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Children of the Dawn by  Elsie Finnimore Buckley

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PARIS AND ŒNONE

[311]

W HEN Peleus the mortal married silver-footed Thetis, the fair nymph of the sea, great was the rejoicing among the gods and men; for Peleus was a brave warrior and a mighty man, and well deserved to have for a wife a child of the Immortals. To his marriage-feast he bade all the gods and goddesses, and they left their seats on calm Olympus, and came down to Pelion where he dwelt, a band of shining ones, to do honour to the mortal whom they loved. One alone of them all he had not asked—Eris, the black-browed Goddess of Strife, for at his wedding-feast he wished to have happiness and joy, and no dark looks to mar the gladness of his board. But he looked to find shame in the heart of one who knew not shame. As it was, she came unasked, and great was the sorrow that her coming brought, both to him and to his wife and all the fair land of Hellas. For she sowed the seed of discord which blossomed to the blood-red flower of war, in which the mightiest and the best of two great nations fell through ten long years of strife, and among them was Achilles, the swiftest and bravest of mortal [312] men, the son whom Thetis bore to Peleus to be a comfort to him in his old age, and to succeed him when he died. But as it was, Achilles died in battle far from his native land in the prime and flower of his manhood.

Now the manner in which Eris wreaked her vengeance was in this wise.

When the marriage-feast was drawing to its close and the gladdening wine had unlocked the lips and opened the hearts of the revellers, above all the din and clatter there rang through the hall a harsh, discordant laugh like the rattle of thunder before the storm. A dead silence fell upon them all, and every eye was turned towards the place from whence that fearful laugh had come. In the shade of the doorway stood a tall gaunt figure wrapped all about in black. Above her head she held a blood-red torch that flickered madly in the breeze, and cast upon her face the shadow of her wild elf-locks. Her cheeks were pale as ashes and her lips were thin and blue, but her eyes shone bright as red-hot coals. When she saw the hall silent and trembling before her, she laughed aloud once more and waved the torch above her.

"Ha! ha!" she cried. "you give me a cold welcome, my masters. But I am kinder than you. I give, and take nothing in return. See here, I bring seasoning to your feast, and much joy may you have of it."

Thereupon she drew from her bosom an apple all of gold, and hurled it in their faces on the board. It rolled along the tale like a ball of light, and stopped in the centre before Peleus, the king of the feast. The eyes of all the guests followed it full of amazement and delight, for it was wondrous fair to look upon.

[313] "I see you like my gift," cried Eris. "Let her keep it who deserves it best. Farewell. I stay not where I came unbidden."

Then she turned upon her heel, and strode away into the blackness of the night.

When she had gone, Peleus put forth his hand and took the apple. It was of pure gold, the outermost parts of white gold pale as straw, and the cheeks of red gold bright as poppies, and across it was written in shining letters, "For the Fairest."

As Peleus read the words aloud he looked slowly round the board.

"O lady goddesses," he asked, "to which of you shall I give it?"

Thereupon arose a strife of tongues, and all the harmony and good-fellowship of the feast was gone, for one said one thing and one another, and each one in her heart wished to have it for her own. But the claim of three stood out above that of all the rest.

"I am the Queen of Heaven," said Hera, "and the mother of gods and man. The apple is mine by right."

"I am the giver of knowledge and wisdom," said Pallas Athene, "and through me all things are perfected, and the wrong is put to right. The apple should be mine."

"I am the Goddess of Love," said Aphrodite, "I am life itself. My claim is the best of all."

As Peleus looked on them he knew not to which of them he should give it, for each in turn seemed fairest. And he was wily withal, and knew he could not give it to one without angering the other two against him. So he said,

"O lady goddesses, who am I that I should judge [314] between you? Choose you your own judge from among the sons of men, and he shall give the apple to her he deems the fairest."

Then they consulted together, and chose Paris, the son of Priam, King of Troy; for he was the fairest of all mortal men, and would know how to judge between them. And they left the halls of Peleus with a smile upon their lips, but in their hearts was envy and hatred where there had once been sympathy and love; for the apple of discord had fulfilled the purpose of her who gave it.

Now Paris was the second son of Priam and Hecuba, and brother of Hector, the pride of Troy. The night before he was born his mother dreamed a dreadful dream—that she had given birth to a firebrand which set all Troy aflame. In terror she sent for her child Cassandra, the priestess of Apollo, whose word came always true. And she told her dream, and asked what it could mean. Then Apollo raised from Cassandra's eyes the veil that hides the future, and she told her mother the meaning of that dream.

"In mine ears," she cried, "there sounds the din of battle and the clash of arms. I see round Troy the foemen's tents, and their ships drawn up upon the shore. I see Scamander's stream run red with blood. Through the desolate streets slinks one whose manhood has departed, and who shuns the eyes of his fellow-men, for he prized a woman's arms above his country's honour. That man is the son that thou shalt bear, and he shall be the curse of Troy."

When Priam the king heard these words his heart was filled with anger.

"No son of mine," he cried, "shall bring shame and [315] destruction on my city. When the child is born he shall be cast out upon the mountains to die ere his eyes can see the light."

So, notwithstanding his mother's entreaties, as soon as the child was born he was given to Agelaus the herdsman to cast out upon the hills. And he took him up to Gargarus, the topmost peak of Ida, and there he left him to die of cold and hunger, or to be torn in pieces by the beasts of prey.

But when the Fates have spoken, their word shall surely come to pass, whatever man may do. And so it fell out now. A she-bear, whose cubs the hunters had killed, found the child, and for five days and five nights she suckled him, and kept him safe and warm. On the sixth day Agelaus passed that way once more, looking to find the child dead, if any trace of him remained. But lo! nestled in the moss and fallen leaves, the babe lay sweetly sleeping. Then he marvelled greatly in his heart.

"Surely," he thought, "this can be no common babe, and it is the will of Heaven that he should live."

So he picked him up in his arms, and carried him home to his wife, for long had they prayed the gods in vain for children. And they brought him up as their own son, and called his name Paris. As soon as he could walk, he would go out with his foster-father on the mountains, and keep watch over the flocks and the herds, and he grew to be a tall and comely lad. For he breathed the pure sweet air of heaven, and bathed in Ida's rippling streams. Nor did he lack courage and strength withal. If ever a mountain lion, made bold by hunger, came down upon the flocks and carried off a sheep or a goat, whilst the herdsmen fled in [316] terror for their lives, he would come up and fight him single-handed with his knife and his shepherd's staff, and it was not the lion that came off best in that fight. So famous did he become for his strength and prowess that all about the countryside men called him Alexander, defender of men.

Now it came to pass one summer's day that he had walked for many a long mile across the treeless downs, and at length he turned, hot and thirsty, into the shade of the forest. Soon he came upon a mountain stream that danced foaming over the stones, and he drank of its waters gladly, and bathed in a clear brown pool; then, tired out, he cast himself upon the bank and fell asleep.

When he awoke, the trunks of the pine-trees stood out purple against the sunset, and the evening light cast over all things a glamour of mystery. He rubbed his eyes, thinking he must still be dreaming; for out of the stream beside him there rose a wondrous form of a maiden clad all in misty white. Her hair was like fallen beech-leaves when the sun shines on them through the trees, and her eyes were like the changing river that reflects the light of heaven. She stood before him motionless, and gazed down upon him where he lay.


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OUT OF THE STREAM BESIDE HIM THERE ROSE A WONDROUS FORM OF A MAIDEN CLAD ALL IN MISTY WHITE.

"O most wonderful," he whispered, "who art thou?"

"I am Œnone," she answered, and her voice was like the music of the brook—"Œnone, the daughter of Cebren, the river god, whose stream runs dancing at your feet from the side of wooded Ida. O fairest of mortals, I am lonely in these mountain glades; let me watch thy flocks with thee."

Then she came towards him with both her hands out- out- [319] stretched stretched. And Paris took her cool white hands in his. Fair as the crescent moon, she bent over him and raised him from his knees, and they looked deep into each other's eyes and loved, as the young and pure alone can love. From that day forth they watched his flocks together on the wooded slopes, and wandered hand in hand through the forests and across the smooth green lawns of Ida.

Meanwhile, since the day when Priam had given his child to be exposed upon the mountains, many a circling year had passed, and the day drew on which, if his son had lived, he would have held great games and feasted in honour of his reaching years of manhood. And Priam's heart within him smote him when he thought of the innocent babe, and he cast about in his mind how he yet might do him honour.

"Perchance I acted hastily," he thought, "and by care and good example my son might after all have been a blessing to his city and to me. But the dead are dead, and I cannot call him back to life. Yet will I honour him as best I may, that in the world below they may know he is a king's son and not utterly forgotten."

So he ordered great funeral games to be held in honour of his son, who had died without a name upon the mountains. Far and wide throughout the land the tidings went, and the lists were made ready, and rich prizes brought together for the victors. Among them was to be a bull, the strongest and finest from all the herds of Priam. The herdsman drove down their finest cattle to the city for the king himself to chose, and he chose a mighty beast which Agelaus had bred and reared. Now it chanced that this bull was the favourite of Paris out of all the [320] cattle under his charge, and he loved him as some men love a dog. When he heard that Agelaus had given him to be a prize in the games, he waxed exceeding wrath.

"If he is to be any man's prize," he cried, "I shall be that man."

But Agelaus laughed at him.

"Who art thou," he said, "a foundling and a shepherd's foster-son, to enter in the lists against the sons of kings?"

"Sons of kings or sons of crows, I care not," he answered. "My arms are as strong and my feet are as swift as theirs any day. I shall enter for the lists."

The old man chuckled at his words, for he loved the lad, and was proud of his strength and beauty.

"The gods be praised! he muttered. "The mountain air has not dulled his spirit, nor dried up the royal blood in his veins."

But Œnone was sad when she heard of his resolve.

"Ah, Paris," she begged, "as thou lovest me, leave me not to enter these games."

"But I will come back to thee, beloved. What difference can it make?" he asked.

"In my heart pale fear is sitting," she replied. "I know that if thou goest, it will be the beginning of woes for thee, and for me, and for all thy native land."

"Nay, thou art over fearful. Thou shalt see, I will come back with my bull, and thou and I will be happy together, as we have always been."

"Paris," she said, "that I know will never be, if once thou joinest in the games. I can see but dimly into the future, but this much at least I know: that if thou goest, [321] war shall beat about the walls of Troy like a wave of the sea, and from the midst of the battle I see thee carried forth wounded unto death. Ah, Paris, leave the bull for a weaker man, and go not down!"

"Nay, I cannot hearken to such foolishness. What war can come if I go to Troy for the sake of a bull?"

"The cause of the war I know not, but come it surely will. O Paris, in that day come back to me, and I will heal thee of thy hurt! I know the use of herbs, for many a strange charm has my father taught me, and if any life is left in thee, I will call it back. But best of all, stay with me now, and go not down to the games."

And, weeping, she threw her arms about his neck; but nothing she could say would stop him.

So when the day came he went down into the city, and entered for the lists with the flower of the land, and all the folk marvelled who he might be. For he was tall and exceeding fair, and they had never seen his face before. When the turn came for his match, he set his teeth and wrestled like a young lion, for the bull that was the pride of his flock; and the strength of his adversaries was turned to weakness. With joy in his heart, he came forward to take his prize; and a loud cheer rose to heaven, for the people were glad that he had won. And the king's heart went out of him as he gave the prize, for he was the age his son would have been had he lived.

"Young man," he said, "who art thou, and who is thy father?"

"I am Paris, the foster-son of Agelaus the herdsman," he answered.

[322] "Is thine own sire dead, then?" asked Priam.

"O king, thou askest me riddles I cannot answer," said Paris, "seeing I know not even who mine own sire may be."

"This is a strange matter," said the king, and in spite of himself his heart beat fast within him.

Now Cassandra the prophetess, his daughter, was standing by his side, and the time had come for her to speak.

"O king," she said, "thou hast not far to seek for the father of this lad."

"What meanest thou?" asked Priam.

"Put thy hands upon the lad's shoulders, and look into his eyes, and thou shalt see the image of his father," she answered.

Trembling between hope and fear, the old king bent forward from his seat and put his hands upon the young man's shoulders.

"Can it be—can it really be my own son?" he asked.

"Thy son he is," replied Cassandra, "and no other man's. The Fates decreed that he should live, and he has lived."

"My son, my son!" cried the king, and fell upon his neck. "How I have longed for thee, and my soul has been weighed down with the burden of thy death! Now in mine old age the gods have given thee back to me, and my heart is glad. For thou art brave and fair, my son, and any father would be proud of thee, nor fear that ever thou shouldst bring dishonour on the land."

Once again the old man fell upon the neck and kissed him; and Hecuba, his mother, held him in her arms, and [323] wept tears of joy over the child she had given up for the dead. His brothers and his sisters crowded round, and all the people; and some raised him on their shoulders, and with songs and shouts of joy they took him to the palace of Priam. There they clothed him in rich raiment, as befitted a king's son, and held a great feast in his honour; for every man was glad that one so fair and noble had been spared to bring honour to the land of Troy. Cassandra alone sat silent amidst the revelry, for her heart was cut in two. When she looked upon her brother's fair young face, she was glad that he had lived; yet ever before her eyes there floated the vision she had seen the night before he was born—a vision of war, unmanliness and death—and she knew that vision would come true. When she thought of it she shuddered and almost wished him dead, and in her heart she cursed that fatal gift of prophesy which brought her nought but grief. Verily in her case knowledge was not a thing of joy.

When the guests had departed, the old king took his son aside.

"I have set a place apart for thee, my son," he said, "and from this day forth thou must live with thy kinsfolk in the palace."

"I will live with thee right gladly, my father," he answered, "but my days I will spend upon the mountains as of yore, and keep watch over thy flocks and herds. For I love the beasts and the mountain air, and methinks in a city I should pine for want of my old free life."

The form of Œnone rose up before his eyes; but that he hid from his father.

"Thou mayest live as best pleases thee, my son," [324] said Priam, "and I will give thee many goodly flocks and herds of cattle for thine own."

So it came to pass that, though Paris was a prince and son of the King of Troy, there was small change in his manner of life, save that now he lived in his father's palace instead of the herdsman's hut. For in those days it was thought no shame even for a prince to be a shepherd, and keep watch over his own flocks and herds.

It was soon after this that the strife arose among the goddesses about the apple that Eris had cast in their midst at the marriage-feast of Peleus. And Zeus sent down Iris, the swift-footed messenger of Heaven, to tell Paris of the charge that was laid on him, and to bear him the golden apple. Down the path of the rainbow she sped, the road whereby she always went to and fro betwixt gods and men. Her shining robes flew out behind her, and the wings upon her feet and shoulders glanced like lightning in the sky. At early down, while the dew lay bright upon the ground, she came and stood in the path as Paris was driving his flocks to pasture. In one hand she held the staff that Zeus had given her, to show she was the messenger of Heaven, and in the other she held the golden apple.

"O fairest of mortals," she said, "I have been sent to thee by Zeus, who rules on high. In heaven there is a war between the three great goddesses as to which of them shall have the prize of beauty, this apple thou seest in my hand. And they have appointed thee to be the judge between them. Hold thyself ready, then, for this day at noon they will come to thee here on the lonely heights of Ida."

[325] She spoke, and threw the apple at him, and he caught it deftly, as a player catches a ball. And wind-footed Iris sped back by the rainbow path as swift as she had come.

"This is passing strange," thought Paris, as he gazed at the apple in his hand, and read the words inscribed upon it—"For the Fairest." There it lay, smooth and shining, a sure token that he had not been dreaming. So he took it and showed it to Œnone, and told her what Iris, the messenger of the gods, had said to him. When Œnone heard it she was filled with fear.

"Cast it at their feet, Paris, when they come to thee," she begged, "and say thou canst not set thyself up to be a judge of the Immortals."

"Nay, that would anger them against me," he said; for in his heart he was proud to have been chosen out of all the sons of men.

"I tell thee it will bring thee trouble if thou doest it, and to me sorrow unspeakable," said she.

"Did the winning of the bull bring sorrow either to thee or to me?" he asked scornfully.

Œnone was silent under his rebuke, though she knew her foreboding would come true. When the sun was almost high in the heavens, she came to him softly where he lay on the grass and kissed his hand.

"Zeus grant thee wisdom in thy judgment, Paris," she said, and glided away swiftly through the trees, that he might not see the tears in her eyes.

Then his heart smote him for his scornful words, and he rose up hastily from the ground and called to her,

"Œnone, Œnone!"

[326] But she answered him not, and when he looked for her among the trees, he could find no trace of her. Now it was close upon noon, and he hastened back to the glade, where Iris had bidden him stay, and waited for the coming of the goddesses. In the clear bright light of noontide they came and stood before him in the shade of the forest trees; and he fell on his knees before them, filled with wonder and awe, and cast his eyes upon the ground, for he was afraid to look upon such majesty and beauty. Thereupon they drew near to him and bade him not be afraid, but rise and give his judgment. So he rose from his knees and looked upon them; and minute after minute passed, while still he gazed, for he could not make up his mind, so passing fair was each.

"Ah, lady goddesses," he said at last, "take the apple and divide it into three, for I cannot say who is the fairest among you."

"Nay, that may not be," they said; "thou must give it to one, and one alone."

As he still hesitated, Hera spoke.

"Look well upon me, Paris," she said. "I am the Queen of Heaven, and wife of Zeus almighty, and all power and might is in my hands. I can give thee kingship and sovereignty, and dominion over many peoples. See to it that my might is for thee, and not against."

As she spoke his heart turned cold with fear, and from terror he would have given her the apple. But as he was about to stretch forth his hand, Pallas Athene spoke.

"O Paris, what is power without wisdom? Purple and gold, and to sit where others kneel—all these things make not a king. But to walk by the light of knowledge [327] where others grope in darkness—this can make a slave a ruler of kings. This can I give thee."

Then the voice of reason within him prompted him to give the apple to her; but once again he was withheld, as Aphrodite spoke.

"Power and wisdom, Paris? What are these but empty words at which men vainly grasp? I can give thee that which all men covet—the fairest of women for thine own."

The music of her voice made the blood rush like fire through his veins, and his heart was melted within him.

"O Aphrodite," he cried, and fell at her feet, "thou art fairest. Beside love, what is power, what is wisdom? I give thee the apple, O thou fairest among the fair!"

As she stretched forth her hand towards him to take the apple, a mist fell over his eyes, and he knew no more. When he awoke the apple and the goddesses had vanished away, and Œnone was bending over him weeping.

"Alas," she said, "my father, whose stream runs at thy feet, has told me thy choice, Paris, and I am come to bid thee farewell."

"Farewell, Œnone? Why farewell?" he cried, and stretched out his arms to her. The flame of Aphrodite still burned in his heart, and to his eyes Œnone had never looked more fair than now.

"Because of Aphrodite's promise," she answered.

"Ah, Œnone!" he cried, and took her in his arms, "now I know what that promise meant. Thou art the fairest of women, and thou art mine, beloved, and Aphrodite's promise was fulfilled ere she made it."

"Nay, nay, that is not what she meant. I may be [328] fair, Paris, yet I am no woman, but a child of the mountain waters. One day thou wilt forget me, and thy heart will turn to thine own kind. In that day Aphrodite has promised that the fairest of women shall be thine, and she shall surely keep her word."

"Thou art woman enough for me," he said, "and I shall never want any other than thee." He kissed her, and comforted her as best he could. The hours fled like minutes, the moon rose high in heaven, and one by one the stars came out, yet still they sat and talked of love, and of how they would be faithful to each other always. In like manner day after day passed by, and no two lovers in all the land were happier than Paris and Œnone.

Now it chanced that about this time Menelaus, King of Sparta, came to Troy, at the command of the oracle at Delphi. For a year past his land had been laid waste by a grievous famine, and when he inquired the cause of it, the oracle bade him to go to Troy and offer sacrifices at the tomb of Lycus and Chimæreus, the sons of Prometheus, for until their spirits were appeased the land of Sparta would be barren, and her sons would die of hunger in her streets. So Menelaus set sail for Troy, and Priam and all his house received him with joy. They held great feasts in his honour, and treated him hospitably, as befitted the king of a mighty people. When he had performed his task, and the time had come for him to return, he said to Priam,

"My friend, thou hast treated me right royally, and I in my turn would fain to do thee some service. Say, wilt thou not sail with me to Sparta, and see my palace, which [329] shineth as the sun for splendour, and Helen, my wife, who is the fairest in a land where women are fairer than all other women?"

But Priam shook his head.

"I am an old man, Menelaus, and my travelling days are done. But if thou wouldst truly do me a service, thou wilt take with thee my son Paris as thy guest. He is of an age now to travel and see strange lands, and I could not entrust him to better hands than thine. Say, wilt thou take him or no?"

"I will take him right gladly," answered Menelaus, "seeing that since I cannot have thyself, no other man would please me so well as thy son. Bid the young man be ready, and he shall sail with me and my folk."

When Paris heard the news, he was glad; for never in his life had he set foot outside the land of Troy, and he longed to see the riches of Menelaus and all the wonders of his palace in Sparta. Ere the sun had risen he was in the woods of Ida telling Œnone of the voyage he must take.

"Nay, grieve not, beloved," he said, as she turned her face sadly away; "for a few short months I must leave thee, but I will come back to thee with many a long tale of the wonders I have seen. There is nought like travel to make a man hold up his head among his fellows, and the seeing of strange things that others have not seen."

"There is nought like travel," she said, "to make a man forget his home, and love the new things better than the old."

"Dost thou think me so faithless, Œnone?"

"Many men are faithful till they meet temptation," she replied.

[330] "Had I listened to thee, I should still have been a shepherd on the mountains, knowing neither kith nor kin."

"It would have been happier so," said she.

"Œnone, I must not heed thy fears. Remember, I am a king's son, and I must live my life as befits a man, and not be ever held back by a woman's arms."

"The gods grant thou mayest always think so, Paris. Fare thee well, then; I will stay thee no longer, but I will watch for thy coming as never woman watched before. If evil fortune befall thee, Paris, come back to me, and I will save thee."

So, with many a promise not to forget her, but to come back to her as soon as might be, he left her and set sail with Menelaus.

And they crossed the blue Ægæan and came to glorious Sparta, lying low among the circling hills. And Menelaus made his guest welcome, and showed him all the splendours of his palace, with its inlaid columns and its frieze of gold and blue. His stable and horses did he show him, and the stadium where the races were run and his treasure-house beneath the ground. Last of all he took him to Helen, his wife.

Now Helen, fairer than the sun in heaven, was sitting among her maidens, and when her lord and Paris entered, she rose from her chair and came forward with a smile to greet them. In the curve of her neck, in the gleam of her hair, there was magic, and a witchery about her face and form that no man could withstand; for she was the fairest of all women under the sun, that ever had been or ever should be in time to come. Many a man in his [331] day loved Helen of Sparta, and many a man did she love in return; for so the gods had made her, exceeding fair and exceeding fickle, a joy and a curse among men.

As Paris looked upon her, her beauty reached his heart like the fumes of wine, and he forgot himself and his native land and Œnone; he forgot all pride and manliness, and the ties of honour that bound him to his host—all but his passion for Helen. Day and night he thought of her and of her alone, and of how he might make her his own; and day and night he plotted and planned, and at last he gained his end. For Aphrodite, true to her word, helped him, as she alone could do, and kindled in the heart of Helen an answering flame, making her for the time being love Paris more than Menelaus, her lord, or any other man. And she cast dust in the eyes of Menelaus, so that he saw not how the two lived only for each other, nor suspected his guest of any treachery. So one dark night they fled away together to Gythium, and from thence they sailed to Cranaë, and were wedded, and had joy of their love, forgetful of all else.

Œnone, meanwhile, wandered lonely about the woods and groves of Ida. With a heavy heart she had watched the ships of Menelaus sail away, and now, day by day, she would go down to the shore and look out across the sea towards Hellas. High up on a rock she would sit and sigh for him.

"Ah, Paris, between thee and me lies many a weary league of barren waters and many a misty mountain chain. But my heart is with thee in that strange new land. Oh, Paris, forget me not, but come back to me soon, beloved."

Thus would she sigh day by day; but he came not. [332] Month after month passed by, but still he came not, nor any news of him, and his father and all the city were troubled to know what might have befallen him. So they manned a ship, and sent it out to Sparta to get news, and in time it returned home to tell how Paris and Helen had fled from Menelaus, and how Menelaus had set out in pursuit, and had followed them to the land of Egypt. After that no man knew where they had gone, or whether, perchance, Paris and Menelaus had met in deadly battle and fallen each by the other's hand, or what might have chanced. All the land was plunged in woe to think that Paris had so forgotten his honour as to steal away the wife of his host. But still they kept watch by day and by night, in case he should come back and be persuaded to give her up and make what amends he could.

Paris, meanwhile, with Helen, had fled before Menelaus from Egypt, and had taken refuge in Phœnicia; and when he traced them there, they fled once more and took ship to return to Troy; for they could not live for ever as wanderers on the face of the earth. With the silence of shame the folk received them at the harbour, and amid silence, that spoke more than words, they made their way through the city and came and stood before Priam in his halls, with eyes downcast upon the ground. Now Priam had heard of their coming, and had prepared in his mind a wrathful speech wherewith to greet his son and the woman who had led him astray. But when he looked upon Helen his wrath melted away like frost before the sun; for she looked like a fair lily that some careless hand has half plucked from its stem, so that its head hangs drooping towards the dust. Even so did she stand, with [333] the tear-drops falling from her eyes. And all the wrathful words faded from his mind, so that he spoke quite otherwise than he had planned.

"My children," he said gently, "come hither to me."

"They came and knelt before him, and he laid his hands upon their young shoulders, as they bowed their heads and wept upon his knees.

"Ye have grievously sinned, my children," he said, "and ye are learning, all too late, how bitter is the fruit of sin. There is but one course before you. Paris, give back the woman thou hast stolen, and make what honourable amends thou canst. And thou, Helen, go home with thy lord when he comes for thee, and be a faithful wife to him always, and make him forget that ever thou didst play him false."

"O King," she said, "thou knowest not what thou askest. If thou givest me up to Menelaus he will slay me, or else my life will be a dog's life in his halls; for his heart is no softer than a flint, though his tongue be smooth. O my father, cast me not out from thy halls. If I have sinned in leaving Menelaus, shall I not sin again in leaving Paris? Or shall my sin be less if I flee from the man I love, to go with him I love not? Who maketh two hearts to cleave together? Who put Aphrodite all-powerful? Must we set at nought the will of Heaven for the sake of laws that man has made? O Priam, my father, forsake me not, but keep me in thy halls."

And she clasped her hands about his knees and looked up into his face. Beneath her gaze all his resolve gave way, and he took her face between his hands and kissed her.

[334] "My Daughter," he said, "thou shalt stay with me as long as it shall please thee."

Thus did it come to pass that she made her home in Troy, and Priam, the king, became an accomplice in her sin; for the gods had so made her that the hearts of men were as wax between the fingers of Helen of Sparta.

In time came Menelaus, and stood in the halls of Priam, and demanded back his wife. And they offered him a ransom—gold and precious stones—but he flung it back in their faces.

"Think you that gold can pay for a living soul?" he cried? "Only a life can pay for a life, and many a life shall you pay for the sake of Helen. Look to your battlements and towers, O Priam; they must be strong indeed to stand against the host that I shall bring behind me from Hellas. Farewell, till we meet again in battle."

And he strode from the hall in anger, and sailed away to Sparta, to rouse up all the heroes of Hellas to take part in his quarrel with Troy.

Meanwhile in Troyland the forge fires burnt night and day, and the hammer rang loud upon the anvil. The red-hot iron was drawn from the furnace and bound hissing about the chariot-wheel; shields were stretched and swords were fashioned, and the ash-tree was felled upon the mountain for the handle of the tapering spear. Among the men many a heart beat high with hope; for what is there like war, if a man is brave and strong, to bring him renown, and make his name live among his fellows? But in the women's hall many a silent tear was shed; for what is there like war to bring sorrow to a woman's heart, when she sees her dear ones going forth [335] to battle and knows not whether she shall ever look on their faces again, or, perchance, see them carried home with a gaping spear-wound in the side? And when the battle is raging she can do nought but pray. So they cursed Helen and her beauty in their hearts, and wished that even now King Priam would send her back and stave off the war from Troy.

But Paris and Helen cared for none of these things; while others worked and wept, they dallied in each other's arms and forgot all else, or hoped that when Menelaus reached home his anger would cool, and that he would find the kings of Hellas none too willing to leave their lands for the sake of another's wife. But in this they hoped in vain, and reckoned not how dear a man may hold his country's honour. For one dark night the hosts of Hellas pulled in to shore, and drew up their boats upon the beach and pitched their camp, and when the morning dawned their men were thick as flies about the walls of Troy.

So did it come to pass that Cassandra's words came true, and for many a weary year the tide of war surged about the city like a wave of the sea, and Paris slunk through the streets like a beaten cur, not daring to look his fellows in the face. For they hated him because he had brought war upon his country, and yet, though the quarrel was of his own making, he was ever the last to take the field and ever the first to retreat. So low had his manhood sunk that he thought far more of reaching Helen with an unbroken skin than of winning fame upon the field of battle.

But one day matters reached a pass when Menelaus met him face to face upon the field, and challenged him to [336] single combat beneath the walls of Troy. He who should kill his man should have Helen for wife, and the war should end, and no more lives be spent in vain for the sake of a quarrel that concerned but two. But Paris thought of Helen waiting in her chamber, and looked upon Menelaus, standing sword in hand before him, strong as a lion in his wrath. Then his heart gave way within him, and he turned and fled from the face of his foe back into the ranks of the Trojans. He would have fled from the fight altogether, but that in the path of his retreat stood Hector; the nodding plumes waved terrible upon his helmet and he leant on his two-handed sword and frowned upon his brother, for he had seen how he fled from Menelaus. When Paris saw him he fell back ashamed, but Hector stood aside to let him pass.

"Thou chicken-hearted mannikin," he cried, "get thee gone, and let others fight thy battle, that the courage of the Trojans be not a by-word among the nations."

And Paris slunk past him with his eyes upon the ground and went home to Helen in her chamber.

But when the fight was over Hector came and dragged him from his hiding-place as a dog drags out a rat into the light.

"Thou smooth-faced deceiver," he said, "is this the way a man should fight when he has sailed across the high seas, and stolen away the fairest of women from a man mighty in battle? Are we to make the name of Troy a laughing-stock among our foes, and hang our heads in shame when men shall say, 'In strength and might they are like the immortal gods, these Trojans, but their courage is the courage of deer, that flees swiftly through the forest [337] when he hears the bark of the hounds?' Thou coward, would thou hadst never been born, or hadst died upon the mountains ere there was time to bring dishonour on thy country."

And Paris trembled before his brother's wrath, but some of his old manhood returned to him.

"Thou speakest as all men speak who know not Aphrodite's power," he said. "Nevertheless, if thou wilt have it so, send forth a herald to Menelaus, and tell him I accept his challenge, and will fight him for the sake of Helen, his wife. And let the hosts of the Achæans and the hosts of Troy lay down their arms, and we two will stand up alone between them, and whichsoever of us shall fall in death, his side shall give up Helen to the victor; and the war shall cease, and peace be made between the nations."

So Hector sent forth a herald to Menelaus, and the two hosts drew close together on the plain till there was but a narrow space between them, and they lay aside their arms, and some lay upon the ground or sat, and others stood behind to watch the fight in the midst. And Paris put on his shining armour and his helmet with the nodding plumes, and went and stood face to face with Menelaus. In the sight of all the people Hector prayed,

"O Zeus, who rulest from on high, grant that he who is the offender may fall in the fight, and his spirit flee away to Hades, that the land may have peace and the people rest from war."

And every man in his heart prayed likewise, for all were sickened at the long years of fruitless strife.

Then Hector shook the lots in his helmet, to see who should be the first to hurl his brazen spear, and the lot of [338] Paris fell forth upon the ground. And he brandished his spear above his head, and hurled it with all his might, and it crashed against the shield of Menelaus; but the stout shield turned it aside, and it fell powerless upon the ground. Thereupon Menelaus in his turn hurled his spear, and it pierced through the shield of his foe, and would have brought black death to his heart had he not swerved aside, so that the point but grazed his corselet. But Menelaus, seeing his advantage, drew forth his sword and rushed upon him, and felled him a mighty blow upon his helmet, hoping to cleave it in two. But the sword shivered to pieces in his hand as he struck. Then, with an oath, he cast aside the hilt and leapt upon Paris, and seized him by the horsehair plume upon his helmet, and dragged him down. And the leathern thong that held the helmet was drawn tight about his throat, so that the breath was wellnigh squeezed out of him, and Menelaus was bearing him in triumph towards the Achæan host. But Aphrodite was mindful of her favourite, and, ere it was too late, she made the stout ox-hide give way beneath the weight of his body, and the helmet slipped off his head. Then she wrapped a mist about his body, so that no man should see him, and bore him away through the midst of the Trojan host, and laid him upon his bed. In the likeness of an aged dame she went and stood beside Helen on the battlements, where she leant with the other Trojan women looking down upon the plain, and she told her how she had borne forth Paris from the fight and saved him, and that now he lay upon his bed and longed for her. So straightway Helen left the others, and went and sat down by Paris. When she saw him lying there, [341] without so much as a scratch upon his body, she was ashamed for him, and began to upbraid him.


[Illustration]

MENELAUS WAS BEARING HIM IN TRIUMPH TOWARDS THE ACHæAN HOST.

"So thou hast come back from the battle, Paris, and couldst not endure to stand up to god-like Menelaus. Would that he had taken thee, for he is a better man than thou art! Go forth now, thou craven, and challenge him once more to battle, and stay thy ground like a man. Lo! thou art vanished away like smoke from the field, and both the hosts are making mock of thee."

Then her heart smote her for fear he should take her at her word and go back, and she fell upon her knees beside him, and took his hand in hers and wept.

"Ah, Paris," she cried, "go not forth, I pray thee, but stay with me. I, even I, do bid thee stay, lest thou fall by the hand of Menelaus, and I be left all desolate without thee."

"Ah, Helen," he said, "upbraid me not, for I love thee above all else. Some other day I will return and fight with Menelaus, but now I will stay with thee, and we will have joy of each other and forget all else."

So whilst Menelaus searched raging through all the host, like a lion seeking for his prey, Paris and Helen dallied in each other's arms, hidden from the eyes of men. An ill reckoning would it have been for Paris had the men of Troy known where to find him, for they hated him like black death, and would have given him up to the hands of Menelaus, to do by him as he would.

From that day forth Paris scarce dared to show his face among his fellows; but when Hector urged him, and he could stand out against his taunts no longer, he would go forth into battle, but disguised as a common soldier, [342] with no mark upon him of his rank and birth. So did he hope to escape death and flee home as swift as might be to the arms of Helen. In this he succeeded full well for a time, but a day came when no disguise could save him and he could not flee away. For in the ranks against him stood mighty Philoctetes, with his bow and his poisoned arrows. And he drew his bow and prayed to Zeus in his heart,

"O Zeus almighty, that drivest the black thundercloud before thee, do thou guide mine arrow aright, that it may work havoc among our foes and bring glory to the host of the Achæans. In thy hands I leave it."

Then he drew back the string, so that the mighty bow was wellnigh bent in two, and the arrow sped with a whirr far over the foremost ranks of the Trojans to the rear part of the host. And it fell upon Paris, and pierced between the joints of his armour right through into his side. With a groan he fell, and black night came over his eyes, and he lay as one dead upon the field. When the fight was over, and either side was gathering up the dead and wounded from the plain, they came upon Paris among the rest; but till they had drawn off his helmet they knew him not, for he was dressed as a common soldier. When they saw who it was, they put him reverently on a bier apart, for he was a king's son, and had been a brave man once, and death can wipe out many an old score of bitterness and hatred. So they bore him upon their shoulders silently to the palace of Priam his father, and laid him upon his couch. And they brought him wine and cordials, for his heart beat faintly still within his breast. For a moment he revived, and spoke in broken whispers.

[343] "My friends, I am dying," he said, "and I would die in the pure free air of heaven, away from cities and from men and from shame. O my father, bid them carry me forth upon Ida, and there let them leave me, and return no more till they know the last breath must have gone from my body. Then let them burn me there, where once I was brave and free; and as the fire of my burning shall die out, let my name die out from among you—my name and my dishonour."

So did he speak, and fell back exhausted, with the vision before his eyes of the groves of Ida and of Œnone, and how she rose from the waters and loved him in the days of his innocent youth. And he remembered her words:

"O Paris, in that day come back to me, and I will heal thee of thy hurt."

And he wondered whether she would keep her word and forgive him and heal him, so that they could go back to their old life upon the mountains. But even if she would not, he felt that he would rather die there than in the airless city.

So they wrapped him about in warm coverings—for it was winter-time, and the snow lay white upon the ground—and carried him forth upon Ida. And they placed a blazing torch above his head and left him on the lonely heights, and the whispering pine-trees kept watch above him as they tossed their arms in the cold north wind.

From the shadow of a boulder Œnone watched the procession wind back down the mountain-track, and when they had passed out of sight she came forth from [344] her hiding-place. The tale of Paris and Helen she knew full well, and the reason for the war, for she had listened to the talk of the shepherds on the mountains. But still in her heart she loved Paris; and when she saw him carried forth to die, she remembered how she had promised to heal him of his hurt, for she knew many a magic charm, and she could heal him if she would. So now she drew near to him out of the forest, and bent over his couch, and her red-gold hair fell soft about his face. But the fire of fever burnt hot within him, and he knew her not; but the face that came before his wandering mind was the face of Helen.

"Helen!" he whispered, "Helen!"

At the sound of that hated name a great bitterness came into the heart of Œnone.

"Must I heal thee for the sake of Helen?" she cried, and turned and fled through the darkened pines, on, on, she knew not where, and threw herself at last upon the grass and wept.

And so the torch burned low above his head and cast a dim red glow upon the snow, and he died alone of his fever upon the mountains, and she healed him not of his hurt.

The next morning came the young men from the city, and the sons of Priam, and the old king himself, to the place where Paris lay; for they knew full well that he could not have lived out that night upon the mountains. And they gathered together the pine-trunks which the woodmen had left felled upon the ground, and heaped up a great pyre, high upon the hills, so that the burning of Paris might shine like a beacon fire in the sight of Troy [347] and of the Achæan host. When the pyre was built they placed the body on it, and poured out wine and oil upon the wood, and the old king stood and lifted up his hands above his son.

"O father Zeus," he prayed, "who rulest upon Ida, before thee do I burn the body of my son, and before my friends and before my foes, that they both may see it. May the wine which I pour forth upon his body be a libation of peace, that by his death he may join together in friendship those hands which by his sin he made draw the sword upon each other. O Zeus almighty, grant my prayer!"

The people bowed their heads as they heard, and the old man poured forth the last libation. The salt tears ran from his eyes and fell upon the body of his son, and washed away from his mind all memory of his sin and cowardice, and only the image of him remained as he had been when he came in his youth and beauty for the winning of the bull. So can the hand of death wipe out all ugliness and wrong.

When the last libation had been poured, they set the pyre alight, and in time it burned up bravely, for the oil and the wine, and the breath of the north wind blowing bleak across the mountain, made the flame burn bright and clear; and the pyre of Paris shone like a flaming star against the dull grey sky and over the hills and plain lying silent beneath their pall of snow. Far away across the valley Œnone saw the light, and knew that the body of him she loved, and might have saved, lay perishing within the flames. All too late, the bitterness in her heart died out, and only the love remained, and she [348] would have given all she knew to have healed Paris of his hurt. With a wild cry she rushed, on the wings of the storm-wind, down the valley and up the hillside, and her white robes flew out behind her and the long locks of her red-gold hair. Through the ranks of the mourners she rushed and over the melting snow, through the flames of the pyre, and cast herself upon the body of Paris and put her arms around his neck. There, on his last resting-place, she lay with him, and the stifling smoke closed about her, and her spirit fled away there, where his had gone before. The people heard the cry, and saw her as she flew through their midst; but they thought it was the shriek of the north wind rushing over the hills, and to their eyes her white robes and her flowing hair seemed but the snowdrift, and last year's dead leaves whirled madly on the wings of the storm. And so they knew nought of the love of Paris and Œnone, or of how she watched his flocks with him when he was brave and free, or of how she forgave him, all too late, and died with him in the pyre which burned for a beacon of peace upon the snow-clad hills.


[Illustration]

CAST HERSELF UPON THE BODY OF PARIS AND PUT HER ARMS AROUND HIS NECK.


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