive, at that period, and they were the
most strange and terrible monsters that had ever been seen since the
world was made, or that have been seen in after days, or that are
likely to be seen in all time to come. I hardly know what sort of
creature or hobgoblin to call them. They were three sisters, and seem
to have borne some distant resemblance to women, but were really a very
frightful and mischievous species of dragon. It is, indeed, difficult
to imagine what hideous beings these three sisters were. Why, instead
of locks of hair, if you can believe me, they had each of them a
hundred enormous snakes growing on their heads, all alive, twisting,
wriggling, curling, and thrusting out their venomous tongues, with
forked stings at the end! The teeth of the Gorgons were terribly long
tusks; their hands were made of brass; and their bodies were all over
scales, which, if not iron, were something as hard and impenetrable.
They had wings, too, and exceedingly splendid ones, I can assure you;
for every feather in them was pure, bright, glittering, burnished gold,
and they looked very dazzlingly, no doubt, when the Gorgons were flying
about in the sunshine.

But when people happened to catch a glimpse of their glittering
brightness, aloft in the air, they seldom stopped to gaze, but ran and
hid themselves as speedily as they could. You will think, perhaps, that
they were afraid of being stung by the serpents that served the Gorgons
instead of hair--or of having their heads bitten off by their ugly
tusks,--or of being torn all to pieces by their brazen claws. Well, to
be sure, these were some of the dangers, but by no means the greatest,
nor the most difficult to avoid. For the worst thing about these
abominable Gorgons was, that, if once a poor mortal fixed his eyes full
upon one of their faces, he was certain, that very instant, to be
changed from warm flesh and blood into cold and lifeless stone!

Thus, as you will easily perceive, it was a very dangerous adventure
that the wicked King Polydectes had contrived for this innocent young
man. Perseus himself, when he had thought over the matter, could not
help seeing that he had very little chance of coming safely through it,
and that he was far more likely to become a stone image than to bring
back the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. For, not to speak of
other difficulties, there was one which it would have puzzled an older
man than Perseus to get over. Not only must he fight with and slay this
golden-winged, iron-scaled, long-tusked, brazen-clawed, snaky-haired
monster, but he must do it with his eyes shut, or, at least, without so
much as a glance at the enemy with whom he was contending. Else, while
his arm was lifted to strike, he would stiffen into stone, and stand
with that uplifted arm for centuries, until time, and the wind and
weather, should crumble him quite away. This would be a very sad thing
to befall a young man who wanted to perform a great many brave deeds
and to enjoy a great deal of happiness in this bright and beautiful

So disconsolate did these thoughts make him, that Perseus could not
bear to tell his mother what he had undertaken to do. He therefore took
his shield, girded on his sword, and crossed over from the island to
the mainland, where he sat down in a solitary place, and hardly
refrained from shedding tears.

But, while he was in this sorrowful mood, he heard a voice close beside

"Perseus," said the voice, "why are you so sad?"

He lifted his head from his hands, in which he had hidden it, and,
behold! all alone as Perseus had supposed himself to be, there was a
stranger in the solitary place. It was a brisk, intelligent, and
remarkably shrewd-looking young man, with a cloak over his shoulders,
an odd sort of cap on his head, a strangely twisted staff in his hand,
and a short and very crooked sword hanging by his side. He was
exceeding light and active in his figure, like a person much accustomed
to gymnastic exercises, and well able to leap or run. Above all, the
stranger had such a cheerful, knowing, and helpful aspect (though it
was certainly a little mischievous, into the bargain), that Perseus
could not help feeling his spirits grow livelier, as he gazed at him.
Besides, being really a courageous youth, he felt greatly ashamed that
anybody should have found him with tears in his eyes, like a timid
little schoolboy, when, after all, there might be no occasion for
despair. So Perseus wiped his eyes, and answered the stranger pretty
briskly, putting on as brave a look as he could.

"I am not so very sad," said he; "only thoughtful about an adventure
that I have undertaken."

"Oho!" answered the stranger. "Well, tell me all about it, and possibly
I may be of service to you. I have helped a good many young men through
adventures that looked difficult enough beforehand. Perhaps you may
have heard of me. I have more names than one; but the name of
Quicksilver suits me as well as any other. Tell me what your trouble
is, and we will talk the matter over and see what can be done."

The stranger's words and manner put Perseus into quite a different mood
from his former one. He resolved to tell Quicksilver all his
difficulties, since he could not easily be worse off than he already
was, and, very possibly, his new friend might give him some advice that
would turn out well in the end. So he let the stranger know, in few
words, precisely what the case was;--how that King Polydectes wanted
the head of Medusa with the snaky locks as a bridal gift for the
beautiful Princess Hippodamia, and how that he had undertaken to get it
for him, but was afraid of being turned into stone.

"And that would be a great pity," said Quicksilver, with his
mischievous smile. "You would make a very handsome marble statue, it is
true, and it would be a considerable number of centuries before you
crumbled away; but, on the whole, one would rather be a young man for a
few years, than a stone image for a great many."

"Oh, far rather!" exclaimed Perseus, with the tears again standing in
his eyes. "And, besides, what would my dear mother do, if her beloved
son were turned into a stone?"

"Well, well; let us hope that the affair will not turn out so very
badly," replied Quicksilver, in an encouraging tone. "I am the very
person to help you, if anybody can. My sister and myself will do our
utmost to bring you safe through the adventure, ugly as it now looks."

"Your sister?" repeated Perseus.

"Yes, my sister," said the stranger. "She is very wise, I promise you;
and as for myself, I generally have all my wits about me, such as they
are. If you show yourself bold and cautious, and follow our advice, you
need not fear being a stone image yet awhile. But, first of all, you
must polish your shield, till you can see your face in it as distinctly
as in a mirror."

This seemed to Perseus rather an odd beginning of the adventure; for he
thought it of far more consequence that the shield should be strong
enough to defend him from the Gorgon's brazen claws than that it should
be bright enough to show him the reflection of his face.

However, concluding that Quicksilver knew better than himself, he
immediately set to work and scrubbed the shield with so much diligence
and good will, that it very quickly shone like the moon at harvest
time. Quicksilver looked at it with a smile, and nodded his
approbation. Then, taking off his own short and crooked sword, he
girded it about Perseus instead of the one which he had before worn.

"No sword but mine will answer your purpose," observed he: "the blade
has a most excellent temper, and will cut through iron and brass as
easily as through the slenderest twig. And now we will set out. The
next thing is to find the Three Gray Women, who will tell us where to
find the Nymphs."

"The Three Gray Women!" cried Perseus, to whom this seemed only a new
difficulty in the path of his adventure; "pray, who may the Three Gray
Women be? I never heard of them before."

"They are three very strange old ladies," said Quicksilver, laughing.
"They have but one eye among them, and only one tooth. Moreover, you
must find them out by starlight or in the dusk of the evening; for they
never show themselves by the light either of the sun or moon."

"But," said Perseus, "why should I waste my time with these Three Gray
Women? Would it not be better to set out at once in search of the
terrible Gorgons?"

"No, no," answered his friend. "There are other things to be done,
before you can find your way to the Gorgons. There is nothing for it,
but to hunt up these old ladies; and when we meet with them, you may be
sure that the Gorgons are not a great ways off. Come, let us be

Perseus, by this time, felt so much confidence in his companion's
sagacity, that he made no more objections, and professed himself ready
to begin the adventure immediately. They accordingly set out, and
walked at a pretty brisk pace; so brisk, indeed, that Perseus found it
rather difficult to keep up with his nimble friend Quicksilver. To say
the truth, he had a singular idea that Quicksilver was furnished with a
pair of winged shoes, which, of course, helped him along marvelously.
And then, too, when Perseus looked sideways at him, out of the corner
of his eye, he seemed to see wings on the side of his head; although,
if he turned a full gaze, there were no such things to be perceived,
but only an odd kind of cap. But, at all events, the twisted staff was
evidently a great convenience to Quicksilver, and enabled him to
proceed so fast, that Perseus, though a remarkably active young man,
began to be out of breath.

"Here!" cried Quicksilver at last--for he knew well enough, rogue that
he was, how hard Perseus found it to keep pace with him--"take you the
staff, for you need it a great deal more than I. Are there no better
walkers than yourself in the island of Seriphus?"

"I could walk pretty well," said Perseus, glancing slyly at his
companion's feet, "if I had only a pair of winged shoes."

"We must see about getting you a pair," answered Quicksilver.

But the staff helped Perseus along so bravely, that he no longer felt
the slightest weariness. In fact, the stick seemed to be alive in his
hand, and to lend some of its life to Perseus. He and Quicksilver now
walked onward at their ease, talking very sociably together; and
Quicksilver told so many pleasant stories about his former adventures,
and how well his wits had served him on various occasions, that Perseus
began to think him a very wonderful person. He evidently knew the
world; and nobody is so charming to a young man as a friend who has
that kind of knowledge. Perseus listened the more eagerly, in the hope
of brightening his own wits by what he heard.

At last he happened to recollect that Quicksilver had spoken of a
sister, who was to lend her assistance in the adventure which they were
now bound upon.

"Where is she?" he inquired. "Shall we not meet her soon?"

"All at the proper time," said his companion. "But this sister of mine,
you must understand, is quite a different sort of character from
myself. She is very grave and prudent, seldom smiles, never laughs, and
makes it a rule not to utter a word unless she has something
particularly profound to say. Neither will she listen to any but the
wisest conversation."

"Dear me!" ejaculated Perseus; "I shall be afraid to say a syllable."

"She is a very accomplished person, I assure you," continued
Quicksilver, "and has all the arts and sciences at her fingers' ends.
In short, she is so immoderately wise, that many people call her wisdom
personified. But, to tell you the truth, she has hardly vivacity enough
for my taste; and I think you would scarcely find her so pleasant a
traveling companion as myself. She has her good points, nevertheless;
and you will find the benefit of them, in your encounter with the

By this time it had grown quite dusk. They were now come to a very wild
and desert place, overgrown with shaggy bushes, and so silent and
solitary that nobody seemed ever to have dwelt or journeyed there. All
was waste and desolate, in the gray twilight, which grew every moment
more obscure. Perseus looked about him rather disconsolately, and asked
Quicksilver whether they had a great deal farther to go.

"Hist! hist!" whispered his companion. "Make no noise. This is just the
time and place to meet the Three Gray Women. Be careful that they do
not see you before you see them, for, though they have but a single eye
among the three, it is as sharp-sighted as half a dozen common eyes."

"But what must I do," asked Perseus, "when we meet them?"

Quicksilver explained to Perseus how the Three Gray Women managed with
their one eye. They were in the habit, it seems, of changing it from
one to another, as if it had been a pair of spectacles or--which would
have suited them better--a quizzing-glass. When one of the three had
kept the eye a certain time, she took it out of the socket and passed
it to one of her sisters, whose turn it might happen to be, and who
immediately clapped it into her own head and enjoyed a peep at the
visible world. Thus it will easily be understood that only one of the
Three Gray Women could see, while the other two were in utter darkness;
and, moreover, at the instant when the eye was passing from hand to
hand neither of the poor old ladies was able to see a wink. I have
heard of a great many strange things, in my day, and have witnessed not
a few; but none, it seems to me, that can compare with the oddity of
these Three Gray Women, all peeping through a single eye.

So thought Perseus, likewise, and was so astonished that he almost
fancied his companion was joking with him, and that there were no such
old women in the world.

"You will soon find whether I tell the truth or no," observed
Quicksilver. "Hark! hush! hist! hist! There they come, now!"

Perseus looked earnestly through the dusk of the evening, and there,
sure enough, at no great distance off, he descried the Three Gray
Women. The light being so faint, he could not well make out what sort
of figures they were; only he discovered that they had long gray hair;
and, as they came nearer, he saw that two of them had but the empty
socket of an eye, in the middle of their foreheads. But, in the middle
of the third sister's forehead, there was a very large, bright, and
piercing eye, which sparkled like a great diamond in a ring; and so
penetrating did it seem to be, that Perseus could not help thinking it
must possess the gift of seeing in the darkest midnight just as
perfectly as at noonday. The sight of three persons' eyes was melted
and collected into that single one.

Thus the three old dames got along about as comfortably, upon the
whole, as if they could all see at once. She who chanced to have the
eye in her forehead led the other two by the hands, peeping sharply
about her, all the while, insomuch that Perseus dreaded lest she should
see right through the thick clump of bushes behind which he and
Quicksilver had hidden themselves. My stars! it was positively terrible
to be within reach of so very sharp an eye!

But before they reached the clump of bushes one of the Three Gray Women

"Sister! Sister Scarecrow!" cried she, "you have had the eye long
enough. It is my turn now!"

"Let me keep it a moment longer, Sister Nightmare," answered Scarecrow
"I thought I had a glimpse of something behind that thick bush."

"Well, and what of that?" retorted Nightmare, peevishly. "Can't I see
into a thick bush as easily as yourself? The eye is mine, as well as
yours, and I know the use of it as well as you, or maybe a little
better. I insist upon taking a peep immediately."

But here the third sister, whose name was Shakejoint, began to
complain, and said that it was her turn to have the eye, and that
Scarecrow and Nightmare wanted to keep it all to themselves. To end the
dispute, old Dame Scarecrow took the eye out of her forehead and held
it forth in her hand.

"Take it, one of you," cried she, "and quit this foolish quarreling.
For my part, I shall be glad of a little thick darkness. Take it
quickly, however, or I must clap it into my own head again!"

Accordingly, both Nightmare and Shakejoint stretched out their hands,
groping eagerly to snatch the eye out of the hand of Scarecrow. But,
being both alike blind, they could not easily find where Scarecrow's
hand was; and Scarecrow, being now just as much in the dark as
Shakejoint and Nightmare, could not at once meet either of their hands,
in order to put the eye into it. Thus (as you will see, with half an
eye, my wise little auditors) these good old dames had fallen into a
strange perplexity. For, though the eye shone and glistened like a
star, as Scarecrow held it out, yet the Gray Women caught not the least
glimpse of its light, and were all three in utter darkness, from too
impatient a desire to see.

Quicksilver was so much tickled at beholding Shakejoint and Nightmare
both groping for the eye, and each finding fault with Scarecrow and one
another, that he could scarcely help laughing aloud.

"Now is your time!" he whispered to Perseus. "Quick, quick! before they
can clap the eye into either of their heads. Rush out upon the old
ladies, and snatch it from Scarecrow's hand!"

In an instant, while the Three Gray Women were still scolding each
other, Perseus leaped from behind the clump of bushes, and made himself
master of the prize. The marvelous eye, as he held it in his hand,
shone very brightly, and seemed to look up into his face with a knowing
air, and an expression as if it would have winked, had it been provided
with a pair of eyelids for that purpose. But the Gray Women knew
nothing of what had happened; and, each supposing that one of her
sisters was in possession of the eye, they began their quarrel anew. At
last, as Perseus did not wish to put these respectable dames to greater
inconvenience than was really necessary, he thought it right to explain
the matter.

"My good ladies," said he, "pray do not be angry with one another. If
anybody is in fault, it is myself; for I have the honor to hold your
very brilliant and excellent eye in my own hand."

"You! you have our eye! And who are you?" screamed the Three Gray Women
all in a breath, for they were terribly frightened, of course, at
hearing a strange voice, and discovering that their eyesight had got
into the hands of they could not guess whom. "Oh, what shall we do,
sisters? what shall we do? We are all in the dark! Give us our eye!
Give us our one, precious, solitary eye! You have two of your own! Give
us our eye!"

"Tell them," whispered Quicksilver to Perseus, "that they shall have
back the eye as soon as they direct you where to find the Nymphs who
have the flying slippers, the magic wallet, and the helmet of

"My dear, good, admirable old ladies," said Perseus, addressing the
Gray Women, "there is no occasion for putting yourselves into such a
fright. I am by no means a bad young man. You shall have back your eye,
safe and sound, and as bright as ever, the moment you tell me where to
find the Nymphs."

"The Nymphs! Goodness me! sisters, what Nymphs does he mean?" screamed
Scarecrow. "There are a great many Nymphs, people say; some that go
a-hunting in the woods, and some that live inside of trees, and some that
have a comfortable home in fountains of water. We know nothing at all
about them. We are three unfortunate old souls, that go wandering about
in the dusk, and never had but one eye amongst us, and that one you
have stolen away. Oh, give it back, good stranger!--whoever you are,
give it back!"

All this while, the Three Gray Women were groping with their
outstretched hands, and trying their utmost to get hold of Perseus. But
he took good care to keep out of their reach.

"My respectable dames," said he--for his mother had taught him always
to use the greatest civility--"I hold your eye fast in my hand, and
shall keep it safely for you, until you please to tell me where to find
these Nymphs. The Nymphs, I mean, who keep the enchanted wallet, the
flying slippers, and the what is it?--the helmet of invisibility."

"Mercy on us, sisters! what is the young man talking about?" exclaimed
Scarecrow, Nightmare, and Shakejoint one to another, with great
appearance of astonishment. "A pair of flying slippers, quoth he! His
heels would quickly fly higher than his head, if he were silly enough
to put them on. And a helmet of invisibility! How could a helmet make
him invisible, unless it were big enough for him to hide under it? And
an enchanted wallet! What sort of a contrivance may that be, I wonder?
No, no, good stranger! we can tell you nothing of these marvelous
things. You have two eyes of your own, and we have but a single one
amongst us three. You can find out such wonders better than three blind
old creatures like us."

Perseus, hearing them talk in this way, began really to think that the
Gray Women knew nothing of the matter; and, as it grieved him to have
put them to so much trouble, he was just on the point of restoring
their eye and asking pardon for his rudeness in snatching it away. But
Quicksilver caught his hand.

"Don't let them make a fool of you," said he. "These Three Gray Women
are the only persons in the world that can tell you where to find the
Nymphs; and, unless you get that information, you will never succeed in
cutting off the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. Keep fast hold of
the eye, and all will go well."

As it turned out, Quicksilver was in the right. There are but few
things that people prize so much as they do their eyesight; and the
Gray Women valued their single eye as highly as if it had been half a
dozen, which was the number they ought to have had. Finding that there
was no other way of recovering it, they at last told Perseus what he
wanted to know. No sooner had they done so, than he immediately, and
with the utmost respect, clapped the eye into the vacant socket in one
of their foreheads, thanked them for their kindness, and bade them
farewell. Before the young man was out of hearing, however, they had
got into a new dispute, because he happened to have given the eye to
Scarecrow, who had already taken her turn of it when their trouble with
Perseus commenced.

It is greatly to be feared that the Three Gray Women were very much in
the habit of disturbing their mutual harmony by bickerings of this
sort; which was the more pity, as they could not conveniently do
without one another, and were evidently intended to be inseparable
companions. As a general rule, I would advise all people, whether
sisters or brothers, old or young, who chance to have but one eye
amongst them, to cultivate forbearance, and not all insist upon peeping
through it at once.

Quicksilver and Perseus in the meantime were making the best of their
way in quest of the Nymphs. The old dames had given them such
particular directions, that they were not long in finding them out.
They proved to be very different persons from Nightmare, Shakejoint,
and Scarecrow; for, instead of being old, they were young and
beautiful; and instead of one eye amongst the sisterhood, each Nymph
had two exceedingly bright eyes of her own, with which she looked very
kindly at Perseus. They seemed to be acquainted with Quicksilver; and
when he told them the adventure which Perseus had undertaken, they made
no difficulty about giving him the valuable articles that were in their
custody. In the first place, they brought out what appeared to be a
small purse, made of deerskin, and curiously embroidered, and bade him
be sure and keep it safe. This was the magic wallet. The Nymphs next
produced a pair of shoes, or slippers, or sandals, with a nice little
pair of wings at the heel of each.

"Put them on, Perseus," said Quicksilver. "You will find yourself as
light-heeled as you can desire for the remainder of our journey."

So Perseus proceeded to put one of the slippers on, while he laid the
other on the ground by his side. Unexpectedly, however, this other
slipper spread its wings, fluttered up off the ground, and would
probably have flown away, if Quicksilver had not made a leap, and
luckily caught it in the air.

"Be more careful," said he, as he gave it back to Perseus. "It would
frighten the birds, up aloft, if they should see a flying slipper
amongst them."

When Perseus had got on both of these wonderful slippers, he was
altogether too buoyant to tread on earth. Making a step or two, lo and
behold! upward he popt into the air, high above the heads of
Quicksilver and the Nymphs, and found it very difficult to clamber down
again. Winged slippers, and all such high-flying contrivances, are
seldom quite easy to manage, until one grows a little accustomed to
them. Quicksilver laughed at his companion's involuntary activity, and
told him that he must--not be in so desperate a hurry, but must wait
for the invisible helmet.

The good-natured Nymphs had the helmet, with its dark tuft of waving
plumes, all in readiness to put upon his head. And now there happened
about as wonderful an incident as anything that I have yet told you.
The instant before the helmet was put on, there stood Perseus, a
beautiful young man, with golden ringlets and rosy cheeks, the crooked
sword by his side, and the brightly polished shield upon his arm,--a
figure that seemed all made up of courage, sprightliness, and glorious
light. But when the helmet hid descended over his white brow there was
no longer any Perseus to be seen! Nothing but empty air! Even the
helmet that covered him with its invisibility, had vanished!

"Where are you, Perseus?" asked Quicksilver.

"Why, here, to be sure!" answered Perseus very quietly, although his
voice seemed to come out of the transparent atmosphere. "Just where I
was a moment ago. Don't you see me?"

"No, indeed!" answered his friend. "You are hidden under the helmet.
But if I cannot see you, neither can the Gorgons. Follow me therefore,
and we will try your dexterity in using the winged slippers."

With these words Quicksilver's cap spread its wings, as if his head
were about to fly away from his shoulders; but his whole figure rose
lightly into the air, and Perseus followed. By the time they had
ascended a few hundred feet, the young man began to feel what a
delightful thing it was to leave the dull earth so far beneath him, and
to be able to flit about like a bird.

It was now deep night. Perseus looked upward, and saw the round,
bright, silvery moon, and thought that he should desire nothing better
than to soar up thither, and spend his life there. Then he looked
downward again, and saw the earth, with its seas, and lakes, and the
silver courses of its rivers, and its snowy mountain peaks, and the
breadth of its fields, and the dark cluster of its woods, and its
cities of white marble; and, with the moonshine sleeping over the whole
scene, it was as beautiful as the moon or any star could be. And, among
other objects, he saw the island of Seriphus, where his dear mother
was. Sometimes, he and Quicksilver approached a cloud, that, at a
distance, looked as if it were made of fleecy silver; although, when
they plunged into it, they found themselves chilled and moistened with
gray mist. So swift was their flight, however, that, in an instant,
they emerged from the cloud into the moonlight again. Once, a high-
soaring eagle flew right against the invisible Perseus. The bravest
sights were the meteors, that gleamed suddenly out, as if a bonfire had
been kindled in the sky, and made the moonshine pale for as much as a
hundred miles around them.

As the two companions flew onward, Perseus fancied that he could hear
the rustle of a garment close by his side; and it was on the side
opposite to the one where he beheld Quicksilver, yet only Quicksilver
was visible.

"Whose garment is this," inquired Perseus, "that keeps rustling close
beside me, in the breeze?"

"Oh, it is my sister's!" answered Quicksilver. "She is coming along
with us, as I told you she would. We could do nothing without the help
of my sister. You have no idea how wise she is. She has such eyes, too!
Why, she can see you, at this moment, just as distinctly as if you were
not invisible; and I'll venture to say, she will be the first to
discover the Gorgons."

By this time, in their swift voyage through the air, they had come
within sight of the great ocean, and were soon flying over it. Far
beneath them, the waves tossed themselves tumultuously in midsea, or
rolled a white surf-line upon the long beaches, or foamed against the
rocky cliffs with a roar that was thunderous, in the lower world;
although it became a gentle murmur, like the voice of a baby half
asleep, before it reached the ears of Perseus. Just then a voice spoke
in the air close by him. It seemed to be a woman's voice, and was
melodious, though not exactly what might be called sweet, but grave and

"Perseus," said the voice, "there are the Gorgons."

"Where?" exclaimed Perseus. "I cannot see them."

"On the shore of that island beneath you," replied the voice. "A
pebble, dropped from your hand, would strike in the midst of them."

"I told you she would be the first to discover them," said Quicksilver
to Perseus. "And there they are!"

Straight downward, two or three thousand feet below him, Perseus
perceived a small island, with the sea breaking into white foam all
around its rocky shore, except on one side, where there was a beach of
snowy sand. He descended towards it, and, looking earnestly at a
cluster or heap of brightness, at the foot of a precipice of black
rocks, behold, there were the terrible Gorgons! They lay fast asleep,
soothed by the thunder of the sea; for it required a tumult that would
have deafened everybody else to lull such fierce creatures into
slumber. The moonlight glistened on their steely scales, and on their
golden wings, which drooped idly over the sand. Their brazen claws,
horrible to look at, were thrust out, and clutched the wave-beaten
fragments of rock, while the sleeping Gorgons dreamed of tearing some
poor mortal all to pieces. The snakes, that served them instead of
hair, seemed likewise to be asleep; although, now and then, one would
writhe, and lift its head, and thrust out its forked tongue, emitting a
drowsy hiss, and then let itself subside among its sister snakes.

The Gorgons were more like an awful, gigantic kind of insect--immense,
golden-winged beetles, or dragon-flies, or things of that sort,--at
once ugly and beautiful,--than like anything else; only that they were
a thousand and a million times as big. And, with all this, there was
something partly human about them, too. Luckily for Perseus, their
faces were completely hidden from him by the posture in which they lay;
for, had he but looked one instant at them, he would have fallen
heavily out of the air, an image of senseless stone.

"Now," whispered Quicksilver as he hovered by the side of Perseus,--
"now is your time to do the deed! Be quick, for, if one of the Gorgons
should awake, you are too late."

"Which shall I strike at?" asked Perseus, drawing his sword and
descending a little lower. "They all three look alike. All three have
snaky locks. Which of the three is Medusa?"

It must be understood that Medusa was the only one of these dragon-
monsters whose head Perseus could possibly cut off. As for the other
two, let him have the sharpest sword that ever was forged, and he might
have hacked away by the hour together, without doing them the least

"Be cautious," said the calm voice which had before spoken to him. "One
of the Gorgons is stirring in her sleep, and is just about to turn
over. That is Medusa. Do not look at her. The sight would turn you to
stone. Look at the reflection of her face and figure in the bright
mirror of your shield."

Perseus now understood Quicksilver's motive for so earnestly exhorting
him to polish his shield. In its surface, he could safely look at the
reflection of the Gorgon's face. And there it was,--that terrible
countenance,--mirrored in the brightness of the shield, with the
moonlight falling over it, and displaying all its horror. The snakes,
whose venomous natures could not altogether sleep, kept twisting
themselves over the forehead. It was the fiercest and most horrible
face that ever was seen or imagined, and yet with a strange, fearful,
and savage kind of beauty in it. The eyes were closed, and the Gorgon
was still in a deep slumber; but there was an unquiet expression
disturbing her features, as if the monster was troubled with an ugly
dream. She gnashed her white tusks, and dug into the sand with her
brazen claws.

The snakes, too, seemed to feel Medusa's dream, and to be made more
restless by it. They twined themselves into tumultuous knots, writhed
fiercely, and uplifted a hundred hissing heads, without opening their

"Now, now!" whispered Quicksilver, who was growing impatient. "Make a
dash at the monster!"

"But be calm," said the grave, melodious voice, at the young man's
side. "Look in your shield, as you fly downward, and take care that you
do not miss your first stroke."

Perseus flew cautiously downward, still keeping his eyes on Medusa's
face, as reflected in his shield. The nearer he came, the more terrible
did the snaky visage and metallic body of the monster grow. At last,
when he found himself hovering over her within arm's length, Perseus
uplifted his sword, while, at the same instant, each separate snake
upon the Gorgon's head stretched threateningly upward, and Medusa
unclosed her eyes. But she awoke too late. The sword was sharp; the
stroke fell like a lightning flash; and the head of the wicked Medusa
tumbled from her body!

"Admirably done!" cried Quicksilver. "Make haste, and clap the head
into your magic wallet."

To the astonishment of Perseus, the small, embroidered wallet, which he
had hung about his neck, and which had hitherto been no bigger than a
purse, grew all at once large enough to contain Medusa's head. As quick
as thought, he snatched it up, with the snakes still writhing upon it,
and thrust it in.

"Your task is done," said the calm voice. "Now fly; for the other
Gorgons will do their utmost to take vengeance for Medusa's death."

It was indeed necessary to take flight; for Perseus had not done the
deed so quietly but that the clash of his sword, and the hissing of the
snakes, and the thump of Medusa's head as it tumbled upon the sea-
beaten sand, awoke the other two monsters. There they sat, for an
instant, sleepily rubbing their eyes with their brazen fingers, while
all the snakes on their heads reared themselves on end with surprise,
and with venomous malice against they knew not what. But when the
Gorgons saw the scaly carcass of Medusa, headless, and her golden wings
all ruffled, and half spread out on the sand, it was really awful to
hear what yells and screeches they set up. And then the snakes! They
sent forth a hundred-fold hiss, with one consent, and Medusa's snakes
answered them, out of the magic wallet.

No sooner were the Gorgons broad awake, than they hurtled upward into
the air, brandishing their brass talons, gnashing their horrible tusks,
and flapping their huge wings so wildly, that some of the golden
feathers were shaken out, and floated down upon the shore. And there,
perhaps, those very feathers lie scattered, till this day. Up rose the
Gorgons, as I tell you, staring horribly about, in hopes of turning
somebody to stone. Had Perseus looked them in the face, or had he
fallen into their clutches, his poor mother would never have kissed her
boy again! But he took good care to turn his eyes another way; and, as
he wore the helmet of invisibility, the Gorgons knew not in what
direction to follow him; nor did he fail to make the best use of the
winged slippers, by soaring upward a perpendicular mile or so. At that
height, when the screams of those abominable creatures sounded faintly
beneath him, he made a straight course for the island of Seriphus, in
order to carry Medusa's head to King Polydectes.

I have no time to tell you of several marvelous things that befell
Perseus, on his way homeward; such as his killing a hideous sea-
monster, just as it was on the point of devouring a beautiful maiden;
nor how he changed an enormous giant into a mountain of stone, merely
by showing him the head of the Gorgon. If you doubt this latter story,
you may make a voyage to Africa, some day or other, and see the very
mountain, which is still known by the ancient giant's name.

Finally, our brave Perseus arrived at the island, where he expected to
see his dear mother. But, during his absence, the wicked king had
treated Dana so very ill, that she was compelled to make her escape,
and had taken refuge in a temple, where some good old priests were
extremely kind to her. These praiseworthy priests, and the kind-hearted
fisherman, who had first shown hospitality to Dana and little Perseus
when he found them afloat in the chest, seem to have been the only
persons on the island who cared about doing right. All the rest of the
people, as well as King Polydectes himself, were remarkably ill-behaved,
and deserved no better destiny than that which was now to happen.

Not finding his mother at home, Perseus went straight to the palace,
and was immediately ushered into the presence of the king. Polydectes
was by no means rejoiced to see him, for he had felt almost certain, in
his own evil mind, that the Gorgons would have torn the poor young man
to pieces, and have eaten him up, out of the way. However, seeing him
safely returned, he put the best face he could upon the matter and
asked Perseus how he had succeeded.

"Have you performed your promise?" inquired he. "Have you brought me
the head of Medusa with the snaky locks? If not, young man, it will
cost you dear; for I must have a bridal present for the beautiful
Princess Hippodamia, and there is nothing else that she would admire so

"Yes, please your Majesty," answered Perseus, in a quiet way, as if it
were no very wonderful deed for such a young man as he to perform. "I
have brought you the Gorgon's head, snaky locks and all."

"Indeed! Pray let me see it," quoth King Polydectes. "It must be a very
curious spectacle, if all that travelers tell about it be true."

"Your Majesty is in the right," replied Perseus. "It is really an
object that will be pretty certain to fix the regards of all who look
at it. And, if your Majesty think fit, I would suggest that a holiday
be proclaimed, and that all your Majesty's subjects be summoned to
behold this wonderful curiosity. Few of them, I imagine, have seen a
Gorgon's head before, and perhaps never may again!"

The king well knew that his subjects were an idle set of reprobates,
and very fond of sight-seeing, as idle persons usually are. So he took
the young man's advice, and sent out heralds and messengers, in all
directions, to blow the trumpet at the street corners, and in the
market-places, and wherever two roads met, and summon everybody to
court. Thither, accordingly, came a great multitude of good-for-nothing
vagabonds, all of whom, out of pure love of mischief, would have been
glad if Perseus had met with some ill-hap, in his encounter with the
Gorgons. If there were any better people in the island (as I really
hope there may have been, although the story tells nothing about any
such), they stayed quietly at home, minding their own business, and
taking care of their little children. Most of the inhabitants, at all
events, ran as fast as they could to the palace, and shoved, and
pushed, and elbowed one another, in their eagerness to get near a
balcony, on which Perseus showed himself, holding the embroidered
wallet in his hand.

On a platform, within full view of the balcony, sat the mighty King
Polydectes, amid his evil counselors, and with his flattering courtiers
in a semicircle round about him. Monarch, counselors, courtiers, and
subjects, all gazed eagerly toward Perseus.

"Show us the head! Show us the head!" shouted the people; and there was
a fierceness in their cry, as if they would tear Perseus to pieces,
unless he should satisfy them with what he had to show. "Show us the
head of Medusa with the snaky locks!"

A feeling of sorrow and pity came over the youthful Perseus.

"O King Polydectes," cried he, "and ye many people, I am very loath to
show you the Gorgon's head."

"Ah, the villain and coward!" yelled the people, more fiercely than
before. "He is making game of us! He has no Gorgon's head! Show us the
head, if you have it, or we will take your own head for a football!"

The evil counselors whispered bad advice in the king's ear; the
courtiers murmured, with one consent, that Perseus had shown disrespect
to their royal lord and master; and the great King Polydectes himself
waved his hand and ordered him, with the stern, deep voice of
authority, on his peril, to produce the head.

"Show me the Gorgon's head, or I will cut off your own!"

And Perseus sighed.

"This instant," repeated Polydectes, "or you die!"

"Behold it, then!" cried Perseus, in a voice like the blast of a

And, suddenly holding up the head, not an eyelid had time to wink
before the wicked King Polydectes, his evil counselors, and all his
fierce subjects, were no longer anything but the mere images of a
monarch and his people. They were all fixed, forever, in the look and
attitude of that moment! At the first glimpse of the terrible head of
Medusa, they whitened into marble! And Perseus thrust the head back
into his wallet, and went to tell his dear mother that she need no
longer be afraid of the wicked King Polydectes.

THESEUS Charles Kingsley



Once upon a time there was a princess in Troezene, Aithra, the
daughter of Pittheus the king. She had one fair son, named Theseus, the
bravest lad in all the land; and Aithra never smiled but when she
looked at him, for her husband had forgotten her, and lived far away.
And she used to go up to the mountain above Troezene, to the temple of
Poseidon, and sit there all day looking out across the bay, over
Methana, to the purple peaks of AEgina and the Attic shore beyond. And
when Theseus was full fifteen years old she took him up with her to the
temple, and into the thickets of the grove which grew in the temple
yard. And she led him to a tall plane tree, beneath whose shade grew
arbutus, and lentisk, and purple heather bushes. And there she sighed,
and said, "Theseus, my son, go into that thicket, and you will find at
the plane tree foot a great flat stone; lift it, and bring me what lies

Then Theseus pushed his way in through the thick bushes, and saw that
they had not been moved for many a year. And searching among their
roots he found a great flat stone, all overgrown with ivy, and
acanthus, and moss. He tried to lift it, but he could not. And he tried
till the sweat ran down his brow from heat, and the tears from his eyes
for shame: but all was of no avail. And at last he came back to his
mother, and said, "I have found the stone, but I cannot lift it; nor do
I think that any man could in all Troezene."

Then she sighed, and said, "The gods wait long; but they are just at
last. Let it be for another year. The day may come when you will be a
stronger man than lives in all Troezene."

Then she took him by the hand, and went into the temple and prayed, and
came down again with Theseus to her home.

And when a full year was past, she led Theseus up again to the temple,
and bade him lift the stone: but he could not.

Then she sighed, and said the same words again, and went down, and came
again the next year; but Theseus could not lift the stone then, nor the
year after; and he wanted to ask his mother the meaning of that stone,
and what might lie underneath it; but her face was so sad that he had
not the heart to ask.

So he said to himself, "The day shall surely come when I will lift that
stone, though no man in Troezene can." And in order to grow strong he
spent all his days in wrestling, and boxing, and hurling, and taming
horses, and hunting the boar and the bull, and coursing goats and deer
among the rocks; till upon all the mountains there was no hunter so
swift as Theseus; and he killed Phaia the wild sow of Crommyon, which
wasted all the land; till all the people said, "Surely the Gods are
with the lad."

And when his eighteenth year was past, Aithra led him up again to the
temple, and said, "Theseus, lift the stone this day, or never know who
you are." And Theseus went into the thicket, and stood over the stone,
and tugged at it; and it moved. Then his spirit swelled within him, and
he said, "If I break my heart in my body, it shall up." And he tugged
at it once more, and lifted it, and rolled it over with a shout.

And when he looked beneath it, on the ground lay a sword of bronze,
with a hilt of glittering gold, and by it a pair of golden sandals; and
he caught them up, and burst through the bushes like a wild boar, and
leapt to his mother, holding them high above his head.

But when she saw them she wept long in silence, hiding her fair face in
her shawl: and Theseus stood by her wondering, and wept also, he knew
not why. And when she was tired of weeping, she lifted up her head, and
laid her finger on her lips, and said, "Hide them in your bosom,
Theseus my son, and come with me where we can look down upon the sea."

Then they went outside the sacred wall, and looked down over the bright
blue sea; and Aithra said,--

"Do you see this land at our feet?"

And he said, "Yes, this is Troezene, where I was born and bred."

And she said, "It is but a little land, barren and rocky, and looks
toward the bleak north-east. Do you see that land beyond?"

"Yes; that is Attica, where the Athenian people dwell."

"That is a fair land and large, Theseus my son; and it looks toward the
sunny south; a land of olive oil and honey, the joy of gods and men.
For the gods have girdled it with mountains, whose veins are of pure
silver, and their bones of marble white as snow; and there the hills
are sweet with thyme and basil, and the meadows with violet and
asphodel, and the nightingales sing all day in the thickets, by the
side of ever-flowing streams. There are twelve towns well peopled, the
homes of an ancient race, the children of Kecrops the serpent-king, the
son of Mother Earth, who wear gold cicalas among the tresses of their
golden hair; for like the cicalas they sprang from the earth, and like
the cicalas they sing all day, rejoicing in the genial sun. What would
you do, son Theseus, if you were king of such a land?"

Then Theseus stood astonished, as he looked across the broad bright
sea, and saw the fair Attic shore, from Sunium to Hymettus and
Pentelicus, and all the mountain peaks which girdle Athens round. But
Athens itself he could not see, for purple gina stood before it,
midway across the sea.

Then his heart grew great within him, and he said, "If I were king of
such a land I would rule it wisely and well in wisdom and in might,
that when I died all men might weep over my tomb, and cry, 'Alas for
the shepherd of his people!'"

And Aithra smiled, and said, "Take, then, the sword and the sandals,
and go to geus, king of Athens, who lives on Pallas' hill; and say to
him, 'The stone is lifted, but whose is the pledge beneath it?' Then
show him the sword and the sandals, and take what the Gods shall send."

But Theseus wept, "Shall I leave you, O my mother?"

But she answered, "Weep not for me. That which is fated must be; and
grief is easy to those who do naught but grieve. Full of sorrow was my
youth, and full of sorrow my womanhood. Full of sorrow was my youth for
Bellerophon the slayer of the Chimra, whom my father drove away by
treason; and full of sorrow my womanhood, for thy treacherous father
and for thee; and full of sorrow my old age will be (for I see my fate
in dreams), when the sons of the Swan shall carry me captive to the
hollow vale of Eurotas, till I sail across the seas a slave, the
handmaid of the pest of Greece. Yet shall I be avenged, when the
golden-haired heroes sail against Troy, and sack the palaces of Ilium;
then my son shall set me free from thralldom, and I shall hear the tale
of Theseus's fame. Yet beyond that I see new sorrows; but I can bear
them as I have borne the past."

Then she kissed Theseus, and wept over him; and went into the temple,
and Theseus saw her no more.



So Theseus stood there alone, with his mind full of many hopes.
And first he thought of going down to the harbor and hiring a swift
ship, and sailing across the bay to Athens; but even that seemed too
slow for him, and he longed for wings to fly across the sea, and find
his father. But after a while his heart began to fail him; and he
sighed, and said within himself--

"What if my father has other sons about him whom he loves?
What if he will not receive me? And what have I done that he
should receive me? He has forgotten me ever since I was born: why
should he welcome me now?"

Then he thought a long while sadly; and at the last he cried
aloud, "Yes! I will make him love me; for I will prove myself
worthy of his love. I will win honor and renown, and do such
deeds that geus shall be proud of me, though he had fifty other
sons! Did not Heracles win himself honor though he was opprest,
and the slave of Eurystheus? Did he not kill all robbers and evil
beasts, and drain great lakes and marshes, breaking the hills
through with his club? Therefore it was that all men honored
him, because he rid them of their miseries, and made life pleasant to
them and their children after them. Where can I go, to do as
Heracles has done? Where can I find strange adventures, robbers,
and monsters, and the children of hell, the enemies of men? I will
go by land, and into the mountains, and round by the way of the
Isthmus. Perhaps there I may hear of brave adventures, and do
something which shall win my father's love."

So he went by land, and away into the mountains, with his father's
sword upon his thigh, till he came to the Spider Mountains, which
hang over Epidaurus and the sea, where the glens run downward
from one peak in the midst, as the rays spread in the spider's

And he went up into the gloomy glens, between the furrowed
marble walls, till the lowland grew blue beneath his feet, and the
clouds drove damp about his head.

But he went up and up forever, through the spider's web of glens,
till he could see the narrow gulfs spread below him, north and
south, and east and west; black cracks half-choked with mists, and
above all a dreary down.

But over that down he must go, for there was no road right or
left; so he toiled on through bog and brake, till he came to a
pile of stones.

And on the stones a man was sitting, wrapt in a bearskin cloak.
The head of the bear served him for a cap, and its teeth grinned
white around his brows; and the feet were tied about his throat, and
their claws shone white upon his chest. And when he saw Theseus
he rose, and laughed till the glens rattled.

"And who art thou, fair fly, who hast walked into the spider's
web?" But Theseus walked on steadily, and made no answer: but
he thought, "Is this some robber? and has an adventure come
already to me?" But the strange man laughed louder than ever,
and said,--

"Bold fly, know you not that these glens are the web from which
no fly ever finds his way out again, and this down the spider's house,
and I the spider who suck the flies? Come hither, and let me feast
upon you, for it is of no use to run away, so cunning a web has my
father Hephaistus spread for me, when he made these clefts in the
mountains, through which no man finds his way home."

But Theseus came on steadily, and asked,--

"And what is your name among men, bold spider? and where
are your spider's fangs?"

Then the strange man laughed again,--

"My name is Periphetes, the son of Hephaistus and Anticleia the
mountain nymph. But men call me Corynetes the club-bearer; and
here is my spider's fang."

And he lifted from off the stones at his side a mighty club of

"This my father gave me, and forged it himself in the roots of the
mountain; and with it I pound all proud flies till they give out their
fatness and their sweetness. So give me up that gay sword of yours,
and your mantle, and your golden sandals, lest I pound you, and
by ill luck you die."

But Theseus wrapt his mantle round his left arm quickly in
hard folds, from his shoulder to his hand, and drew his sword, and
rushed upon the club-bearer, and the club-bearer rushed on him.

Thrice he struck at Theseus, and made him bend under the blows
like a sapling; but Theseus guarded his head with his left arm,
and the mantle which was wrapped around it.

And thrice Theseus sprang upright after the blow, like a sapling
when the storm is past; and he stabbed at the club-bearer with his
sword, but the loose folds of the bearskin saved him.

Then Theseus grew mad, and closed with him, and caught him by
the throat, and they fell and rolled over together; but when Theseus
rose up from the ground the club-bearer lay still at his feet.

Then Theseus took his club and his bearskin, and left him to the
kites and crows, and went upon his journey down the glens on the
further slope, till he came to a broad green valley, and saw flocks
and herds sleeping beneath the trees.

And by the side of a pleasant fountain, under the shade of rocks
and trees, were nymphs and shepherds dancing; but no one piped to
them while they danced.

And when they saw Theseus they shrieked; and the shepherds ran
off, and drove away their flocks; while the nymphs dived into the
fountain like coots, and vanished.

Theseus wondered and laughed: "What strange fancies have
folks here who run away from strangers, and have no music when
they dance!" But he was tired, and dusty, and thirsty; so he
thought no more of them, but drank and bathed in the clear pool,
and then lay down in the shade under a plane tree, while the
water sang him to sleep as it tinkled down from stone to stone.

And when he woke he heard a whispering, and saw the nymphs
peeping at him across the fountain from the dark mouth of a cave,
where they sat on green cushions of moss. And one said, "Surely
he is not Periphetes;" and another, "He looks like no robber, but
a fair and gentle youth."

Then Theseus smiled and called them: "Fair nymphs, I am not
Periphetes. He sleeps among the kites and crows: but I have
brought away his bearskin and his club."

Then they leapt across the pool, and came to him, and called the
shepherds back. And he told them how he had slain the club-bearer:
and the shepherds kissed his feet, and sang, "Now we shall
feed our flocks in peace, and not be afraid to have music when we
dance; for the cruel club-bearer has met his match, and he will
listen for our pipes no more."

Then they brought him kid's flesh and wine, and the nymphs
brought him honey from the rocks; and he ate, and drank, and slept
again, while the nymphs and shepherds danced and sang. And when
he woke, they begged him to stay; but he would not. "I have a
great work to do," he said; "I must be away toward the Isthmus,
that I may go to Athens."

But the shepherds said, "Will you go alone toward Athens?
None travel that way now, except in armed troops."

"As for arms, I have enough, as you see. And as for troops, an
honest man is good enough company for himself. Why should I not
go alone toward Athens?"

"If you do, you must look warily about you on the Isthmus,
lest you meet Sinis the robber, whom men call Pituocamptes the
pine-bender; for he bends down two pine trees, and binds all travelers
hand and foot between them; and when he lets the trees go
again, their bodies are torn in sunder."

"And after that," said another, "you must go inland, and not
dare to pass over the cliffs of Sciron; for on the left hand are the
mountains, and on the right the sea, so that you have no escape
but must needs meet Sciron the robber, who will make you wash
his feet; and while you are washing them he will kick you over
the cliff, to the tortoise who lives below, and feeds upon the bodies
of the dead."

And before Theseus could answer, another cried, "And after
that is a worse danger still, unless you go inland always, and leave
Eleusis far on your right. For in Eleusis rules Kerkuon the cruel
king, the terror of all mortals, who killed his own daughter Alope in
prison. But she was changed into a fair fountain; and her child
he cast out upon the mountains; but the wild mares gave it milk.
And now he challenges all comers to wrestle with him; for he is
the best wrestler in all Attica, and overthrows all who come; and
those whom he overthrows he murders miserably, and his palace-court
is full of their bones."

Then Theseus frowned, and said, "This seems indeed an ill-ruled
land, and adventures enough in it to be tried. But if I am the heir
of it, I will rule it and right it, and here is my royal scepter." And
he shook his club of bronze, while the nymphs and shepherds
clung round him, and entreated him not to go.

But on he went nevertheless, till he could see both the seas, and
the citadel of Corinth towering high above all the land. And he past
swiftly along the Isthmus, for his heart burned to meet that cruel
Sinis; and in a pine-wood at last he met him, where the Isthmus was
narrowest and the road ran between high rocks. There he sat, upon
a stone by the wayside, with a young fir tree for a club across his
knees, and a cord laid ready by his side; and over his head, upon
the fir tops, hung the bones of murdered men.

Then Theseus shouted to him, "Holla, thou valiant pine-bender,
hast thou two fir trees left for me?"

And Sinis leapt to his feet, and answered, pointing to the bones
above his head, "My larder has grown empty lately, so I have two
fir trees ready for thee." And he rushed on Theseus, lifting his
club, and Theseus rushed upon him.

Then they hammered together till the greenwoods rang; but the
metal was tougher than the pine; and Sinis' club broke right across,
as the bronze came down upon it. Then Theseus heaved up another
mighty stroke, and smote Sinis down upon his face; and knelt
upon his back, and bound him with his own cord, and said, "As
thou hast done to others, so shall it be done to thee." Then he
bent down two young fir trees, and bound Sinis between them, for
all his struggling and his prayers; and let them go, and ended
Sinis, and went on, leaving him to the hawks and crows.

Then he went over the hills toward Megara, keeping close along
the Saronic Sea, till he came to the cliffs of Sciron, and the narrow
path between the mountain and the sea.

And there he saw Sciron sitting by a fountain at the edge of the
cliff. On his knees was a mighty club; and he had barred the
path with stones, so that every one must stop who came up.

Then Theseus shouted to him, and said, "Holla, thou tortoise-feeder,
do thy feet need washing today?"

And Sciron leapt to his feet, and answered--

"My tortoise is empty and hungry, and my feet need washing
today." And he stood before his barrier, and lifted up his club
in both hands.

Then Theseus rushed upon him; and sore was the battle upon the
cliff; for when Sciron felt the weight of the bronze club, he dropt
his own, and closed with Theseus, and tried to hurl him by main
force over the cliff. But Theseus was a wary wrestler, and dropt his
own club, and caught him by the throat and by the knee, and forced
him back against the wall of stones, and crushed him up against
them, till his breath was almost gone. And Sciron cried panting,
"Loose me, and I will let thee pass." But Theseus answered,
"I must not pass till I have made the rough way smooth;" and
forced him back against the wall till it fell, and Sciron rolled
head over heels.

Then Theseus lifted him up all bruised, and said, "Come hither
and wash my feet." And he drew his sword, and sat down by the
well, and said, "Wash my feet, or I cut you piecemeal."

And Sciron washed his feet trembling; and when it was done,
Theseus rose and cried, "As thou hast done to others, so shall it be
done to thee. Go feed thy tortoise thyself;" and he kicked him
over the cliff into the sea.

And whether the tortoise ate him I know not; for some say that
earth and sea both disdained to take his body, so foul it was with
sin. So the sea cast it out upon the shore, and the shore cast it
back into the sea, and at last the waves hurled it high into the air,
in anger; and it hung there long without a grave, till it was changed
into a desolate rock, which stands there in the surge until this day.

This at least is true, which Pausanias tells, that in the royal porch
at Athens he saw the figure of Theseus modeled in clay, and by him
Sciron the robber, falling headlong into the sea.

Then he went a long day's journey, past Megara, into the Attic
land, and high before him rose the snow-peaks of Cithaeron, all
cold above the black pine woods, where haunt the Furies, and the
raving Bacchae, and the nymphs who drive men wild, far aloft upon
the dreary mountains, where the storms howl all day long. And
on his right hand was the sea always, and Salamis, with its island
cliffs, and the sacred strait of the sea-fight, where afterwards the
Persians fled before the Greeks. So he went all day, until the evening,
till he saw the Thriasian plain, and the sacred city of Eleusis,
where the Earth-mother's temple stands. For there she met Triptolemus,
when all the land lay waste, Demeter the kind Earth-mother,
and in her hands a sheaf of corn. And she taught him to
plow the fallows, and to yoke the lazy kine; and she taught him to
sow the seed-fields, and to reap the golden grain; and sent him
forth to teach all nations, and give corn to laboring men. So at
Eleusis all men honor her, whosoever tills the land; her and
Triptolemus her beloved, who gave corn to laboring men.

And he went along the plain into Eleusis, and stood in the
marketplace, and cried--

"Where is Kerkuon, the king of the city? I must wrestle a fall
with him today."

Then all the people crowded round him, and cried, "Fair youth,
why will you die? Hasten out of the city, before the cruel king
hears that a stranger is here."

But Theseus went up through the town, while the people wept and
prayed, and through the gates of the palace-yard, and through the
piles of bones and skulls, till he came to the door of Kerkuon's
hall, the terror of all mortal men.

And there he saw Kerkuon sitting at the table in the hall alone;
and before him was a whole sheep roasted, and beside him a whole
jar of wine. And Theseus stood and called him, "Holla, thou
valiant wrestler, wilt thou wrestle a fall today?"

And Kerkuon looked up and laughed, and answered, "I will
wrestle a fall today; but come in, for I am lonely and thou weary,
and eat and drink before thou die."

Then Theseus went up boldly, and sat down before Kerkuon at the
board: and he ate his fill of the sheep's flesh, and drank his
fill of the wine; and Theseus ate enough for three men, but Kerkuon
ate enough for seven.

But neither spoke a word to the other, though they looked across
the table by stealth; and each said in his heart, "He has broad
shoulders; but I trust mine are as broad as his."

At last, when the sheep was eaten and the jar of wine drained
dry, King Kerkuon rose, and cried, "Let us wrestle a fall before we

So they tossed off all their garments, and went forth into the
palace-yard, and Kerkuon bade strew fresh sand in an open space
between the bones. And there the heroes stood face to face, while
their eyes glared like wild bulls'; and all the people crowded at the
gates, to see what would befall.

And there they stood and wrestled, till the stars shone out above
their heads; up and down and round, till the sand was stamped hard
beneath their feet. And their eyes flashed like stars in the darkness,
and their breath went up like smoke in the night air; but neither took
nor gave a footstep, and the people watched silent at the gates.

But at last Kerkuon grew angry, and caught Theseus round the
neck, and shook him as a mastiff shakes a rat; but he could not shake
him off his feet.

But Theseus was quick and wary, and clasped Kerkuon round the
waist, and slipped his loin quickly underneath him, while he caught
him by the wrist; and then he hove a mighty heave, a heave which
would have stirred an oak, and lifted Kerkuon, and pitched him,
right over his shoulder on the ground.

Then he leapt on him, and called, "Yield, or I kill thee!" but
Kerkuon said no word, for his heart was burst within him, with the
fall, and the meat, and the wine.

Then Theseus opened the gates, and called in all the people; and
they cried, "You have slain our evil king; be you now our king, and
rule us well."

"I will be your king in Eleusis, and I will rule you right and
well; for this cause I have slain all evil-doers, Sinis, and Sciron,
and this man last of all."

Then an aged man stepped forth, and said, "Young hero, hast
thou slain Sinis? Beware then of geus, king of Athens, to whom
thou goest, for he is near of kin to Sinis."

"Then I have slain my own kinsman," said Theseus, "though well
he deserved to die. Who will purge me from his death, for rightfully
I slew him, unrighteous and accursed as he was?"

And the old man answered--

"That will the heroes do, the sons of Phytalus, who dwell beneath
the elm tree in Aphidnai, by the bank of silver Cephisus; for they
know the mysteries of the Gods. Thither you shall go and be purified,
and after you shall be our king."

So he took an oath of the people of Eleusis, that they would serve
him as their king, and went away next morning across the Thriasian
plain, and over the hills toward Aphidnai, that he might find the
sons of Phytalus.

And as he was skirting the Vale of Cephisus, along the foot of
lofty Parnes, a very tall and strong man came down to meet him,
dressed in rich garments. On his arms were golden bracelets, and
round his neck a collar of jewels; and he came forward, bowing
courteously, and held out both his hands, and spoke,--

"Welcome, fair youth, to these mountains; happy am I to have
met you! For what greater pleasure to a good man than to entertain
strangers? But I see that you are weary. Come up to my castle, and
rest yourself awhile."

"I give you thanks," said Theseus; "but I am in haste to go
up the valley, and to reach Aphidnai, in the Vale of Cephisus."

"Alas! you have wandered far from the right way, and you cannot
reach Aphidnai tonight; for there are many miles of mountain
between you and it, and steep passes, and cliffs dangerous after
nightfall. It is well for you that I met you; for my whole joy is to
find strangers, and to feast them at my castle, and hear tales from
them of foreign lands. Come up with me, and eat the best of venison,
and drink the rich red wine; and sleep upon my famous bed,
of which all travelers say that they never saw the like. For whatsoever
the stature of my guest, however tall or short, that bed fits
him to a hair, and he sleeps on it as he never slept before." And he
laid hold on Theseus's hands, and would, not let him go.

Theseus wished to go forwards, but he was ashamed to seem
churlish to so hospitable a man; and he was curious to see that
wondrous bed; and, besides, he was hungry and weary; yet he shrank
from the man, he knew not why; for though his voice was gentle
and fawning, it was dry and husky like a toad's; and though his
eyes were gentle, they were dull and cold like stones. But he
consented, and went with the man up a glen which led from the
road toward the peaks of Parnes, under the dark shadow of the

And as they went up, the glen grew narrower, and the cliffs higher
and darker, and beneath them a torrent roared, half seen between
bare limestone crags. And around them was neither tree nor bush,
while from the white peaks of Parnes the snow-blasts swept down
the glen, cutting and chilling, till a horror fell on Theseus as he
looked round at that doleful place. And he asked at last, "Your
castle stands, it seems, in a dreary region."

"Yes; but once within it, hospitality makes all things cheerful.
But who are these?" and he looked back, and Theseus also; and
far below along the road which they had left, came a string of laden
asses, and merchants walking by them, watching their ware.

"Ah, poor souls!" said the stranger. "Well for them that I
looked back and saw them! And well for me too, for I shall have
the more guests at my feast. Wait awhile till I go down and call
them, and we will eat and drink together the live-long night. Happy
am I, to whom Heaven sends so many guests at once!"

And he ran back down the hill, waving his hand and shouting to
the merchants, while Theseus went slowly up the steep pass.

But as he went up he met an aged man, who had been gathering
driftwood in the torrent-bed. He had laid down his fagot in the
road, and was trying to lift it again to his shoulder. And when he
saw Theseus, he called to him, and said--

"O fair youth, help me up with my burden, for my limbs are stiff
and weak with years."

Then Theseus lifted the burden on his back. And the old man
blest him, and then looked earnestly upon him, and said--

"Who are you, fair youth, and wherefore travel you this doleful

"Who I am my parents know: but I travel this doleful road because
I have been invited by a hospitable man, who promises to
feast me, and to make me sleep upon I know not what wondrous

Then the old man clapped his hands together, and cried,--

"O house of Hades, man-devouring! will thy maw never be full?
Know, fair youth, that you are going to torment and to death; for
he who met you (I will requite your kindness to another) is a robber
and a murderer of men. Whatsoever stranger he meets he entices
him hither to death; and as for this bed of which he speaks, truly it
fits all comers, yet none ever rose alive off it save me."

"Why?" asked Theseus, astonished.

"Because, if a man be too tall for it, he lops his limbs till they be
short enough, and if he be too short, he stretches his limbs till they
be long enough: but me only he spared, seven weary years agone;
for I alone of all fitted his bed exactly; so he spared me, and made
me his slave. And once I was a wealthy merchant, and dwelt in
brazen-gated Thebes; but now I hew wood and draw water for him,
the torment of all mortal men."

Then Theseus said nothing; but he ground his teeth together.

"Escape then," said the old man, "for he will have no pity on thy
youth. But yesterday he brought up hither a young man and a
maiden, and fitted them upon his bed: and the young man's hands
and feet he cut off; but the maiden's limbs he stretched until she
died, and so both perished miserably--but I am tired of weeping
over the slain. And therefore he is called Procrustes the stretcher,
though his father called him Damastes. Flee from him: yet whither
will you flee? The cliffs are steep, and who can climb them? and
there is no other road."

But Theseus laid his hand upon the old man's mouth, and said,
"There is no need to flee;" and he turned to go down the pass.

"Do not tell him that I have warned you, or he will kill me by
some evil death;" and the old man screamed after him down the
glen; but Theseus strode on in his wrath.

And he said to himself, "This is an ill-ruled land; when shall I
have done ridding it of monsters?" And as he spoke, Procrustes
came up the hill and all the merchants with him, smiling and talking
gayly. And when he saw Theseus, he cried, "Ah, fair young guest,
have I kept you too long waiting?"

But Theseus answered, "The man who stretches his guests upon
a bed and hews off their hands and feet, what shall be done to him,
when right is done throughout the land?"

Then Procrustes' countenance changed, and his cheeks grew as
green as a lizard, and he felt for his sword in haste; but Theseus
leapt on him, and cried--

"Is this true, my host, or is it false?" and he clasped Procrustes
round waist and elbow, so that he could not draw his sword.

"Is this true, my host, or is it false?" But Procrustes answered
never a word.

Then Theseus flung him from him, and lifted up his dreadful
club; and, before Procrustes could strike him, he had struck, and
felled him to the ground.

And once again he struck him; and his evil soul fled forth, and
went down to Hades squeaking, like a bat into the darkness of a

Then Theseus stript him of his gold ornaments, and went up to his
house, and found there great wealth and treasure, which he had
stolen from the passers-by. And he called the people of the country,
whom Procrustes had spoiled a long time, and parted the spoil
among them, and went down the mountains, and away.

And he went down the glens of Parnes, through mist, and cloud,
and rain, down the slopes of oak, and lentisk, and arbutus, and
fragrant bay, till he came to the Vale of Cephisus, and the pleasant
town of Aphidnai, and the home of the Phytalid heroes, where they
dwelt beneath a mighty elm.

And there they built an altar, and bade him bathe in Cephisus,
and offer a yearling ram, and purified him from the blood of Sinis,
and sent him away in peace.

And he went down the valley by Acharnai, and by the silver-swirling
stream, while all the people blessed him; for the fame of his prowess
had spread wide, till he saw the plain of Athens, and the hill where
Athen dwells.

So Theseus went up through Athens, and all the people ran out
to see him; for his fame had gone before him, and every one knew
of his mighty deeds. And all cried, "Here comes the hero who
slew Sinis, and Phaia the wild sow of Crommyon, and conquered
Kerkuon in wrestling, and slew Procrustes the pitiless." But Theseus
went on sadly and steadfastly, for his heart yearned after his
father; and he said, "How shall I deliver him from these leeches
who suck his blood?"

So he went up the holy stairs, and into the Acropolis, where
geus' palace stood; and he went straight into geus' hall, and
stood upon the threshold, and looked round.

And there he saw his cousins sitting about the table at the wine:
many a son of Pallas, but no geus among them. There they sat
and feasted, and laughed, and passed the wine-cup round; while
harpers harped, and slave girls sang, and the tumblers showed their

Loud laughed the sons of Pallas, and fast went the wine-cup round;
but Theseus frowned, and said under his breath, "No wonder that
the land is full of robbers, while such as these bear rule."

Then the Pallantids saw him, and called to him, half-drunk with
wine, "Holla, tall stranger at the door, what is your will today?"

"I come hither to ask for hospitality."

"Then take it, and welcome. You look like a hero and a bold
warrior; and we like such to drink with us."

"I ask no hospitality of you; I ask it of geus the king, the master
of this house."

At that some growled, and some laughed, and shouted, "Heyday!
we are all masters here."

"Then I am master as much as the rest of you," said Theseus, and
he strode past the table up the hall, and looked around for geus;
but he was nowhere to be seen.

The Pallantids looked at him, and then at each other; and each
whispered to the man next him, "This is a forward fellow; he
ought to be thrust out at the door." But each man's neighbor
whispered in return, "His shoulders are broad; will you rise and
put him out?" So they all sat still where they were.

Then Theseus called to the servants, and said, "Go tell King
geus, your master, that Theseus of Troezene is here, and asks to be
his guest awhile."

A servant ran and told geus, where he sat in his chamber within,
by Medeia the dark witch-woman, watching her eye and hand. And
when geus heard of Troezene, he turned pale and red again, and
rose from his seat trembling, while Medeia watched him like a

"What is Troezene to you?" she asked. But he said hastily, "Do

Book of the day: