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Children of the Dawn by  Elsie Finnimore Buckley

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HERO AND LEANDER

[101]

O NE sunny day in April long ago a maiden sat in a lonely tower looking out across the Hellespont. At her feet the blue ripples lapped lazily on the beach and played a soothing lullaby upon the stones, and the white-sailed ships floated slowly down the stream from Sestos, carrying their rich freights of corn and merchandise. To the north she could see the port of Sestos, with the great walls running down from the city to the harbour, and the masts of the ships as they lay at anchor by the quay. Across the water facing the tower, stood Abydos, with its palaces and houses nestling white at the foot of the low green hills. So narrow is the sea that runs between Sestos and Abydos, and so swiftly does the current flow, that the ancients used to think it was a great river running down from Propontis and the stormy Euxine, and emptying their overflowing waters into the wide Ægean main. So they called it the broad Hellespont, for the rivers of Greece were but narrow streams beside it.

[102] As she looked across the sunlit waters the maiden sighed, and turned wearily to an old dame who sat spinning in a corner of the room.

"Good mother," she said, "how many years didst thou say we two have lived in this wave-washed tower?"

" 'Tis close on twenty years, my dear, since I brought thee here, a tiny babe in my arms."

"Twenty years!" sighed the maiden. "Twenty centuries had passed by more swiftly in the bright busy world out yonder. How long is a woman's life, good nurse?"

"With the blessing of Heaven she may live for four score years, my child."

"Four score years—four times as long as I have lived already! I can well dispense with the blessing of Heaven."

"Nay; hush, hush!" cried the old woman, and stopped her spinning hastily. "What ails thee, Hero? Thou wast never wont to speak such dreadful words."

The girl threw herself on her knees beside her, and laid her head upon her lap and sobbed. The old nurse drew her fingers tenderly over her long black hair, and waited for the storm of passion to be spent.

"I am tired—tired of this lonely life," sobbed the maiden. "Why am I shut up here, all alone?"

"Thou knowest the reason full well, my child. If thou goest forth into the world, a great sorrow will come upon thee, and drive thee to death in the flower of thy youth. Such was the oracle of the gods concerning thee. Thy mother—poor young thing!—scarce lived to hold thee to her breast, and when she died she put thee in my arms. 'Take her away, nurse, far from the haunts of [103] men, and never let her out into the cruel world. Go, live with her in some lonely tower by the sea, and make her a priestess to pitiless, foam-born Aphrodite. Night and day, as soon as she can lisp a baby prayer, let her burn incense before the altar of the goddess, and perchance she will have mercy on her, and save her from her fate. Full well I know that 'tis with her it rests to strike down my child or to save her, even as it was she, the goddess of Love, who laid her cruel hand on me, so that now I lie a-dying. Ah! save my child from the fate that has been mine.' I did as she bade me, and surely we have not been unhappy, thou and I, together, all these years?"

And she stroked the girl's cheek tenderly, and sighed as she thought how, for many months past, it had grown paler week by week.

"Ah, think me not ungrateful!" cried Hero. "Thou knowest that I love thee, and would never leave thee. But my heart is restless, and I long to set foot beyond this tower and see a great town and streets and the faces of my fellow-men."

Then she rose from her knees, and led the old nurse to the window.

"There!" she cried, pointing towards Sestos; "dost thou see where the white highway runs down into the city—how a crowd of pilgrims throng towards the gate? See, too, the steep pathway that winds upwards from the harbour—how the folk move ever one way, up, up, to the temple of Aphrodite on the hill! How often have I watched them year by year as they gather together for the great feast of Adonis! Yet I, who all my life long have been Aphrodite's priestess—I have never been inside her [104] temple or joined with those who throng from far and wide to pay her worship at this glad season. Verily, the goddess hath good cause to be angered with me if I neglect her dues. Good nurse, let me go to-morrow and join in the procession of the maidens, and let me lay my tribute of flowers before her altar, that she may bless me and save me from my evil fate.

But the old nurse was very troubled at her words.

"My child, thou hast thine own shrine within the house where thou canst burn incense and offer up flowers to Aphrodite. She will answser thy prayers as well from here as from the crowded temple in the town."

"Then why do men build her great pillared temples, and throng from far and near to keep her feast, if the fireside shrine and the simple prayer would please her as well? Nay, she loveth rich gifts and music and singing and the heads of many bowing as one man before her image. Ah, nurse, let me go—let me go."

"My child, why wouldst thou go when thou knowest that the world can only bring thee sorrow? Stay here with me in peace."

"Nay, there is no peace here for me. Aphrodite is angry, and she will slay me by a slow and cruel death if I do not keep her feast this year. Should I, her priestess, stay away, when even the meanest of the folk gather together in her honour? All these years I have not gone and now she will stay her hand no more. As for the world and its cruelty, fear not for that. Thou thyself shalt go with me, and stay by my side till I join the procession of priestesses and maidens. Then I will go up with them to the temple, and in their midst I shall be as [105] far from the world as in this tower. I long to stand within the great white temple and hear the chanting of the priests. I long to see the gleaming image of the goddess, and the statue of the risen Adonis, and the altars sweet with incense and flowers. Ah, nurse, let me go, and all the rest of the year, till the glad season comes round once more, I will stay with thee in this tower and pine no more."

So piteously did she beg that the old nurse had not the heart to refuse, though she feared what might come of it. But she tried to comfort herself with the thought that perchance, after all, the maiden was right, and that Aprhodite was killing her by a slow and cruel death, because she had never kept her solemn feast-day.

The next day broke bright and fair, and Hero, as she looked out from the window, was filled with joy. In the grey dawn she had risen, and sat looking anxiously across the narrow sea towards Abydos and the low line of hills on the further shore.

"O Helios," she prayed, "bright and beautiful, shine down upon the earth this day, and fill the hearts of all with gladness; for it is Aphrodite's solemn feast, and the greatest day of all my life."

And her prayer was not unanswered. Slowly the grey dawn turned to saffron, and the golden disc of the sun rose over the silent hills and scattered the rosy clouds north and south before him. With a cry of joy Hero turned away from the window and ran to rouse the old dame in the other room.

"Nurse, nurse!" she cried, "the sun is shining, and the world has awaked from sleep. It is time to pick the [106] roses and the lilies fresh with dew and weave them into garlands for the goddess. Come up, up, and out with me to the garden."

Without waiting for an answer, she tripped down the turret-stair and out into the garden, and the old nurse sighed and followed slowly behind. In the golden morning, they gathered the roses and lilies, and wove them into garlands and posies, and heaped up the loose flowers in baskets. When all was ready they set out for the town. Though it was yet early, the streets were thronged with pilgrims and folk hurrying this way and that to the houses of their friends and kinsmen. Yet, despite the bustle and confusion, there were few who had not leisure to turn and watch the maiden and the old woman hastening along.

"It is Hebe come down from the courts of heaven," they said—"she who giveth to the deathless gods eternal youth and joy. None can look on her face and be sad."

And, indeed, all the sunshine of the morning seemed reflected in Hero's face, so glad at heart was she. It was small wonder that men turned and looked at her; for she walked as one of the Immortals, full of dignity and grace. No evil thing had ever touched her or left its mark upon her soul. But in a fair garden she had grown to womanhood, where the breeze made music in the plane-trees and the waves beat time upon the shore, and on the hill behind, the tall dark cypress-trees kept silent watch above her. No angry word had ever reached her ears, but as long as she had lived the love of one faithful heart had shielded her. And now, though she knew it not, the call of life had come to her, as it comes [107] to every living thing, and with eager, open arms she was answering it. In the midst of that bustling city crowd, she was like a fair flower that brings into some restless sick-room the scent of sunlit meadows and the murmur of dancing streams. As she went she laughed and talked merrily to the old nurse beside her, and ever and anon a flower would fall to the ground from the laden basket she was carrying; and one of the crowd would quickly pick it up and place it in his bosom, and carry away in his heart something of the music of her laughter and the sunshine of her eyes. The old nurse when she saw it was filled with fear, and hastened faster along; but Hero saw none of these things, nor knew that she was different from other folk.

At length they reached the temple on the hill and went into the chamber where Aphrodite's priestesses and maidens were to meet; and they clad her in long white robes, and put a garland on her head. When all were ready, they went and stood before the priest of the temple, and he told them in what order they should walk. First came little children, who scattered rose-leaves in the path, and behind them followed maidens, playing upon pipes, and singing the hymn to Adonis and Aphrodite. Next came the priest himself, and on either side of him two maidens walked, and held above his head great fans of peacock's plumes. After him followed the long procession of priestesses and maidens, incense-bearers, and the keepers of the sacred doves. Last of all came Hero, bearing in her hands a garland of roses and lilies to lay at the feet of the great white statue of the goddess. Each year the fairest of the maidens was chosen for this task, [108] and in all that throng of youth and beauty there was none more fair than she. With her eyes upon the gleaming statue that shone from the dark recess above the heads of the worshipping people, she walked as one in a dream. About her the smoke of the incense rose, and to her ears the voices of the singers sounded low and far away as they sang,

"All hail to thee, Aphrodite, foam-born Queen of Love! Adonis, all hail to thee! Thou art risen—thou art risen on this joyful day. No more doth Death detain thee in his dark domain, nor Persephone enshroud thee in the mists of the sad Underworld. But thou art come back to the daylight and the flowers; and Aphrodite has dried her tears. For once more by thy side, O fairest of mortal men, she wanders through green glades and echoing caverns and by the shore of the silver sea. The joy of her love has kindled the light of summer suns, and like the west wind in the roses, her breath stirs gently in the hearts of men, and the eyes of every living thing reflect the brightness of her smile. All hail to thee, Aphrodite! Adonis and Aphrodite, all hail!"

As they sang, the choir of maidens parted this way and that, and Hero walked up between them bearing the garland in her hands. When she had laid it at the feet of the statue, the procession formed once more, and, with music and singing, they marched round the colonnade to the shrine of Adonis, and all the people followed after. Still Hero walked as one in a dream, and when the procession halted, she turned into a small recess and leant against a pillar to rest; for her part was done, and the people pressed so close about her in the aisle that she [109] was glad to stand aside till the procession moved again. With her eyes closed, she drank in the sweet scent of the incense and flowers, and listened to the chanting of the choir, as they sang of the love of Adonis and Aphrodite. How Adonis, the beautiful shepherd, the fairest of mortal men, was loved by the Queen of Beauty, and all the long summer days they shepherded his flocks together on the shady slopes of Ida. But there came a time when the people of the country held a great hunt, and chased the wild boar through grove and dale till he was brought to bay in the greenwood; and foremost of those who rushed in to the death was Adonis. But the boar in his agony turned round upon him and pierced him in the thigh with his tusk, and wounded him unto death, his followers bore him away and laid him in the shade of an oak. With a wild cry of sorrow Aphrodite came and knelt beside him, and tried to call him back to life, but his head fell limp upon her breast. The red drops of his blood were mingled with her tears, and both turned to flowers as they fell upon the ground—his blood to the crimson rose, and her tears to the pale, drooping windflower. All through the woods and the echoing hills a cry of mourning was heard, "Adonis, Adonis! O weep for Adonis! Adonis is dead." But though his spirit had crossed the gloomy river and fled to the dark halls of Hades, yet Death was not strong enough to hold him. The voice of his love and of Aphrodite's pleaded together, and heaven and earth, and the world of the dead, were moved by their prayer. Even the heart of Pluto, the black-browed god of Death, was touched, and he said that for only four months in the year must Adonis dwell beneath the earth, [110] but for the other eight he might live his old life with Aphrodite in the sunlight. So he chose the season of the flowery spring-time to come back to his love each year, and only the cold dark months of winter did he spend in the land below. So did a great love prevail an conquer even the black lord of Death.

As Hero listened to the well-known tale, her heart was moved, and she felt that if ever she loved, her love would be as the love of Adonis and Aphrodite—stronger than death; and she sighed as she remembered how she must live lonely all her days in the tower by the sea.

As though in answer in her sigh, she felt a light touch upon her arm, and, raising her head, she found herself face to face with a young man. She was about to turn away in anger and return to her place in the procession, but the look of his eyes held her spellbound, so full of fire and yet so sad were they. For a moment she stood gazing at him, and the fire of his eyes seemed to light another in her heart and set her whole frame aglow. The hot blood rushed to her face, and she lowered her eyes in confusion, and her limbs trembled beneath her, so that she leant back against the pillar for support.


[Illustration]

SHE LOWERED HER EYES IN CONFUSION, AND HER LIMBS TREMBLED BENEATH HER, SO THAT SHE LEANT BACK AGAINST THE PILLAR FOR SUPPORT.

"I ask your pardon, gentle lady," said the man; "forgive my rudeness. Though thou knowest me not, I have known thee for many a long year, and day and night have I prayed the gods that I might meet thee face to face. This day Aphrodite has heard my prayer. If I have seemed presumptuous, forgive me. 'Twas the goddess nerved my arm to touch thee."

And he stood with bowed head before her, awaiting her reply.

[113] "Who art thou, stranger?" asked Hero. "Thou mistakest me, surely, for some other maid. Never till this day have I set foot beyond my tower, and to that lonely spot cometh no man, nor have I ever spoken with such as thee before."

"My name is Leander," said the stranger, "and I dwell in white Abydos across the water. Full well do I know thy lonely tower; for as I ply to and fro between Sestos and Abydos on my father's business, I pass close beneath its walls, and day by day have I seen thee sitting at they window looking out across the sea. Ah, lady, be not angry with me! The first day I saw thee thy beauty set my heart aflame, and since then I have lived for thee alone."

"Thy words stir me strangely, sir," answered Hero. "I know not what to say to thee."

"Thou art not angry, then?" he cried. "Thou wilt let me speak my love? Ah, maiden, all these years have I loved thee with a true heart's devotion! If my love could find but ever so faint an answer in thy heart, I would be content."

And he raised his eyes full of hope and joy to her face. But she turned aside her head to hide the answering fire of her eyes.

"Alas, sir!" she said, "mine is a heart that must never beat for any living man. I am doomed to dwell in yonder tower lonely all my days, for if I go forth and mix with the world, I shall die by the curse of Heaven before my time."

"I have heard thy tale, lady; for even the most secret things are noised abroad by rumour. Far be it from me [114] to bring the curse upon thy head. If thou couldst give me thy love, there would be no need for thee to come forth into the world. I have thought of that. Each day we would live our lives as we have done till now. But at night when none would miss me, I would come to thee. No living soul should know my secret—no, nor yet the lifeless boards of my boat; for even dumb wood can tell a tale if need be. Nay, these two arms shall bear me. Look not fearful, lady. Full often have they borne me to and fro across this narrow sea from mere love of sport. With thee as the prize they would bear me twice as far."

As he spoke he held them out towards her, and, indeed, they were goodly arms to look upon, and his face and form did them no shame either.

Then Hero raised her eyes and looked him full in the face.

"Leander," she said, "I know not what charm or magic thou hast used, but I am as clay in thy hands. 'Tis not thy words have conquered me; in thy reasoning I could find many a flaw. Though one short hour ago I had never seen thee, yet now I feel that I have known thee always, and that life apart from thee were worse than death."

"Ah, Hero!" he cried, and took her hand in his; "the gods have heard my prayer. Though thine eyes had never seen me, the voice of my heart reached thee long ago, and thy soul came out to mine. 'Twas in answer to my call that thou didst come to-day to the feast; for I prayed to Aphrodite to move thy heart, or I knew not how I should ever speak to thee. This very night, beloved, I will come to thee, and the light which thou burnest in thy chamber shall be my guiding star."

[115] "Ah, how carefully will I trim that torch to-night!" she said, "that it may burn brightly for thee. Every evening I put it there as a beacon-light for the ships that pass in the night; but to-night it shall burn for thee—for thee alone."

Now the service was ended before the shrine, and the train of people began to move once more. With one last look and a pressing of hands they parted, and Hero returned to her place in the procession.

When all was ended, the old nurse hastened to the robing-room. In the crowd inside the temple she has lost sight of Hero, and her heart was full of fears for the maiden. As she helped her to lay aside her festal robes and garland, she gazed anxiously at her.

"Art thou content to come home with me, my child," she asked, "or has the glamour of the world ensnared thee?"

"Ah, nurse!" she cried joyously, "never, never have I loved my tower so well. Let us hasten home, and in the quiet of the evening I will tell thee that of which my heart is full."

The old dame was glad when she found her so ready to go home, and they hastened silently through the crowded streets. As the sun was setting behind the hills, and the shadows fell cool and long across the garden slopes, Hero sat at her nurse's feet, and told her of the story of Leander's love, and how that night would make them man and wife. When she had ended her tale, the old dame took her face between her hands and looked her in the eyes.

"Hero," she said, "this thing can never be. I have [116] failed in my trust. I have listened to thy pleading, and let thee out into the world, and now through this man the curse of the gods will be fulfilled. Think no more of him. Let this day be to thee as though it had never been, and thou mayst yet escape thy doom."

But Hero sprang to her feet.

"What!" she cried; "thou wouldst take away the only joy of my life now, when I have just found it? Never! Curse or no curse, Leander shall be my wedded husband. Ah, nurse!" she added, falling on her knees once more, "methinks that over all the joys of life the gods hang a curse, and that it lies not with us poor mortals to choose between them. We must take both and live, or neither and be dead all our days on earth. Thou canst not hold me now; I have chosen my lot."

Nothing that the old dame could say availed to change her purpose, but with her heart full of joy she put on her brightest robes and sat by the lighted torch in her chamber, looking out across the sea, and waiting for the night. True to his word, Leander came as soon as darkness fell, and the old dame let him in by the turret door. Carefully she shaded her lamp with her hand so that the light fell full upon his face, that she might see what manner of man he was. He had dried himself as best he might with leaves and grass from the garden, but his hair hung in damp clusters about his head, and his tunic clung wet about him. Yet, in spite of all, he was full fair to look upon—a very god for strength and beauty. The old dame was pleased when she saw him, for he had braved danger and discomfort to win his bride, and he was a proper man withal, and worthy of so fair a maid as Hero.

[117] So she led him upstairs and gave him change of raiment, and when he was ready she took him to Hero's chamber. There before the shrine of Aphrodite they plighted their troth, with but one faithful soul to witness their vows, and the music of the wind and the waves for their marriage hymn. To the two lovers the night fled by on wings of lightning, and all too soon they had to say farewell; for ere day dawned Leander must have reached the further shore. But parting was sweet sorrow for those who so soon would meet again.

So for many a day their lives ran smoothly on. Each night Hero lighted her torch; each night Leander was guided by its light, and, true to his word, swam across the narrow sea that divided him from his wife. The colour came back to Hero's cheeks and the brightness to her eyes, and she pined no more to leave the tower and go out into the world. When the old dame saw how happy she was, she was glad that things had fallen out so, and prayed that for many a long year the gods would be pleased to bless their wedded love.

Meantime Leander thought that no one knew of the nightly voyage save Hero and the old dame her nurse, yet, for all his secrecy, there was one who each night watched for him with a longing as great as Hero's own. In the depths of the blue Ægean the daughters of Nereus dwell—the fair nymphs of the ocean. All the day long they play beneath the waters, and dance hand in hand along the yellow sands and the shell-strewn hollows of the sea. But at night, when the eyes of men are darkened, they come up above the water and, cradled in the bosom of the waves, swing gently to and fro in the soft [118] summer air; and the white gleam of their arms is the glint of ripples in the moonlight. But when the wild storm-wind shrieks over the sea and the skies are dark and lowering, they forget their fears, and are filled with madness. Then they chase each other across the black waters with wild locks flying in the wind, and woe to those who are out upon the high seas when the Nereids dance in the storm, for their dance is the dance of Death. The fire of the lightning runs hot in their veins as they fly on the wings of the whirlwind, and wherever they go the waves hiss white and angry behind them. On the crests of the billows they rise and fall, and with the voice of the storm-wind they shriek aloud, and call upon all things to join in their dance; and they leap on the decks of the travailing ships, and man, woman, and child they clasp in their cruel white arms, crying, "Come dance with us over the sea." With a force that none can withstand they bear them away, and whirl them round in the dance of Death, till they hang limp and lifeless in their arms. Then they toss them aside, nothing caring, to be washed ashore in the wan morning light, or to sink to a nameless grave in the depths of the ocean. Wherever they have passed wreck and ruin lie behind; but they rush on, till the storm dies away, and they sink down exhausted to their home in the sea. Sometimes in the calm green waters below they find the bodies of those they have drowned in their frenzy, but they know them not; for all that they did when the spirit of the storm was upon them they forget, and it passes from their minds as a dream dies at break of day. So when they see the bodies lying still and lifeless, they call to them to come and play [119] with them in the water, and when they get no answer, they creep closer, and find that their eyes are closed. Then they know that, however long they call, they will never get an answer, for they have learnt that those whose eyes are closed have neither life nor voice, but are as the rocks and stones. But the Nereids know not sleep nor death, and when they look upon one lying dead they think he has always been so; and they do not grieve nor weep for him, for the gods did not make them for grief, but to be the bringers of beauty wherever they go, and to turn all foul things fair. So they gather the shells and the bright seaweeds, and cover the body where it lies, and it sleeps in beauty and peace in the hollows of the sea.

One of these same Nereids it was who saw Leander as he swam across the Hellespont each night, and she loved him for his beauty, and longed to have him as her playfellow. So she swam near to him on the crest of the dancing waves, and called to him softly,

"O child of the green earth, come, come with me, and play with me and my sisters in the depths of the blue Ægean."

But he saw her not, nor listened to her pleading for his eyes were darkened. To him the gleam of her arms was the moonshine on the water, and the sound of her voice like the west wind on the waves.

So she followed him in vain across the channel, and when he went up into the tower she sat below upon a rock, and watched for him to appear at the window; and she saw Hero sitting by the torch waiting for her lover, and heard her cry of joy as she ran to greet him when he came. Then again she called to them softly,

"O children of the green earth, come and play with [120] me. I will crown your heads with white sea-pearls, and you shall sit on coral thrones beneath the waves, and be king and queen over all the nymphs of the sea."

But as they stood hand in hand at the window, they saw her not, and heard only the murmur of the ripples on the beach. So she sat calling in vain all the night long. Before the grey morning dawned Leander came down, and when he reached the shore he turned and called,

"Farewell, Hero!"

And Hero, leaning from her window, answered,

"Leander, farewell!"

So the sea-nymph learnt to know their names, and every night she would sit sadly calling them, and they heard her not.

But one night all the winds of heaven were loosed, and they rushed with a wild shriek over the face of the waters, and lashed them to a fury of white-maned waves. With a deafening crash the thunder echoed through the hills, and the pale forked lightning lit the sky from east to west. With white cheeks and a heart full of fear, Hero knelt before the shrine in her chamber, and prayed the gods to have mercy on the sailors out at sea, and, above all, to grant that Leander had not set out ere the storm began.

Meanwhile Leander on the other side had seen the storm approaching, and he knew full well that when the seas ran high no man could swim the channel and reach the other shore alive. So he sat by his window and longed for the storm to be spent and the day to dawn; for the night without Hero was to him but misery. Across the stream he could see the torch burning fitfully in the gale.

[121] "The gods grant she think me not faithless," he said, "for not going to her this night."

As he sat and watched, the storm grew wilder and more terrible. In the swirling, seething waters the Nereid danced with the madness of the tempest in her heart, up and down over the crested waves, with the storm wind whistling through her hair. In the gleam of the lightning-flash she held out her arms to the shore and called,

"Come and dance with me. Leander, O Leander, come!"

As she called, the east wind rushed with a wild shriek across the water, and blew out the beacon light in Hero's chamber. Leander at his window saw the pale light disappear and return no more. A blinding flash of lightning rent the sky, and the rattle of the thunder sounded as though the mountains of the earth were falling. Then the spirit of the storm came upon him too, and he heard the voice of the sea-nymph calling with a wild, unearthly shriek,

"Leander, O Leander, come!"

And he thought it was the voice of Hero calling him in deadly peril. Perchance the thunderbolt had struck her tower, and it had crashed in ruins about her and borne her with its falling stones into the rushing stream below. In a mad frenzy, scarce knowing what he did, he plunged into the seething waters and struggled in the waves with the strength of despair. With a wild cry of joy the sea-nymph caught him in her arms. "At last, at last, thou hast heard my call," she said.

Up and down through the hissing waves she bore him, now plunging down, deep, deep, into the calm green [122] water below, now rushing round and round in a whirlpool, now leaping from the crest of one white wave into the boiling foam of the next, till he lay limp and breathless in her arms. She heeded not, but bore him on, ever on, across the water till they came beneath Hero's tower. Then, rising on the crest of the waves that beat against the wall, she called,

"Come, join with us in the storm-dance! Come, Hero, Hero!"

In the breath of the east wind the stinging foam beat against the window like one knocking in wild alarm, and the echo of the sea-nymph's cry reached the maiden as she knelt before the shrine. Filled with terror, she rushed to the window and looked down on the seething water. A brilliant flash of lightning blazed across the sky, and for a moment all was light as day. On the bosom of a breaking wave she saw Leander with his arms tossed helpless about him, and his head thrown back pale and lifeless, and above him stood the sea-nymph in a robe of flashing foam. With a cry of despair Hero leaped to the sill and plunged into the roaring waves, and with her arms about Leander, she, too, was tossed along in the dance of Death, till the storm died away and the nymph bore them down side by side to the floor of the blue Ægean. There, true to her word, she set them on thrones of coral, and twined white sea-pearls in their hair, and in time the winding seaweeds and clinging ocean flowers wove a shroud of beauty about them; and their bodies slept side by side in the fair ocean depths. So did it come to pass that the curse of the gods was fulfilled.

But whether it was truly a curse or a blessing, who [123] shall say? For they lived and loved with a love that has become famous among men, and side by side they died. And does not the poet tell us of the islands of the blest, where the souls of the brave and true abide for ever; where the breeze blows always bright and fresh, and the golden fruits are glowing, and the crimson-flowered meadows before the city are full of the shade of trees of frankincense? In that far land there is no death nor parting, no sorrow and no tears, but those who have been true on earth dwell ever side by side. If the poet is right, Hero and Leander are there together, where no storm can reach them and no sea can part them ever again.


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