THE WINNING OF ATALANTA
NCE upon a time there ruled in Arcadian Tegea a
proud-hearted king named Schnus. A tamer of
horses was he, and a man mighty in the hunt and in
battle. Above every other thing he loved danger and
sport and all kinds of manly exercise. Indeed, these
things were the passion of his life, and he despised
all womenkind because they could take no part nor lot
in them. And he wedded Clymene, a fair princess of a
royal house, because he wished to raise up noble sons
in his halls, who should ride and hunt with him, and
carry on his name when he was dead. On his wedding day
he swore a great oath, and called upon all the gods to
"Never," he swore in his pride, "shall a maid child
live in my halls. If a maid is born to me, she shall
die ere her eyes see the light, and the honour of my
house shall rest upon my sons alone."
When a man swears an oath in his pride, he repents full
oft in humility, and so it fell out now. For many a
 year no child was born to him, and when at last he had
hopes of an heir, the babe that was born was a maid.
When he saw the child his heart was cut in two, and the
pride of a father and the pride of his oath did battle
within him for victory. The pride of his oath
conquered, for he was afraid to break his word in the
face of all his people. He hardened his heart, though
he had held the babe in his arms, and its little hand
with a birthmark above the wrist had closed about his
finger trustfully, and gave orders that the child
should be cast out upon the mountains to die of hunger
and cold. So the babe was given to a servant, who bore
it forth and left it on the slope of bleak Parthenius.
But Fate made a mock of Schnus, of his pride and
of his oath, for no other child, either man or maid,
was born to him in his halls. All too late he repented
of his folly, when he saw his hearth desolate and no
children round his board, and knew that not only his
name, but his race, was like to die with him, because
of the rash oath which he had sworn.
Yet there was one who had pity on the babe, and whose
heart was kinder than the heart of its own sire. When
Artemis, the maiden goddess, saw the child cast forth
to die, she was filled with anger against Schnus,
and swore that it should live. For it was a fair
child, and a maid after her own heart, and no young
life ever called to her in vain for mercy. Wherefore
she sent a she-bear to the place where the child lay,
and softened the heart of the beast, so that she lifted
it gently in her mouth and bore it to the cave where
her own cubs lay hid. There she suckled it with her
own young ones, and
 tended it night and day, till it grew strong and could
walk, and the cave rang with its laughter as it played
and gambolled with the young bears. When Artemis knew
that the child was old enough to live without its
foster-mother, she sent her nymphs to fetch it away,
and when they bore it to her she was well pleased to
find it fair and strong.
"Her name shall be Atalanta," she said to them. "She
shall dwell on the mountains and in the woods of
Arcadia, and be one of my band with you. A mighty
huntress shall she be, and the swiftest of all mortals
upon earth; and in time she shall return to her own
fold and bring joy and sorrow to their hearts."
Thus it came to pass that Atalanta lived with the
nymphs in the woodlands of Arcadia. They taught her to
run and to hunt, and to shoot with bow and arrows, till
soon the day came when she could do these things as
well as any of their band. For the blood of her father
ran hot in her veins; and not more easily does a young
bird learn to fly than Atalanta learnt to love all
manner of sport. So she came to womanhood in the heart
of the hills, and as her form grew in height and
strength, it grew too in beauty and grace. The light
of the sunbeam lay hid in her hair, and the blue of the
sky in her eyes, and all the rivers of Arcadia bathed
her limbs and made them fresh and white. But she
thought little of her beauty, or the power it might
have over the hearts of men, for all her delight was in
the hunt, and to follow Artemis, her mistress, over
hill and over dale. Artemis loved her, and delighted
to do her honour; and when the land of Calydon cried to
her for mercy, because
 of the boar she had sent to ravage it in her wrath, she
decreed that none but Atalanta should have the glory of
that hunt. The tale of how she came to Calydon, and of
how the boar was slain at last through her, I have told
you before; and of how death came to Meleager, because
he loved her, and would not let any man insult her
while he stood idly by. By the fame of that hunt her
name was carried far and wide through Hellas, so that
when she came to the funeral games of Pelias there was
no need to ask who she was. She ran in the foot race
against the swiftest in the land, and won the prize so
easily that when she reached the goal the first man had
scarce passed the turning-point, though he was no
sluggard to make a mock of. When the games were over,
she went back to Arcadia without a tear or a sigh, but
her face and her memory lived in the heart of many a
man whose very name she had not known; and when
presently the news went abroad that she would wed the
man who could win her, they flocked from far and wide,
because they loved her better than life; for they knew
that the unsuccessful went forth to certain death.
The tale of how Atalanta went back to her own folk, and
of how she was wooed and won, is as follows:
One day, when King Schnus had a great hunt in the
forest on the edge of his domain, it chanced that
Atalanta had come to those parts; and when she heard
the blare of the bugles and the barking of the hounds,
her heart leapt with joy. As a dog, when he hears the
voice of his master, pricks up his ears and runs
swiftly to meet him, so did Atalanta run swiftly
through the woods when she heard the sound of bugles.
Full often she joined
 a hunt on the uplands of Arcadia, and run with the
hounds; and when the hunt was over she had fled back
into the forest, away from those who had been fain for
her to stay. For she loved the hunt but not the
hunters; but, because she was a mortal and born of a
mortal race, she did not flee from their eyes, as the
woodland nymphs fled, but hunted with them for joy of
the hunt, and left them when it pleased her. So now
she joined the chase as the stag broke loose from
cover, and her white fleet flashed in the sunlight as
she followed the hounds across the open moorland. King
Schnus, when he saw her, was glad.
"It is Atalanta, the maiden huntress," he cried. "See
that she be treated with due courtesy, for she is the
only woman on earth who is fit to look a man in the
And he rode eagerly after her. But the best horse in
all that company was no match for Atalanta. Far ahead
of them all she shot, like an arrow from the bow, and
when at least the stag turned at bay in a pool, she was
the first to reach him. When the rest had come up, and
the huntsman had slain the stag, the king turned to
"Atalanta," he said, "the trophy of this chase is
thine, and my huntsman shall bear the head of the stag
whithersoever thou shalt bid him. In token of our
esteem, I beg thee accept this ring. When thou lookest
upon it, think kindly of an old man whose heart is
lonely, and who would fain have a daughter like thee.
As he spoke he drew off a gold ring from his finger and
held it towards her; the tears stood in his eyes and
his hand shook as he looked on her fair young form, and
remembered the babe he had cast out on the the
 to die. If she had lived she would have been of an age
with Atalanta, and perchance as fair and as strong as
she; and his heart was bitter against himself for the
folly of his oath.
When Atalanta heard his words, she had a mind at first
to refuse his gift. Many a man before had offered her
gifts, and she had refused them every one; for she had
no wish to be beholden to any man. But when she saw
the eyes of the old king dim with tears, and how his
hand shook as he held out the ring, her heart was
softened, and yearned with a strange yearning towards
him. Coming forward, she knelt at his feet and took
the ring, and held his hand and kissed it.
"May the gods grant the prayer of thy heart, sire," she
said, "and give thee a daughter like unto me, but
fairer and more wise than I!"
As he looked down on the hand that held his own the old
king trembled more violently than before, for above the
wrist was a birthmark like the birthmark above the
wrist of the babe he had cast forth to die. And he
knew that he made no mistake, for that mark had lived
in his mind as though it had been branded with red-hot
"Atalanta," he said, "the gods have heard thy prayer.
This is not the first time thy fingers have closed
"What meanest thou, sire?" she asked.
"As many years ago as the span of thy young life," he
said, "I held in my arms a new-born babe, the child
that the gods had given me, and its little hand with a
birthmark above the wrist closed about my finger
trust-fully. But because of my foolish pride I
 heart. I cast away the gift of the gods and sent the
child to die upon the mountains. But the birthmark on
its wrist was branded on my brain so that I could not
forget it. Never till this day have I seen that mark
again, and now I see it on thy wrist, my child."
He bowed his head as he spoke, and the tears from his
eyes fell upon her hand, which lay in his as she knelt
"Oh, my father!" she cried, and bent forward and kissed
"OH, MY FATHER!" SHE CRIED.
When he found that she did not turn from him, though
she knew what he had done, he was more deeply moved
"Atalanta," he said, "when I cast thee forth to die, I
gave back to the gods the life they had given me, and
now I have no right to claim it again. Yet would thy
presence be a sunshine in my halls if thou wert to come
back to me, my child."
Thus did the call come to Atalanta to return to her own
folk, and the choice lay before her. On the one side
was her free life in the forest, with Artemis and her
nymphs, the hunt, the fresh air, and all the things
that she loved; on the other was life within the walls
of a city, and the need to bow her head to the customs
and the ways of men. Her heart misgave her when she
thought of it.
"My lord," she said, "will a young lion step into the
cage of his own free will, think you?"
The old king bowed his head at her words.
"Alas! what other answer could I look for?" he said.
"I thank the gods that they have shown me thy fair
 face this day. Perchance, when we hunt again in these
parts, thou wilt join us for love of the chase. Till
then, my child, farewell."
With trembling hands he raised her from her knees, and
kissed her on the forehead. Then he signed to his men
to lead forward his horse, and mounted and rode sadly
home through the forest with his company. And Atalanta
shaded her eyes and stood watching them till they
disappeared from sight. When they had gone, she
sighed, and turned and went upon her way. But her eyes
were blind and her ears were deaf to the sights and
sounds she loved so well, and that night she tossed
restlessly upon her couch of moss. For before her eyes
was the figure of an old man bowed with sorrow, and in
her ear his voice pleaded, trembling with longing and
"Thy presence would be as sunshine in my halls if thou
wert to come back to me, my child."
In the dawn she rose up from her couch, and bathed in a
stream close by, and gathered up her shining hair in a
coil about her head. Then she put on her sandals and a
fresh white tunic, slung her quiver about her
shoulders, and bow in hand went forth through the
forest. Looking neither to the right nor to the left,
she went on her way till she came to the white road
that led to the city. Then she turned and looked back
at the forest.
"Dear trees and woods," she said, "farewell, and ye
nymphs that dwell in the streams and dance on the green
sward of the mountains. When I have trodden the white
road and gone up to the city, I can live with you no
 As for thee, great Artemis, who saved me in the
beginning, I will be thy servant for ever, and dwell a
maiden all my days, and a lover of the hunt."
She leant her head against a tree close by, and the
tears stood in her eyes. It seemed that the breeze
bore her words on its wings, for she heard a sigh from
the forest, and the waters cried out to her, "Atalanta,
come back, come back!"
But she closed her ears, and stepped out bravely on the
white highway, and went up into the city. The people
as they saw her pass marvelled greatly at her beauty,
and whispered on to the other, "Surely it is Atalanta,
the king's daughter. What doth she here?"
For the tale of how King Schnus had found his
child, and of how she had refused to come home with
him, had spread like wildfire through the city; so that
when they saw her, they knew full well who she must be.
She took no heed of them at all, but went straight
forward on her way till she came to the gate of the
palace. The gate stood open, and without knocking or
calling she passed in, and went across the echoing
court and beneath the portico into the great hall, as
one who comes by night. When she had entered the hall,
she stopped and looked about her. At first all seemed
silent and deserted, for the folk had gone their
several ways for the work of the day; but at length she
spied an old man sitting on a carved chair in one of
the alcoves between the pillars. It was the king, her
father. He sat with his head upon his hand and his
eyes downcast upon the floor, and his face was sad and
full of longing, as of one who dreams
 sweet dreams which he knows will not come true. Gently
she drew near him, and thanked the gods who had timed
her coming so that she should find him alone. And she
went and knelt at his feet. The old man gazed for a
moment in her face, as though he did not see her; then
he started from his chair and laid his hand upon her
"Atalanta!" he cried.
"My father," she said, "I have come back to thee."
Then he gathered her up in his arms.
"Oh, my child, my child!" he said. "The gods are kind
beyond my desert."
"Thy voice cried out to me in the night-time," she
said, "and I could not shut my heart to thy pleading.
The call of the free earth was strong, but the call of
my blood was stronger."
Thus did Atalanta come back to her own folk, and bring
joy to the heart of her father and the mother who had
never held her in her arms. A great feast was held in
the palace in her honour, and through all the city the
people rejoiced because of her. For she was a fair
princess of whom any land might be proud, and her fame
had spread through the length and breadth of Hellas.
Indeed, as soon as it was known who she was, and how
she had left the mountains to come and live with her
own kin, suitors flocked from far and wide to seek her
hand in marriage. But she treated them one and all
with scorn, and vowed that she would never wed. At
first her father smiled upon her, and looked on her
refusal to wed as the sign of a noble nature, that was
not to be won for the asking of the first
 he gathered about him the noblest princes in the land
in the hope that among them all there would be one who
could win her heart. But the months passed by, and
still she vowed that she would never wed. All her
delight was in running and hunting, and to ride by her
father's side. As for the young princes, she liked
them full well for companions in sport, but as soon as
they spoke of love and marriage she would turn her back
upon them. At length the king grew anxious.
"Surely, my child," he said, "among all these princes
there is one whom thou couldst love?"
"I shall never love any man but thee, my father," she
"Yet all the hope of our race lies upon thee,
Atalanta," he said. "If thou wilt not wed, our race
"Our race died on the day on which thou didst cast me
forth on the mountains," she answered. "If I have
lived, it is no thanks to thee or to any of my people,
but my life is hers who saved me on that day."
"What meanest thou?" said the king.
"When I left the forest and came back to thee I vowed a
vow to Artemis, who saved me in the beginning. I said,
'I will be thy servant for ever, and dwell a maiden all
my days and a lover of the hunt.' My life belongs to
her, and not to my race, not to any son of man."
"We vow rash vows in ignorance, Atalanta," said the
king, as he remembered the oath he had sworn on his
wedding-day, "and Fate makes a mock of us, and turns
our nay to yea."
 But Atalanta laughed at his words.
"When Fate mocks at me," she said, "it will be time
enough for me to wed and turn my nay to yea."
Nothing that he could say would persuade her to go back
from her resolve. But still he reasoned with her night
and day, till at length she grew so wearied of the
matter that she bethought of a plan that would rid her
of all her suitors.
"My father," she said, "I will wed any man who shall
ask my hand, if he will also fulfil one condition."
"My child," cried the father, "I knew that in the end
thou wouldst listen to reason. Tell me thy condition,
that I may spread it abroad among those who are suing
for thy hand."
"Tell them," she said, "that I will wed the first man
among them who will run a race with me. If he win, I
will be his bride, but if he lose, he must die."
The king's face fell when he heard her words.
"Surely thou speakest in mockery, Atalanta," he said.
"No man in all the world can run as swiftly as thou
canst, and they know it. Thou wilt drive thy suitors
from thee; or if any be foolhardy enough to run with
thee, they will run to a certain death."
"No man will run to a certain death, my father," she
answered. "When they know that to sigh for me is to
sigh for death, they will go back to their own folk,
and I shall be troubled with suitors no more."
Herein she spoke in ignorance, and knew not the fatal
power of her beauty upon the hearts of men. And her
father sighed at her words. Yet he thought within
"Perchance there is more in her words than meets the
 ear. The deep sea is easier to fathom than the mind of
a woman. Either there is one among her suitors whom
she favours above the rest, and she will see to it that
he is the first to run with her, and will bridle her
speed and let him win; or else, Heaven knows, some god
has put this whim in her heart, and will send a
champion we know not, who can run faster than the
fastest, and he will outspeed her and make her his
bride. She will never let men die because of her."
But herein he too thought in ignorance, and knew not
how his own pride and stubbornness lived again in
Atalanta, so that she would abide by her word, though
it brought grief to herself and death to the others.
So he published abroad among the suitors the condition
she had made. When they heard it there was a great
consternation among them, and they consulted together
as to what they should do, and some sent a deputation
to her to find out the meaning of her words.
"Lady," they asked, "when thou speakest of death thou
speakest perchance of parables. Those who run in the
race with thee and are outstripped must give up all
hope of thee, and look upon thy face no more. And this
would be death indeed to them that love thee."
But she laughed in their faces.
"If you would hear parables," she said, "go to the
oracle at Delphi. I am no raving priestess to utter
words that walk two ways at once. He who courts death
may race with me at daybreak, and at sunset he shall
drink the poison-cup without fail, and look neither on
my face again nor the face of any living thing. Have I
spoken plainly now?"
 The next day there was a great confusion in the halls
of King Schnus. There was shouting and bustling,
and attendants ran this way and that. Chariots
clattered through the gateway and drew up in the court,
and baggage was piled high behind the horses. And
Atalanta laughed aloud at the success of her scheme;
for suitor after suitor came and kissed her hand and
bade her farewell. They loved her much, but they loved
life better, and were content to go home and find mates
who, though less fair, were less ferocious, and were
like to look upon their lords with eyes more lowly and
obedient than Atalanta.
That night the gathering about the board was scantier
than it had been for many a long day. Yet a few of the
suitors remained, and seemed in no haste to be gone.
Day after day passed by, and each night Atalanta said
"To-morrow they will surely go. They dwell in distant
towns, and they are waiting for a favourable day for
But favourable days came and went, and still they
stayed in the halls of King Schnus. At last
Atalanta could hide the dread in her heart no longer.
"How long will it be, my father," she asked, "ere we
are troubled no more with strangers in our halls?"
"If thou wilt wed one of them, we shall be troubled
with the rest no more," he replied.
"They know full well I can wed no man of them, because
of the condition I have made," she said.
"They are waiting for thee to fulfil thy condition,"
said the king.
 Then Atalanta herself went and pleaded with them.
"My friends," she said, "I pray you to be guided by me.
The gods have not fashioned me after the manner of
womenkind, and I cannot give myself nor my love to any
man. Look upon me as one of yourselves, I pray you,
and think not to win me in marriage."
But they replied, "Lady, thou hast given the condition
of thy marriage, and we are waiting to fulfil it."
"But my condition means certain death," she cried.
"Nothing in this life is certain," they said, "save
death in the end. If it come soon or late, what
matter? For thy sake we are willing to face it now."
Thus was she forced to keep her word, and the lists
were made ready for the race, and the lots were cast
among the suitors as to which of them should be the
first to run against her. In the early morning, before
the sun was strong, the race was run, and all the city
crowded to the course to watch it. The man ran well
and bravely, but his speed was as a child's play to
Atalanta. She put forth her strength like a greyhound
that is content to run for a while before the horses,
but when he scents a hare, can leave them behind. Even
so did Atalanta run, and came in cool and fresh at the
goal, whilst her rival ran in hot and panting behind
Thus did it come to pass that the first man drank the
poison-cup because of his love for Atalanta. With a
smiling face did he drink it, as a man drinks at a
"Farewell, lady," he said; "grieve not for me. With
open eyes I chose my fate. I ran for the sake of love
and beauty, and I have won death. Such is ever the lot
 nameless many. They fight for the glory of the man
whose name shall live. Good luck to my rival!"
And now a time of darkness and mourning fell upon the
land, and many a day in the year the city was hung with
black for the sake of some noble suitor who had chosen
death rather than life without Atalanta. And
Atalanta's heart was sore within her, because of the
rash condition she had made in her ignorance. When she
would fain have recalled her words it was too late, for
the suitors bound her to her promise.
"Either give thyself of thine own free will to one of
us, or else let us take our chance of winning thee or
death," they said.
And so she was forced to run with them. For in her
heart she knew that even death was happier for a man
than to win her without her love.
Thus were the words of Artemis fulfilled when she said,
"In time she shall return to her own folk, and bring
joy and sorrow to their hearts."
One day it chanced that a stranger came to the city on
a morning that a race was to be run. The night before
he had slept in a village near by, and the people had
told him the tale of Atalanta, and how on the morrow
another suitor was to run to his death. But he scoffed
at their words.
"No man would run to certain death," he said, "were the
maid as fair as Aphrodite."
"Go and see for thyself," they replied. "Soon we shall
hear that thou too wilt run in the race."
"Never," he said; "no woman can cheat my life from me."
 But they shook their heads unconvinced.
"Many before thee have spoken likewise," said they,
"and yet they have run."
"If I run, I will run to win," he answered.
"Can a snail outstrip a deer?" they asked.
"It might so chance," said he.
"Thou art mad," they cried.
"Better to be mad on earth than sane in Hades," he
But they shook their heads the more, and tapped wisely
with their fingers on their foreheads, to show that he
was mad and spoke at random.
"Well, well," he said, with a laugh, "we shall see what
we shall see."
The next morning he set forth early for the city, and,
mingling with the crowd, he made his way to the
race-course, and found for himself a place where he
could watch the whole sight with ease. The race was
run and ended as it always ended; and once again the
city was hung with black. But in the mind of the
stranger an image remained which had not been there
before—the image of a maid whose white feet
flashed in the sunlight and her tunic swung to and from
as a flag swings in the breeze.
"Great Heracles!" he thought within himself, "to run
shoulder to shoulder with her for a moment, even in a
race for death, might be worth the while after all. I
will make myself known at the palace, and see what the
gods will give me."
For some days he lay hid in the city, till he thought
the time was ripe for him to go up to the palace of the
 king. Then he went for a walk along the highway, and
when he was covered with dust and grime, he returned to
the city and made his way at once to the palace. At
the door of the gateway he knocked, and the old porter
came out to ask his will.
"I am come from a distant land," he said, "and
to-morrow I would journey yet further on my way. I
pray thee to crave hospitality for one night for me
from the steward of this house, whoe'er he be. I am a
king's son, and worthy to sit at any man's table."
The porter cast a doubtful eye on the travel-worn
clothes of the stranger. It seemed unlikely that a
king's son would go on a distant journey with no
body-servant and no horse or baggage. The he looked in
his clear blue eyes, which gazed back at him as
innocent as a child's, and he saw that for all his
sorry raiment he was by no means ill-favoured, but held
himself well and proudly. So he opened the door and
led him across the court.
"Well, well," he muttered in his beard, "great folk
have strange whims in these days. Our king must needs
slay his daughter, because she is a maid, and she needs
slay her suitors, because they are men. After that
this fellow may well be, as he says, a king's son, who,
because he has a palace and plenty, must needs tramp
over the face of the earth and beg his bread. Praise
be to the gods who put lowly blood in my veins and
sense in my head, else had it been better for the gate
to keep itself than to have me for a guardian."
Then he cast another look over his shoulder at the
young man behind.
 "At any rate, for one night he can do no harm," he
"What didst thou say, father?" asked the stranger.
"I said that for one night thou couldst do no harm,"
replied the old man.
"On the contrary," said the stranger with a laugh, "in
one night I hope to do more good to this house than
thou hast done in all thy life."
"The young have ever a good conceit of themselves,"
said the porter. "Thou art not like to keep this gate,
winter and summer, day and night, for close on
three-score years, as I have done, young man."
"On the other hand," said the stranger, "thou art not
like to marry the king's daughter within the year, and
have the city hung with red instead of black in thine
honour, as I am like to do."
"Sir," said the old man, "I know my place too
"—and love thy life too much to aspire to the
hand of the princess. Is that not so?"
"Mayhap," said the old man, and shut his mouth with a
snap. To all further remarks which the stranger made
he answered with a grunt. He took him into the palace
and delivered him into the hands of the steward. As he
turned to go back to his post, the young man clapped
his hand upon his shoulder.
"Good luck to thee and thy gate," he said. "When I
come through with the hand of the princess in mine,
perchance thou wilt look upon me with greater favour
"Be warned in time, young man," said the porter,
 "and tarry not over long in this palace, but go forth
on thy journey in the morning, as thou hadst a mind to
do in the beginning. Those who tarry too long are apt
to go through the gate with nought but a cake in their
This he said, meaning the cake which was put in the
hands of the dead for them to give to Cerberus, the
watch-dog of Hades.
"Fear not for that," said the stranger; "I had as lief
Thereupon he turned to the steward, who welcomed him
sadly to the halls of King Schnus. All strangers
were looked upon askance in those days, lest they came
as suitors for the hand of Atalanta, and wished to add
to those who had run in the fatal race. When he heard
that the young man would depart on the morrow on his
journey he was glad, and gave him water to wash with
and a change of raiment, and showed him his place at
the board, without so much as asking his name. When
Atalanta saw a stranger at the board her heart sank
within her, and she kept her eyes turned away, as
though she had not seen him, for she made sure that he
too had come to run in the race with her. It chanced
that night that the company was scanty, and no man
talked in private to this neighbour, but the
conversation leapt from one end of the board to the
other, as each one took his share in it and said his
say. The stranger, too, took his part with the rest of
them, nowise abashed; and so shrewd were his words, and
so full of wit, that soon he had a smile upon the face
of each one at the table. For many a long day the talk
had not been so merry nor the
 laughter so loud at the table of King Schnus.
Atalanta, too, forgot her constraint, and talked and
laughed freely with the stranger; and he answered her
back, as though it had been man to man, and showed no
more deference to her than to the others of the
When the meal was over, the king approached the
stranger, and Atalanta stood beside him.
"Sir," said the king, "thy name and country are still
hid from us, but we are grateful for thy coming, and
would be fain for thee to stay as long as it shall
"I thank thee, sire," said the stranger, "but I am
bound by a strange vow. I may not reveal my name, nor
accept hospitality for more than one night from any
man, till I come to a house where none other than the
king's daughter shall promise me her hand in marriage.
From the tales I have heard in the neighbouring
country, I have learnt that I may not hope to end my
vow beneath this roof—though indeed," he said,
turning to Atalanta, "I would fain press my suit if
there were any chance of success."
But Atalanta threw back her head at his words.
"Thou has doubtless heard the condition," she said, "by
the fulfilment of which alone a man may win my hand."
"Alas, sir!" said the king, "I would press no man to
try his luck in that venture."
"Since that is so," said the stranger, "I will go forth
once more upon my journey at break of day, and see what
luck the gods will give me. I thank thee for thy
kindly hospitality this night, and beg thee to excuse
me. I have travelled far, and would fain rest now, as
I must go a long distance ere I can rest again."
 Thereupon he took his leave of King Schnus and
his daughter. But she, for all her pride, could not
forget the man who seemed to bid her farewell with so
light a heart. He was well favoured, but it was not
because he was well favoured, or because he had a ready
tongue, that she thought on him. Indeed, when she
asked herself why she should remember one who by now
had doubtless lost all memory of her, she could find no
answer. As she tossed on her couch with a troubled
mind, she determined that before he left the palace on
the morrow she would have some speech with him.
"He thinks no more of me than of a stone upon wayside,"
she said within herself, "wherefore I can do him no
wrong by letting him speak with me again before he
It was her custom to rise early in the morning, before
the rest of the household was stirring, and to go forth
alone into the woods; and it was the lot of one of the
slaves to rouse himself betimes to give her food ere
she went, so that when she appeared, as was her wont,
he thought nothing of it. The stranger had risen even
earlier than she, and the slave was waiting upon him.
When Atalanta saw him, her heart gave a sudden thrill,
for she had not looked to see him so soon.
"Good-morrow, sir," she said. "It is not often I have
a companion when I break my fast."
Then she turned to the slave.
"Thou mayest get thee back to thy bed," she said, "and
sleep out thy sleep in peace. I will see to the wants
of our guest and speed him on his way."
The slave, nothing loth, departed. He was well used
 to strange commands from his mistress; and, moreover,
there was no need to invite him twice to return to his
Thereupon Atalanta sat down at the board beside the
stranger, and they fell to with all the appetite of
youth and health; and as they ate they laughed and
joked, and talked of strange lands they both had seen
and adventures that had befallen them. In the space of
one half-hour they were as good friends as though they
had known each other all their lives, and suitors who
had sat at her father's board day after day were much
more strangers to Atalanta than this man, who had
craved but one night's hospitality.
When they had finished their meal the stranger rose.
"I must bid thee farewell, lady," he said.
"Nay, not yet," she replied; I will set thee on thy
way, and show thee a road through the forest that will
bring thee to the city thou seekest. I know every
track and path as well as the wild deer know them."
He tried to dissuade her, but she would not listen, and
led him out from the palace by a side-gate, which she
unbarred with her own hands. Down through the sleeping
streets they went, where the shadows of the houses lay
long upon the ground, and out across the open downs
into the shade of the forest. The dew gleamed like
jewels on the leaves, as here and there the slanting
rays of the sun shone through the trees, and above
their heads the lark sang gaily in the bright summer
sky. Yet they walked silently side by side, as though,
in spite of the brightness of the day, sorrow and not
joy were sitting in their hearts; and all their gay
talk and laughter
 of the early morning was dead. At length they came to
a broad track that crossed the path they were in, and
Atalanta stopped short and pointed to the right.
"From here," she said, "thou canst not miss thy way.
Follow the track till it lead thee to the high-road,
and when thou strikest the high-road, turn to the left,
and thou wilt come to the city thou seekest."
Then she held out her hand to him.
"I must bid thee farewell," she said, "and good luck to
the ending of thy vow."
"Lady," he said, and took her hand in his," if thou
wilt, thou canst release me now from my vow."
But she drew her hand away sharply and tossed back her
"Many kings have daughters besides King Schnus,"
she said, "and any one of them could release thee from
thy vow as well as I."
"Atalanta," he said, "no king's daughter save thee
shall ever release me from my vow. That which laughter
and our converse last night and this morning strove to
hide, our silence, as we walked side by side, has
revealed far better than I can tell thee. Thou knowest
that I love thee. From the first moment that I saw
thee I have loved thee."
His words made her heart thrill with a strange joy.
But she showed no sign of it, and answered him coldly.
She was proud and wished to test him.
"Doubtless the flood-gates of love are easily thrown
open where a man would be released from a vow. Thou
knowest how thou mayest win me. Art thou willing to
run in the race?"
 At this all his mirth returned to him, and his eyes
shone with merriment as he answered:
"Much good would my love do me if I had to drink the
poison cup perforce. Nay, nay," he said; "I love thee
too well to put death at thy door. When I have some
chance of winning the race, I will come back and claim
thee. In the meantime, lady, farewell."
And, bowing to her, he turned and went his way, without
so much as looking back at her, as she stood trembling
with astonishment and anger. It was not thus her other
lovers had spoken. When he had gone from sight, she
turned suddenly and went back by the path they had
come. Her hands were clenched, and the tears sprang
unbidden to her eyes, as she strode forward with long,
angry strides that took no heed of where they went.
"He has made a mock of me!" she cried to
herself—"he has made a mock of me!" He is a base
adventurer who seeks release from his vow. He has no
heart and no honour. Fool that I was to treat him as a
Thus did she stride along in her wrath, till it had
cooled somewhat, and she was able to think more calmly
of the stranger. Then his form came back to her mind,
as he had looked when they stood face to face at the
parting of the ways, when the sun had glinted down upon
them through the trees, and he had looked her straight
in the face with his clear blue eyes, and said: "Thou
knowest that I love thee. From the moment I saw thee I
have loved thee."
A great sob rose in her throat as she remembered.
"Ah, he spoke the truth!" she said; "I know that he
spoke the truth."
 Moreover, her heart told her that long before he had
spoken the words she had known that he loved her. Yet
strange is the bond of love. Its strands are certainty
and doubt interwoven. Wherefore Atalanta, though she
had heard the words which were but the echo of the
silent speech of their hearts, had put him yet further
to the test, and had driven him from her side by asking
of him a sacrifice she had no wish for him to make.
"If he would come back and run with me," she sighed,
"my feet would be as heavy as lead against him."
But she sighed in vain. Day after day passed by, and
he came not.
"He is a man of his word," she thought at last. "Till
he has some chance of winning he will not come back.
And he is no fool. He knows he can never run as fast
as I can run. He will never come back."
Yet, for all this she watched for him night and day.
When she went forth into the road, or into the forest,
she looked for his form at every turn of the way. When
she entered the great hall of the palace, she looked to
see his face at the board. But always she looked in
vain, and sometimes her heart grew bitter against him.
"If he were come now," she would say to herself, "I
would show him no mercy. He who takes so much thought
before he will risk his life for my sake is not worthy
to win me."
Then again she would grow tender, and stand looking
down the path by which he had gone, and sigh for him.
"Oh, my love, come back, come back! My pride is
 melted away like the snow, and without any race I will
give myself to thee."
Thus would she long for him, and grow near to hating
him, because she knew that she loved him. The weeks
and months passed by, and still he returned not; winter
came and went, and once again the dewdrops shone in the
summer sunlight as Atalanta walked in the forest at
break of day. She walked with her eyes upon the
ground, thinking of the summer morning a long year ago
when he had walked by her side in silence along the
very path. When by chance she raised her eyes, there,
at the parting of the ways, he stood, as though in
answer to her thoughts. With a cry she stopped short
and gazed at him, and he came forward and bowed to her.
"I have come back, lady," he said.
"Oh!" she cried from her heart, "I am glad thou hast
Then he bent and kissed her hand. So once more they
walked in silence side by side along the path they had
walked before; and once again the bond of love was knit
strong between them, with its strands of certainty and
doubt. As they drew near to the edge of the forest,
Atalanta was the first to speak.
"And thy vow," she asked—"hast thou found release
"Not yet," he answered. "I am come back to run the
race, that I may win release."
Once again the spirit of perversity came upon her.
"Where hast thou learnt to run like the wind?" she
 "I have not learnt to run like the wind," he replied.
"I have learnt something better than that."
"Few things are better in a race than swiftness," she
"True," he answered; "yet I have found the one thing
"What is this strange thing?" she asked.
"When we have run the race, thou wilt know," he said.
"I have grown no sluggard," she said, with a toss of
her head, as though to warn him that her speed was not
a thing to be despised.
"That I can see," he said, as he cast a glance at her
straight white limbs and the easy grace of her bearing
as she walked beside him. Then they talked of
different matters, and each one knew that that what
they had nearest their hearts they were hiding from
So they came to the palace, and from the lowest to the
highest the inmates greeted the stranger with joy. For
he had won the hearts of them all by his wit and his
genial smile. But they sighed when they heard that he
too had come to run in the fatal race.
"Alas!" said the old king, shaking his head, "I had
rather no have looked upon thy face again than see thee
back on such an errand."
The young man laughed. "He who runs with a fair hope
of winning runs swiftly," he said. "The others were
dragged down by the shackles of their own despair."
"Thou dost not know my daughter," said the king.
"Mayhap I know her better than thou thinkest, and
better than thou knowest her thyself," said the
 No arguments or entreaties would turn him from his
"I must win release from my vow," he said. "I cannot
live all my life a nameless wanderer. Yet will I not
wed any woman I love not, for the sake of my release.
Atalanta alone can save me, for I love none other."
So the lists once again were prepared, and the course
made smooth for the race. With trembling fingers
Atalanta tied her girdle about her, and bound her
sandals to her feet. Though her heart was crying out
for the stranger to win, and praying that her feet
might fail her at the last, yet her pride, too, lifted
up its head.
"He makes so sure of winning," she thought, "he
despises my swiftness. He shall see that nothing he
has learnt can teach him to run as I can run. And
yet—oh, cursed be the condition I thought so
cunning in mine ignorance! Oh, would that he could win
me without first outspeeding me!"
Thus did her pride and her desire pull two ways at
And now the folk were gathered together round the
course, and Atalanta and the stranger stood ready and
waiting for the word to be given. She had made it a
condition of the race that her rivals should have a
good start of her, and she stood with her eyes upon the
stranger's back, as he waited many paces before her.
All too soon the word was given, and he sprang forward
from his place, like a dog which has been straining at
his leash springs forward when the hook is unloosed.
And Atalanta, too, sprang forward; but whereas the man
ran like a hunted thing that strains every muscle to
 life, she ran with the swinging grace of the wild deer
that, far away from the hunters and hounds, crosses the
springing turf of the lonely moor, fearless and proud,
as he throws back his antlers in the breeze. Thus did
Atalanta run, as though she had no thought of the race,
or of the man who ran for his life. Yet, though she
seemed to make no effort, she gained upon her rival at
every step, and now she was running close behind him,
and now she was almost shoulder to shoulder, and out of
the corner of his eye he could see the gleam of her
tunic. Then for a moment he slackened his pace, and it
seemed that she would pass him, and on every side the
people shouted out to him, "Run, run! Faster, faster!
She will pass thee."
OUT OF THE CORNER OF HIS EYE HE COULD SEE THE GLEAM OF HER TUNIC.
But he put his hand into the opening of his tunic, and
drew forth something from his breast. Then his hand
swung up above his head, and from it there flashed a
dazzling fiery apple. Up and down through the air it
flashed like a meteor, and rolled along the grass, till
it stopped far away in the centre of the course, and
lay shining like a jewel in the rays of the sun. Every
eye was turned from the race to watch its gleaming
flight, and Atalanta stopped short and watched it too.
When she saw it stop still in the middle of the course,
flashing and sparkling in the grass, a great desire
sprang up in her heart to have it—a mad,
unreasoning desire that she could not resist. And she
darted aside out of the path of the race, and went and
picked up the shining golden apple and put it in the
bosom of her tunic. Meanwhile the stranger had lost no
time, and when Atalanta came back to the spot she had
left, he was far ahead upon the
 course, and she had to run with a will if she wished to
overtake him. But once again she gained upon him, and
the space between them grew less and less, till they
were running wellnigh shoulder to shoulder. And once
again, he saw the gleam of her tunic beside him; and
again he slackened his speed for a moment, and sent a
second gleaming apple into the air. Once more the mad,
unreasoning desire sprang up in Atalanta's heart, and,
leaving the course, she picked up the second apple and
put in the bosom of her tunic beside the first. By the
time she had returned to the path the stranger had
rounded the turning-point, and was well on his way
towards the goal, and she put forth all her strength to
overtake him. But the ease of her running was gone.
She ran as one who runs bearing a burden, yet she would
not cast away the golden apples in her bosom; for
though they hampered her, she gained upon her rival,
and for the third time they were running almost
shoulder to shoulder. And again, the third time, the
same thing happened, and Atalanta left the course to
pick up the shining fruit. This time when she returned
to her place the stranger was close upon the goal, and
all around the people were shouting and waving their
hands. Blindly she pulled herself together, and with
all the strength that was left in her she made a great
spurt to overtake him. If she would cast away the
golden apples, she might yet win the race; but the same
mad desire which had spurred her to pick them up forbad
her now to let them go. As she ran they seemed to grow
heavier and heavier in her bosom; yet she struggled and
panted on, and step by step did she gain upon him,
though her eyes
 were darkened to all but his form and the goal ahead.
On every side the people shouted louder than before,
for they knew not now which of them would win. As they
drew near to the goal they were again almost shoulder
to shoulder, and the stranger saw once more the flash
of Atalanta's tunic beside him, while there were yet
some paces to run. Then he gave a great spurt forward,
and leapt away from her side. She tried to do
likewise, but her strength was gone. She had made her
last effort before. Thus did it come to pass that the
stranger ran in first to the goal, and, running close
upon his heels, Atalanta fell breathless into his arms
as he turned to catch her. She had run twice as far as
he, but what matter if he had not outsped her? He had
won the race, and held the woman he loved in his arms.
The tears shone in her eyes, but he knew they were no
tears of grief; and in the face of all the people he
Thus was Atalanta, the swiftest of all mortals, beaten
in the race by the stranger, and learnt from his lips
what it was that he had found on his travels that made
speed of no avail in the race.
For after they had come back to the city, surrounded by
the joyous folk, and had passed hand in had beneath the
gateway, and the stranger had nodded with a smile at
the old porter, who stood bowing before them; after he
had revealed to them all that he was Meilanion, the son
of Amphidamas, and the old king had fallen on his neck
and given him his blessing, because he proved to be the
son of his own boyhood's friend, and the man of all
others he would have chosen for his
son-in-law—after all this, when the speeches and
the merrymaking were over, they
 two walked alone in the moonlit court of the palace.
At last Atalanta had decked herself in the long saffron
robes of a bride, and in her hands she bore the three
shining apples. Meilanion's arm was about her, as they
walked for a while in silence, but at length she spoke
and held out the fruit in her hands.
"Tell me their secret," she said.
"Their secret lies in thy heart, Atalanta," he
"What meanest thou?" she asked.
"I mean that if thou hadst not loved me, they would
never have filled thy soul with longing to have them,
and thou wouldst never have turned aside from the
"And, knowing this, thou didst stake thy life on my
love?" she said.
"Knowing that, I staked my life on thy love," he
"Then that was the one thing better than speed in the
"Yes," he answered, "I learnt to trust in thy love."
There was silence for a moment between them, and then
again Atalanta spoke.
"And whence came the apples?" she asked him.
"When I left thee at the parting of the ways," he said,
"I travelled many a weary league by land, and on the
road I passed many a shrine of Aphrodite. But I never
passed them by without lifting up my hands in prayer to
the goddess, for I knew that she could help me if she
would, and I knew that to them that love truly she is
ever kind in the end. But I wandered till I was
footsore and weary, and yet I had no sign. At length I
came to the seashore, and took ship for the pleasant
 isle of Cyprus, which is her own dear home. There at
last she came to me, walking on the waves of the sea.
As I lay on the shore in the night-time, I saw her as a
great light afar, and she drew near to me with the foam
playing white about her feet. In her hand she bore
three shining golden apples. And she came and stood
beside me, and I hid my eyes at the sight of her
beauty. But she spoke to me in a voice that was soft
and kind, and the melody of it touched my heart like
the melody of music.
" 'Fear not, Meilanion,' she said; 'I have heard
the cry of thy heart. Here are three apples from mine
own apple-tree. If she whom thou lovest loves thee in
return, she cannot resist the spell of their golden
brightness. When thou runnest against her, cast them
one by one into the middle of the course. If she love
thee she will turn aside to pick them up. For her they
will be heavy as the gold they seem made of. For thee
they will be light as the fruit whose form they wear.
Farewell, and good luck to thy race.'
"Thereupon darkness came over my eyes, and I could find
no words to thank her. When I awoke I thought it had
been a dream, but lo! by my side upon the sand lay the
apples, shining in the sunlight."
"And thy vow?" asked Atalanta. "How camest thou to
make such a vow?"
He laughed at her words.
"When a hare is hunted," he said, "thou knowest how he
will double and turn, and take a line he has no mind to
pursue to the end. So was it with me. Long ago in my
father's house I heard of thee and of thy
 beauty, and how thou couldst cast such a spell upon the
hearts of men that for thy sake they would fling away
their lives. And a great desire came upon me to see
this thing for myself, for I could scarce believe it.
So I set forth alone to find thee, and hid my name from
all men as I journeyed, for thus could I be more free
to act as seemed best in mine own eyes. And I saw thee
run in a race, and that glimpse was enough to tell me
that I too one day must run with thee. Yet was I more
wary than my rivals. I knew that to come as a suitor
was the way to turn thy heart to stone. Wherefore I
pretended to be bound by a vow, which would bring me as
a passing stranger before thee. Canst thou forgive the
She smiled into his face.
"It was a daring venture," she said.
"I knew I was as one who treads unknown paths on a
moonless night," he answered. "Yet deep in my heart I
felt that when a man desires one thing on earth above
every other—when he loves that thing better than
life itself, he is like to win it in the end, if he
walk patiently step by step in faith. He will win that
thing, or death in his struggle for it; and he is
content that so it should be."
Such was the winning of Atalanta. As for the golden
apples, she placed them in a precious casket, and
guarded them jealously all her day, for a memorial of
the race that she had failed to win.
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