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Gods and Heroes by  R. E. Francillon


 

 

THE MAN WHO NEVER DIED

[134]

T
HERE was just one mortal who kept clear of Hades altogether. But whether he was really lucky in that or not, I must leave you to settle when you have heard his story.


If you have ever seen the sun rise, you have seen the wings of Aurora. Aurora is the dawn; and as she opens her wings you see all their colors—first pale-grey; then a delicate amber, which deepens into saffron; then the tint of a pink-rose, which grows fuller and fuller till it becomes crimson and purple, which turns to gold when the chariot of the Sun appears. It is she who throws open the gates of the sky for Phœbus Apollo to start upon his daily journey, just as it is Thetis who shuts them, and brings the twilight, when his journey is done.

Aurora is always glad and beautiful and young; always full of hope, because she closes her splendid wings and goes to sleep before the troubles of the day begin; and her only work is to feed the flowers with dew. But once upon a time she fell in love with a [135] mortal named Tithōnus; and she promised to grant him whatever boon he most desired.

I suppose almost everybody has tried to think of what he would wish for if a goddess or fairy gave him such a chance. Tithonus though hard for a minute, and then said:—

"Great and beautiful goddess, my wish is that I may never die, so that I may see you every morning forever."

Now of course it was against all the laws of Hades that a mortal should never die—unless, of course, he was allowed to taste the Ambrosia, the food of the gods, which was very seldom allowed. How Aurora managed it, I cannot tell, because I have never been told. But she kept her word somehow, and Tithonus got leave to live forever.

And so long as he was young and strong, and could get up early in the morning to look at the color of Aurora's wings, that was all very well. It did just as well as if he were to die in time, like other men. But it happened at last that, while Aurora remained as young as ever, Tithonus began to get old. The promise of endless life did not prevent him from growing bald, and toothless, and liable to catch cold if he went out into the keen morning air. By the time that he was a hundred years old, he became tired of getting up to see the sun rise day after day. At two hundred [136] he felt like a bundle of aches and pains, and he liked a doze in the sun better than a thousand Auroras. At three hundred he became tired of living, and wanted to be able to creep into some quiet corner of Hades, drink a cup of Lethe, and go to sleep and think of nothing. But he could not; for though racked with pain and weary of life, he could not die!

He could only shrink and shrivel till, after many hundreds of years, he was less than two inches long. His skin turned dry and brown. His voice became cracked, and thin, and shrill. He lost his senses, and kept on chirping the same thing over and over again. He never stirred from the warmth of the chimney-corner, night or day. His legs grew as thin as threads of cotton. He dwindled into a dry, wooden-like insect.

In short, a Cricket.

And such he remains to this day. But Aurora is as young and as beautiful and as fresh as ever, and has clean forgotten him; while he spends his life in trying to be merry, and in chirping:—

"Oh, how I want to die!"


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