|A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys|
|by Nathaniel Hawthorne|
|Delightful retelling of six Greek myths to a crowd of energetic youngsters by a master storyteller. Includes The Gorgonís Head, The Golden Touch, The Paradise of Children, The Three Golden Apples, and The Miraculous Pitcher. Ages 9-12 |
ERSEUS was the son of Danaë, who was the daughter of a
king. And when Perseus was a very little boy, some wicked
people put his mother and himself into a chest, and set them
afloat upon the sea. The wind blew freshly, and drove the
chest away from the shore, and the uneasy billows, tossed it
up and down; while Danaë clasped her child closely to her
bosom, and dreaded that some big wave would dash its foamy
crest over them both. The chest sailed on, however, and
neither sank nor was upset; until, when night was coming, it
floated so near an island that it got entangled in a
fisherman's nets, and was drawn out high and dry upon the
sand. The island was called Seriphus, and it was reigned
over by King Polydectes, who happened to be the fisherman's
This fisherman, I am glad to tell you, was an exceedingly
humane and upright man. He showed great kindness to Danaë
and her little boy; and
 continued to befriend them, until
Perseus had grown to be a handsome youth, very strong and
active, and skillful in the use of arms. Long before this
time, King Polydectes had seen the two strangers—the mother
and her child—who had come to his dominions in a floating
chest. As he was not good and kind, like his brother the
fisherman, but extremely wicked, he resolved to send Perseus
on a dangerous enterprise, in which he would probably he
killed, and then to do some great mischief to Danaë herself.
So this bad-hearted king spent a long while in considering
what was the most dangerous thing that a young man could
possibly undertake to perform. At last, having hit upon an
enterprise that promised to turn out as fatally as he
desired, he sent for the youthful Perseus.
The young man came to the palace, and found the king sitting
upon his throne.
"Perseus," said King Polydectes, smiling craftily upon him,
"you are grown up a fine young man. You and your good mother
have received a great deal of kindness from myself, as well
as from my worthy brother the fisherman, and I suppose you
would not be sorry to repay some of it."
"Please your Majesty," answered Perseus, "I would willingly
risk my life to do so."
"Well, then," continued the king, still with a cunning smile
on his lips, "I have a little adventure to propose to you;
and, as you are a brave and enterprising youth, you will
doubtless look upon it as a great piece of good luck to have
so rare an opportunity of distinguishing yourself.
 You must
know, my good Perseus, I think of getting married to the
beautiful Princess Hippodamia; and it is customary, on these
occasions, to make the bride a present of some far-fetched
and elegant curiosity. I have been a little perplexed, I
must honestly confess, where to obtain anything likely to
please a princess of her exquisite taste. But, this morning,
I flatter myself, I have thought of precisely the article."
"And can I assist your Majesty in obtaining it?" cried
"You can, if you are as brave a youth as I believe you to
be," replied King Polydectes, with the utmost graciousness
of manner. "The bridal gift which I have set my heart on
presenting to the beautiful Hippodamia is the head of the
Gorgon Medusa with the snaky locks; and I depend on you, my
dear Perseus, to bring it to me. So, as I am anxious to
settle affairs with the princess, the sooner you go in quest
of the Gorgon, the better I shall be pleased."
"I will set out to-morrow morning," answered Perseus.
"Pray do so, my gallant youth," rejoined the king. "And,
Perseus, in cutting off the Gorgon's head, be careful to
make a clean stroke, so as not to injure its appearance. You
must bring it home in the very best condition, in order to
suit the exquisite taste of the beautiful Princess
Perseus left the palace, but was scarcely out of hearing
before Polydectes burst into a laugh; being greatly amused,
wicked king that he was, to
 find how readily the young man
fell into the snare. The news quickly spread abroad that
Perseus had undertaken to cut off the head of Medusa with
the snaky locks. Everybody was rejoiced; for most of the
inhabitants of the island were as wicked as the king
himself, and would have liked nothing better than to see
some enormous mischief happen to Danaë and her son. The only
good man in this unfortunate island of Seriphus appears to
have been the fisherman. As Perseus walked along, therefore,
the people pointed after him, and made mouths, and winked to
one another, and ridiculed him as loudly as they dared.
"Ho, ho!" cried they; "Medusa's snakes will sting him
Now, there were three Gorgons alive at that period; and they
were the most strange and terrible monsters that had ever
been since the world was made, or that have been seen in
after days, or that are likely to be seen in all time to
come. I hardly know what sort of creature or hobgoblin to
call them. They were three sisters, and seem to have borne
some distant resemblance to women, but were really a very
frightful and mischievous species of dragon. It is, indeed,
difficult to imagine what hideous beings these three sisters
were. Why, instead of locks of hair, if you can believe me,
they had each of them a hundred enormous snakes growing on
their heads, all alive, twisting, wriggling, curling, and
thrusting out their venomous tongues, with forked stings at
the end! The teeth of the Gorgons were terribly long tusks;
their hands were made of brass; and their
 bodies were all
over scales, which, if not iron, were something as hard and
impenetrable. They had wings, too, and exceedingly splendid
ones, I can assure you; for every feather in them was pure,
bright, glittering, burnished gold, and they looked very
dazzlingly, no doubt, when the Gorgons were flying about in
But when people happened to catch a glimpse of their
glittering brightness, aloft in the air, they seldom stopped
to gaze, but ran and hid themselves as speedily as they
could. You will think, perhaps, that they were afraid of
being stung by the serpents that served the Gorgons instead
of hair,—or of having their heads bitten off by their ugly
tusks,—or of being torn all to pieces by their brazen
claws. Well, to be sure, these were some of the dangers, but
by no means the greatest, nor the most difficult to avoid.
For the worst thing about these abominable Gorgons was,
that, if once a poor mortal fixed his eyes full upon one of
their faces, he was certain, that very instant to be changed
from warm flesh and blood into cold and lifeless stone!
Thus, as you will easily perceive, it was a very dangerous
adventure that the wicked King Polydectes had contrived for
this innocent young man. Perseus himself, when he had
thought over the matter, could not help seeing that he had
very little chance of coming safely through it, and that he
was far more likely to become a stone image than to bring
back the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. For, not to
speak of other difficulties, there was one which it would
 puzzled an older man than Perseus to get over. Not only
must he fight with and slay this golden-winged, iron-scaled,
long-tusked, brazen-clawed, snaky-haired monster, but he
must do it with his eyes shut, or, at least, without so much
as a glance at the enemy with whom he was contending. Else,
while his arm was lifted to strike, he would stiffen into
stone; and stand with that uplifted arm for centuries, until
time, and the wind and weather, should crumble him quite
away. This would be a very sad thing to befall a young man
who wanted to perform a great many brave deeds, and to enjoy
a great deal of happiness, in this bright and beautiful
So disconsolate did these thoughts make him, that Perseus
could not bear to tell his mother what he had undertaken to
do. He therefore took his shield, girded on his sword, and
crossed over from the island to the mainland, where he sat
down in a solitary place, and hardly refrained from shedding
But, while he was in this sorrowful mood, he heard a voice
close beside him.
"Perseus," said the voice, "why are you sad?"
He lifted his head from his hands, in which he had hidden
it, and, behold! all alone as Perseus had supposed himself
to be, there was a stranger in the solitary place. It was a
brisk, intelligent, and remarkably shrewd-looking young man,
with a cloak over his shoulders, an odd sort of cap on his
head, a strangely twisted staff in his hand, and a short and
very crooked sword hanging by his side. He was exceedingly
 and active in his figure, like a person much
accustomed to gymnastic exercises, and well able to leap or
run. Above all, the stranger had such a cheerful, knowing,
and helpful aspect (though it was certainly a little
mischievous, into the bargain), that Perseus could not help
feeling his spirits grow livelier as he gazed at him.
Besides, being really a courageous youth, he felt greatly
ashamed that anybody should have found him with tears in his
eyes, like a timid little school-boy, when, after all, there
might be no occasion for despair. So Perseus wiped his eyes,
and answered the stranger pretty briskly, putting on as
brave a look as he could.
"I am not so very sad," said he, " only thoughtful about an
adventure that I have undertaken."
"Oho!" answered the stranger. "Well, tell me all about it,
and possibly I may be of service to you. I have helped a
good many young men through adventures that looked difficult
enough beforehand. Perhaps you may have heard of me. I have
more names than one; but the name of Quicksilver suits me as
well as any other. Tell me what the trouble is, and we will
talk the matter over, and see what can be done."
The stranger's words and manner put Perseus into quite a
different mood from his former one. He resolved to tell
Quicksilver all his difficulties, since he could not easily
be worse off than he already was, and, very possibly, his
new friend might give him some advice that would turn out
well in the end. So he let the stranger know, in few words,
precisely what the case was,—how
 that King Polydectes
wanted the head of Medusa with the snaky locks as a bridal
gift for the beautiful Princess Hippodamia, and how that he
had undertaken to get it for him, but was afraid of being
turned into stone.
"And that would be a great pity," said Quicksilver, with his
mischievous smile. "You would make a very handsome marble
statue, it is true, and it would be a considerable number of
centuries before you crumbled away; but, on the whole, one
would rather be a young man for a few years, than a stone
image for a great many."
"Oh, far rather!" exclaimed Perseus, with the tears again
standing in his eyes. "And, besides, what would my dear
mother do, if her beloved son were turned into a stone?
"Well, well, let us hope that the affair will not turn out
so very badly," replied Quicksilver, in an encouraging tone.
"I am the very person to help you, if anybody can. My sister
and myself will do our utmost to bring you safe through the
adventure, ugly as it now looks."
"Your sister?" repeated Perseus.
"Yes, my sister," said the stranger. "She is very wise, I
promise you; and as for myself, I generally have all my wits
about me, such as they are. If you show yourself bold and
cautious, and follow our advice, you need not fear being a
stone image yet awhile. But, first of all, you must polish
your shield, till you can see your face in it as distinctly
as in a mirror."
This seemed to Perseus rather an odd beginning of the
adventure; for he thought it of far
 more consequence that
the shield should be strong enough to defend him from the
Gorgon's brazen claws, than that it should be bright enough
to show him the reflection of his face. However, concluding
that Quicksilver knew better than himself, he immediately
set to work, and scrubbed the shield with so much diligence
and good-will, that it very quickly shone like the moon at
harvest-time. Quicksilver looked at it with a smile, and
nodded his approbation. Then, taking off his own short and
crooked sword, he girded it about Perseus, instead of the
one which he had before worn.
"No sword but mine will answer your purpose," observed he;
"the blade has a most excellent temper, and will cut through
iron and brass as easily as through the slenderest twig. And
now we will set out. The next thing is to find the Three
Gray Women, who will tell us where to find the Nymphs."
"The Three Gray Women!" cried Perseus, to whom this seemed
only a new difficulty in the path of his adventure; "pray
who may the Three Gray Women be? I never heard of them
"They are three very strange old ladies," said Quicksilver,
laughing. "They have but one eye among them, and only one
tooth. Moreover, you must find them out by starlight, or in
the dusk of the evening; for they never show themselves by
the light either of the sun or moon."
"But," said Perseus, "why should I waste my time with these
Three Gray Women? Would it
 not be better to set out at once
in search of the terrible Gorgons?"
"No, no," answered his friend. "There are other things to be
done, before you can find your way to the Gorgons. There is
nothing for it but to hunt up these old ladies; and when we
meet with them, you may be sure that the Gorgons are not a
great way off. Come, let us be stirring!"
Perseus, by this time, felt so much confidence in his
companion's sagacity, that he made no more objections, and
professed himself ready to begin the adventure immediately.
They accordingly set out, and walked at a pretty brisk pace;
so brisk, indeed, that Perseus found it rather difficult to
keep up with his nimble friend Quicksilver. To say the
truth, he had a singular idea that Quicksilver was furnished
with a pair of winged shoes, which, of course, helped him
along marvelously. And then, too, when Perseus looked
sideways at him, out of the corner of his eye, he seemed to
see wings on the side of his head; although, if he turned a
full gaze, there were no such things to be perceived, but
only an odd kind of cap. But, at all events, the twisted
staff was evidently a great convenience to Quicksilver, and
enabled him to proceed so fast, that Perseus, though a
remarkably active young man, began to be out of breath.
"Here!" cried Quicksilver, at last,—for he knew well
enough, rogue that he was, how hard Perseus found it to keep
pace with him,—"take you the staff, for you need it a great
deal more than I. Are there no better walkers than yourself
in the island of Seriphus?"
 "I could walk pretty well," said Perseus, glancing slyly at
his companion's feet, "if I had only a pair of winged
"We must see about getting you a pair," answered
But the staff helped Perseus along so bravely, that he no
longer felt the slightest weariness. In fact, the stick
seemed to be alive in his hand, and to lend some of its life
to Perseus. He and Quicksilver now walked onward at their
ease, talking very sociably together; and Quicksilver told
so many pleasant stories about his former adventures, and
how well his wits had served him on various occasions, that
Perseus began to think him a very wonderful person. He
evidently knew the world; and nobody is so charming to a
young man as a friend who has that kind of knowledge.
Perseus listened the more eagerly, in the hope of
brightening his own wits by what he heard.
At last, he happened to recollect that Quicksilver had
spoken of a sister, who was to lend her assistance in the
adventure which they were now bound upon.
"Where is she?" he inquired. "Shall we not meet her soon?"
"All at the proper time," said his companion. "But this
sister of mine, you must understand, is quite a different
sort of character from myself. She is very grave and
prudent, seldom smiles, never laughs, and makes it a rule
not to utter a word unless she has something particularly
profound to say. Neither will she listen to any but the
 "Dear me!" ejaculated Perseus; "I shall be afraid to say a
"She is a very accomplished person, I assure you," continued
Quicksilver, "and has all the arts and sciences at her
fingers' ends. In short, she is so immoderately wise, that
many people call her wisdom personified. But, to tell you
the truth, she has hardly vivacity enough for my taste; and
I think you would scarcely find her so pleasant a traveling
companion as myself. She has her good points, nevertheless;
and you will find the benefit of them, in your encounter
with the Gorgons."
By this time it had grown quite dusk. They were now come to
a very wild and desert place, overgrown with shaggy bushes,
and so silent and solitary that nobody seemed ever to have
dwelt or journeyed there. All was waste and desolate, in the
gray twilight, which grew every moment more obscure. Perseus
looked about him, rather disconsolately, and asked
Quicksilver whether they had a great deal farther to go.
"Hist! hist!" whispered his companion. "Make no noise! This
is just the time and place to meet the Three Gray Women. Be
careful that they do not see you before you see them; for,
though they have but a single eye among the three, it is as
sharp-sighted as half a dozen common eyes."
"But what must I do," asked Perseus, "when we meet them?"
Quicksilver explained to Perseus how the Three Gray Women
managed with their one eye. They were in the habit, it
seems, of changing it
 from one to another, as if it had been
a pair of spectacles, or—which would have suited them
better—a quizzing-glass. When one of the three had kept the
eye a certain time, she took it out of the socket and passed
it to one of her sisters, whose turn it might happen to be,
and who immediately clapped it into her own head, and
enjoyed a peep at the visible world. Thus it will easily be
understood that only one of the Three Gray Women could see,
while the other two were in utter darkness; and, moreover,
at the instant when the eye was passing from hand to hand,
neither of the poor old ladies was able to see a wink. I
have heard of a great many strange things, in my day, and
have witnessed not a few; but none, it seems to me, that can
compare with the oddity of these Three Gray Women, all
peeping through a single eye.
So thought Perseus, likewise, and was so astonished that he
almost fancied his companion was joking with him, and that
there were no such old women in the world.
"You will soon find whether I tell the truth or no," observed
Quicksilver. "Hark! hush! hist! hist! There they come, now!"
Perseus looked earnestly through the dusk of the evening,
and there, sure enough, at no great distance off, he
descried the Three Gray Women. The light being so faint, he
could not well make out what sort of figures they were; only
he discovered that they had long gray hair; and, as they
came nearer, he saw that two of them had but the empty
socket of an eye, in the middle of their
 foreheads. But, in
the middle of the third sister's forehead, there was a very
large, bright, and piercing eye, which sparkled like a great
diamond in a ring; and so penetrating did it seem to be,
that Perseus could not help thinking it must possess the
gift of seeing in the darkest midnight just as perfectly as
at noonday. The sight of three persons' eyes was melted and
collected into that single one.
Thus the three old dames got along about as comfortably,
upon the whole, as if they could all see at once. She who
chanced to have the eye in her forehead led the other two by
the hands, peeping sharply about her, all the while;
insomuch that Perseus dreaded lest she should see right
through the thick clump of bushes behind which he and
Quicksilver had hidden themselves. My stars! it was
positively terrible to be within reach of so very sharp an
But, before they reached the clump of bushes, one of the
Three Gray Women spoke.
"Sister! Sister Scarecrow!" cried she, "you have had the eye
long enough. It is my turn now!"
"Let me keep it a moment longer, Sister Nightmare," answered
Scarecrow. "I thought I had a glimpse of something behind
that thick bush."
"Well, and what of that?" retorted Nightmare, peevishly.
"Can't I see into a thick bush as easily as yourself? The
eye is mine as well as yours; and I know the use of it as
well as you, or may be a little better. I insist upon taking
a peep immediately!"
 But here the third sister, whose name was Shakejoint, began
to complain, and said that it was her turn to have the eye,
and that Scarecrow and Nightmare wanted to keep it all to
themselves. To end the dispute, old Dame Scarecrow took the
eye out of her forehead, and held it forth in her hand.
"Take it, one of you," cried she, "and quit this foolish
quarreling. For my part, I shall be glad of a little thick
darkness. Take it quickly, however, or I must clap it into
my own head again!"
Accordingly, both Nightmare and Shakejoint put out their
hands, groping eagerly to snatch the eye out of the hand of
Scarecrow. But, being both alike blind, they could not
easily find where Scarecrow's hand was; and Scarecrow, being
now just as much in the dark as Shakejoint and Nightmare,
could not at once meet either of their hands, in order to
put the eye into it. Thus (as you will see, with half an
eye, my wise little auditors), these good old dames had
fallen into a strange perplexity. For, though the eye shone
and glistened like a star, as Scarecrow held it out, yet the
Gray Women caught not the least glimpse of its light, and
were all three in utter darkness, from too impatient a
desire to see.
Quicksilver was so much tickled at beholding Shakejoint and
Nightmare both groping for the eye, and each finding fault
with Scarecrow and one another, that he could scarcely help
"Now is your time!" he whispered to Perseus. "Quick, quick!
before they can clap the eye into
 either of their heads.
Rush out upon the old ladies, and snatch it from Scarecrow's
In an instant, while the Three Gray Women were still
scolding each other, Perseus leaped from behind the clump of
bushes, and made himself master of the prize. The marvelous
eye, as he held it in his hand, shone very brightly, and
seemed to look up into his face with a knowing air, and an
expression as if it would have winked, had it been provided
with a pair of eyelids for that purpose. But the Gray Women
knew nothing of what had happened; and, each supposing that
one of her sisters was in possession of the eye, they began
their quarrel anew. At last, as Perseus did not wish to put
these respectable dames to greater inconvenience than was
really necessary, he thought it right to explain the matter.
"My good ladies," said he, "pray do not be angry with one
another. If anybody is in fault, it is myself; for I have
the honor to hold your very brilliant and excellent eye in
my own hand!"
"You! you have our eye! And who are you?" screamed the Three
Gray Women, all in a breath; for they were terribly
frightened, of course, at hearing a strange voice, and
discovering that their eyesight had got into the hands of
they could not guess whom. "Oh, what shall we do, sisters?
what shall we do? We are all in the dark! Give us our eye!
Give us our one, precious, solitary eye! You have two of
your own! Give us our eye!"
"Tell them," whispered Quicksilver to Perseus,
 "that they
shall have back the eye as soon as they direct you where to
find the Nymphs who have the flying slippers, the magic
wallet, and the helmet of darkness."
"My dear, good, admirable old ladies," said Perseus,
addressing the Gray Women, "there is no occasion for putting
yourselves into such a fright. I am by no means a bad young
man. You shall have back your eye, safe and sound, and as
bright as ever, the moment you tell me where to find the
"The Nymphs! Goodness me! sisters, what Nymphs does he
mean?" screamed Scarecrow. "There are a great many Nymphs,
people say; some that go a-hunting in the woods, and some
that live inside of trees, and some that have a comfortable
home in fountains of water. We know nothing at all about
them. We are three unfortunate old souls, that go wandering
about in the dusk, and never had but one eye amongst us, and
that one you have stolen away. Oh, give it back, good
stranger!—whoever you are, give it back!"
All this while the Three Gray Women were groping with their
outstretched hands, and trying their utmost to get hold of
Perseus. But he took good care to keep out of their reach.
"My respectable dames," said he,—for his mother had taught
him always to use the greatest civility,—"I hold your eye
fast in my hand, and shall keep it safely for you, until you
please to tell me where to find these Nymphs. The Nymphs, I
mean, who keep the enchanted wallet, the flying
and the—what is it?—the helmet of invisibility."
"Mercy on us, sisters! what is the young man talking about?"
exclaimed Scarecrow, Nightmare, and Shakejoint, one to
another, with great appearance of astonishment. "A pair of
flying slippers, quoth he! His heels would quickly fly
higher than his head, if he were silly enough to put them
on. And a helmet of invisibility! How could a helmet make
him invisible, unless it were big enough for him to hide
under it? And an enchanted wallet! What sort of a
contrivance may that be, I wonder? No, no, good stranger! we
can tell you nothing of these marvelous things. You have
two eyes of your own, and we have but a single one amongst
us three. You can find out such wonders better than three
blind old creatures, like us.
Perseus, hearing them talk in this way, began really to
think that the Gray Women knew nothing of the matter; and,
as it grieved him to have put them to so much trouble, he
was just on the point of restoring their eye and asking
pardon for his rudeness in snatching it away. But
Quicksilver caught his hand.
"Don't let them make a fool of you!" said he. "These Three
Gray Women are the only persons in the world that can tell
you where to find the Nymphs; and, unless you get that
information, you will never succeed in cutting off the head
of Medusa with the snaky locks. Keep fast hold of the eye,
and all will go well."
As it turned out, Quicksilver was in the right.
 There are
but few things that people prize so much as they do their
eyesight; and the Gray Women valued their single eye as
highly as if it had been half a dozen, which was the number
they ought to have had. Finding that there was no other way
of recovering it, they at last told Perseus what he wanted
to know. No sooner had they done so, than he immediately,
and with the utmost respect, clapped the eye into the vacant
socket in one of their foreheads, thanked them for their
kindness, and bade them farewell. Before the young man was
out of hearing, however, they had got into a new dispute,
because he happened to have given the eye to Scarecrow, who
had already taken her turn of it when their trouble with
It is greatly to be feared that the Three Gray Women were
very much in the habit of disturbing their mutual harmony by
bickerings of this sort; which was the more pity, as they
could not conveniently do without one another, and were
evidently intended to be inseparable companions. As a
general rule, I would advise all people, whether sisters or
brothers, old or young, who chance to have but one eye
amongst them, to cultivate forbearance, and not all insist
upon peeping through it at once.
Quicksilver and Perseus, in the mean time, were making the
best of their way in quest of the Nymphs. The old dames had
given them such particular directions, that they were not
long in finding them out. They proved to be very different
persons from Nightmare, Shakejoint, and
 Scarecrow; for,
instead of being old, they were young and beautiful; and
instead of one eye amongst the sisterhood, each Nymph had
two exceedingly bright eyes of her own, with which she
looked very kindly at Perseus. They seemed to be acquainted
with Quicksilver; and, when he told them the adventure which
Perseus had undertaken, they made no difficulty about giving
him the valuable articles that were in their custody. In the
first place, they brought out what appeared to be a small
purse, made of deerskin, and curiously embroidered, and
bade him be sure and keep it safe. This was the magic
wallet. The Nymphs next produced a pair of shoes, or
slippers, or sandals, with a nice little pair of wings at
the heel of each.
"Put them on, Perseus," said Quicksilver. "You will find
yourself as light-heeled as you can desire for the remainder
of our journey."
So Perseus proceeded to put one of the slippers on, while he
laid the other on the ground by his side. Unexpectedly,
however, this other slipper spread its wings, fluttered up
off the ground, and would probably have flown away, if
Quicksilver had not made a leap, and luckily caught it in
"Be more careful," said he, as he gave it back to Perseus.
"It would frighten the birds, up aloft, if they should see a
flying slipper amongst them."
When Perseus had got on both of these wonderful slippers, he
was altogether too buoyant to tread on earth. Making a step
or two, lo and
 behold! upward he popped into the air, high
above the heads of Quicksilver and the Nymphs, and found it
very difficult to clamber down again. Winged slippers, and
all such high-flying contrivances, are seldom quite easy to
manage until one grows a little accustomed to them.
Quicksilver laughed at his companion's involuntary activity,
and told him that he must not be in so desperate a hurry,
but must wait for the invisible helmet.
The good-natured Nymphs had the helmet, with its dark tuft
of waving plumes, all in readiness to put upon his head. And
now there happened about as wonderful an incident as
anything that I have yet told you. The instant before the
helmet was put on, there stood Perseus, a beautiful young
man, with golden ringlets and rosy cheeks, the crooked sword
by his side, and the brightly polished shield upon his
arm,—a figure that seemed all made up of courage,
sprightliness, and glorious light. But when the helmet had
descended over his white brow, there was no longer any
Perseus to be seen! Nothing but empty air! Even the helmet,
that covered him with its invisibility, had vanished!
"Where are you, Perseus?" asked Quicksilver.
"Why, here, to be sure!" answered Perseus, very quietly,
although his voice seemed to come out of the transparent
atmosphere. "Just where I was a moment ago. Don't you see
"No, indeed!" answered his friend. "You are hidden under
the helmet. But, if I cannot see you, neither can the
Gorgons. Follow me,
there-  fore, and we will try your
dexterity in using the winged slippers."
With these words, Quicksilver's cap spread its wings, as if
his head were about to fly away from his shoulders; but his
whole figure rose lightly into the air, and Perseus
followed. By the time they had ascended a few hundred feet,
the young man began to feel what a delightful thing it was
to leave the dull earth so far beneath him, and to be able
to flit about like a bird.
It was now deep night. Perseus looked upward, and saw the
round, bright, silvery moon, and thought that he should
desire nothing better than to soar up thither, and spend his
life there. Then he looked downward again, and saw the
earth, with its seas and lakes, and the silver courses of
its rivers, and its snowy mountain-peaks, and the breadth of
its fields, and the dark cluster of its woods, and its
cities of white marble; and, with the moonshine sleeping
over the whole scene, it was as beautiful as the moon or any
star could be. And, among other objects, he saw the island
of Seriphus, where his dear mother was. Sometimes he and
Quicksilver approached a cloud that, at a distance, looked
as if it were made of fleecy silver; although, when they
plunged into it, they found themselves chilled and moistened
with gray mist. So swift was their flight, however, that, in
an instant, they emerged from the cloud into the moonlight
again. Once, a high-soaring eagle flew right against the
invisible Perseus. The bravest sights were the meteors, that
gleamed suddenly out, as if a bonfire had been kindled in
 and made the moonshine pale for as much as a
hundred miles around them.
As the two companions flew onward, Perseus fancied that he
could hear the rustle of a garment close by his side; and it
was on the side opposite to the one where he beheld
Quicksilver, yet only Quicksilver was visible.
"Whose garment is this," inquired Perseus, "that keeps
rustling close beside me in the breeze?"
"Oh, it is my sister's!" answered Quicksilver. "She is
coming along with us, as I told you she would. We could do
nothing without the help of my sister. You have no idea how
wise she is. She has such eyes, too! Why, she can see you,
at this moment, just as distinctly as if you were not
invisible and I'll venture to say, she will be the first to
discover the Gorgons."
By this time, in their swift voyage through the air, they
had come within sight of the great ocean, and were soon
flying over it. Far beneath them, the waves tossed
themselves tumultuously in mid-sea, or rolled a white
surf-line upon the long beaches, or foamed against the rocky
cliffs, with a roar that was thunderous, in the lower world;
although it became a gentle murmur, like the voice of a baby
half asleep, before it reached the ears of Perseus. Just
then a voice spoke in the air close by him. It seemed to be
a woman's voice, and was melodious, though not exactly what
might be called sweet, but grave and mild.
the voice, "there are the Gorgons."
 "Where?" exclaimed Perseus. "I cannot see them."
"On the shore of that island beneath you," replied the
voice. "A pebble, dropped from your hand, would strike in
the midst of them."
"I told you she would be the first to discover them," said
Quicksilver to Perseus. "And there they are!"
Straight downward, two or three thousand feet below him,
Perseus perceived a small island, with the sea breaking into
white foam all around its rocky shore, except on one side,
where there was a beach of snowy sand. He descended towards
it, and, looking earnestly at a cluster or heap of
brightness, at the foot of a precipice of black rocks,
behold, there were the terrible Gorgons! They lay fast
asleep, soothed by the thunder of the sea; for it required a
tumult that would have deafened everybody else to lull such
fierce creatures into slumber. The moonlight glistened on
their steely scales, and on their golden wings, which
drooped idly over the sand. Their brazen claws, horrible to
look at, were thrust out, and clutched the wave-beaten
fragments of rock, while the sleeping Gorgons dreamed of
tearing some poor mortal all to pieces. The snakes that
served them instead of hair seemed likewise to be asleep;
although, now and then, one would writhe, and lift its head,
and thrust out its forked tongue, emitting a drowsy hiss,
and then let itself subside among its sister snakes.
The Gorgons were more like an awful, gigantic kind of
insect,—immense, golden-winged beetles,
 or dragon-flies, or
things of that sort,—at once ugly and beautiful,—than like
anything else; only that they were a thousand and a million
times as big. And, with all this, there was something partly
human about them, too. Luckily for Perseus, their faces were
completely hidden from him by the posture in which they lay;
for, had he but looked one instant at them, he would have
fallen heavily out of the air, an image of senseless stone.
"Now," whispered Quicksilver, as he hovered by the side of
Perseus,—"now is your time to do the deed! Be quick; for,
if one of the Gorgons should awake, you are too late!"
"Which shall I strike at?" asked Perseus, drawing his sword
and descending a little lower. "They all three look alike.
All three have snaky locks. Which of the three is Medusa?"
It must be understood that Medusa was the only one of these
dragon-monsters whose head Perseus could possibly cut off.
As for the other two, let him have the sharpest sword that
ever was forged, and he might have hacked away by the hour
together, without doing them the least harm.
"Be cautious," said the calm voice which had before spoken
to him. "One of the Gorgons is stirring in her sleep, and is
just about to turn over. That is Medusa. Do not look at her!
The sight would turn you to stone! Look at the reflection of
her face and figure in the bright mirror of your shield."
Perseus now understood Quicksilver's motive
 for so earnestly
exhorting him to polish his shield. In its surface he could
safely look at the reflection of the Gorgon's face. And
there it was,—that terrible countenance,—mirrored in the
brightness of the shield, with the moonlight falling over
it, and displaying all its horror. The snakes, whose
venomous natures could not altogether sleep, kept twisting
themselves over the forehead. It was the fiercest and most
horrible face that ever was seen or imagined, and yet with a
strange, fearful, and savage kind of beauty in it. The eyes
were closed, and the Gorgon was still in a deep slumber; but
there was an unquiet expression disturbing her features, as
if the monster was troubled with an ugly dream. She gnashed
her white tusks, and dug into the sand with her brazen
The snakes, too, seemed to feel Medusa's dream, and to be
made more restless by it. They twined themselves into
tumultuous knots, writhed fiercely, and uplifted a hundred
hissing heads, without opening their eyes.
"Now, now!" whispered Quicksilver, who was growing
impatient. "Make a dash at the monster!"
"But be calm," said the grave, melodious voice, at the young
man's side. "Look in your shield, as you fly downward, and
take care that you do not miss your first stroke."
Perseus flew cautiously downward, still keeping his eyes on
Medusa's face, as reflected in his shield. The nearer he
came, the more terrible did the snaky visage and metallic
body of the
 monster grow. At last, when he found himself
hovering over her within arm's length, Perseus uplifted his
sword, while, at the same instant, each separate snake upon
the Gorgon's head stretched threateningly upward, and Medusa
unclosed her eyes. But she awoke too late. The sword was
sharp; the stroke fell like a lightning-flash; and the head
of the wicked Medusa tumbled from her body!
"Admirably done!" cried Quicksilver. "Make haste, and clap
the head into your magic wallet."
To the astonishment of Perseus, the small embroidered
wallet, which he had hung about his neck, and which had
hitherto been no bigger than a purse, grew all at once large
enough to contain Medusa's head. As quick as thought, he
snatched it up, with the snakes still writhing upon it, and
thrust it in.
"Your task is done," said the calm voice. "Now fly; for the
other Gorgons will do their utmost to take vengeance for
It was, indeed, necessary to take flight; for Perseus had
not done the deed so quietly but that the clash of his
sword, and the hissing of the snakes, and the thump of
Medusa's head as it tumbled upon the sea-beaten sand, awoke
the other two monsters. There they sat, for an instant,
sleepily rubbing their eyes with their brazen fingers, while
all the snakes on their heads reared themselves on end with
surprise, and with venomous malice against they knew not
what. But when the Gorgons saw the scaly carcass of Medusa,
headless, and her golden wings all
ruf-  fled, and half spread
out on the sand, it was really awful to hear what yells and
screeches they set up. And then the snakes! They sent forth
a hundred-fold hiss, with one consent, and Medusa's snakes
answered them out of the magic wallet.
No sooner were the Gorgons broad awake than they hurtled
upward into the air, brandishing their brass talons,
gnashing their horrible tusks, and flapping their huge wings
so wildly, that some of the golden feathers were shaken out,
and floated down upon the shore. And there, perhaps, those
very feathers lie scattered, till this day. Up rose the
Gorgons, as I tell you, staring horribly about, in hopes of
turning somebody to stone. Had Perseus looked them in the
face, or had he fallen into their clutches, his poor mother
would never have kissed her boy again! But he took good care
to turn his eyes another way; and, as he wore the helmet of
invisibility, the Gorgons knew not in what direction to
follow him; nor did he fail to make the best use of the
winged slippers, by soaring upward a perpendicular mile or
so. At that height, when the screams of those abominable
creatures sounded faintly beneath him, he made a straight
course for the island of Seriphus, in order to carry
Medusa's head to King Polydectes.
I have no time to tell you of several marvelous things that
befell Perseus, on his way homeward; such as his killing a
hideous sea-monster, just as it was on the point of
devouring a beautiful maiden; nor how he changed an enormous
giant into a mountain of stone, merely by showing him the
 head of the Gorgon. If you doubt this latter story, you may
make a voyage to Africa, some day or other, and see the very
mountain, which is still known by the ancient giant's name.
Finally, our brave Perseus arrived at the island, where he
expected to see his dear mother. But, during his absence,
the wicked king had treated Danaë so very ill that she was
compelled to make her escape, and had taken refuge in a
temple, where some good old priests were extremely kind to
her. These praiseworthy priests, and the kind-hearted
fisherman, who had first shown hospitality to Danaë and
little Perseus when he found them afloat in the chest, seem
to have been the only persons on the island who cared about
doing right. All the rest of the people, as well as King
Polydectes himself, were remarkably ill-behaved, and
deserved no better destiny than that which was now to
Not finding his mother at home, Perseus went straight to the
palace, and was immediately ushered into the presence of the
king. Polydectes was by no means rejoiced to see him; for he
had felt almost certain, in his own evil mind, that the
Gorgons would have torn the poor young man to pieces, and
have eaten him up, out of the way. However, seeing him
safely returned, he put the best face he could upon the
matter and asked Perseus how he had succeeded.
"Have you performed your promise?" inquired he. "Have you
brought me the head of Medusa with the snaky locks? If not,
young man, it will cost you dear; for I must have a bridal
 for the beautiful Princess Hippodamia, and there is
nothing else that she would admire so much."
"Yes, please your Majesty," answered Perseus, in a quiet
way, as if it were no very wonderful deed for such a young
man as he to perform. "I have brought you the Gorgon's head,
snaky locks and all!"
"Indeed! Pray let me see it," quoth King Polydectes. "It
must be a very curious spectacle, if all that travelers
tell about it be true!"
"Your Majesty is in the right," replied Perseus. "It is
really an object that will be pretty certain to fix the
regards of all who look at it. And, if your Majesty think
fit, I would suggest that a holiday be proclaimed, and that
all your Majesty's subjects be summoned to behold this
wonderful curiosity. Few of them, I imagine, have seen a
Gorgon's head before, and perhaps never may again!"
The king well knew that his subjects were an idle set of
reprobates, and very fond of sight-seeing, as idle persons
usually are. So he took the young man's advice, and sent out
heralds and messengers, in all directions, to blow the
trumpet at the street-corners, and in the market-places, and
wherever two roads met, and summon everybody to court.
Thither, accordingly, came a great multitude of
good-for-nothing vagabonds, all of whom, out of pure love of
mischief, would have been glad if Perseus had met with some
ill-hap in his encounter with the Gorgons. If there were any
better people in the island (as I really hope there may have
been, although the story tells nothing
 about any such), they
stayed quietly at home, minding their business, and taking
care of their little children. Most of the inhabitants, at
all events, ran as fast as they could to the palace, and
shoved, and pushed, and elbowed one another, in their
eagerness to get near a balcony, on which Perseus showed
himself, holding the embroidered wallet in his hand.
On a platform, within full view of the balcony, sat the
mighty King Polydectes, amid his evil counselors, and with
his flattering courtiers in a semicircle round about him.
Monarch, counselors, courtiers, and subjects, all gazed
eagerly towards Perseus.
"Show us the head! Show us the head!" shouted the people;
and there was a fierceness in their cry as if they would
tear Perseus to pieces, unless he should satisfy them with
what he had to show. "Show us the head of Medusa with the
A feeling of sorrow and pity came over the youthful Perseus.
"O King Polydectes," cried he, "and ye many people, I am
very loath to show you the Gorgon's head!"
"Ah, the villain and coward!" yelled the people, more
fiercely than before. "He is making game of us! He has no
Gorgon's head! Show us the head, if you have it, or we will
take your own head for a football!"
The evil counselors whispered bad advice in the king's ear;
the courtiers murmured, with one consent, that Perseus had
shown disrespect to
 their royal lord and master; and the
great King Polydectes himself waved his hand, and ordered
him, with the stern, deep voice of authority, on his peril,
to produce the head.
"Show me the Gorgon's head, or I will cut off your own!"
And Perseus sighed.
"This instant," repeated Polydectes, "or you die!"
"Behold it, then!" cried Perseus, in a voice like the blast
of a trumpet.
And, suddenly holding up the head, not an eyelid had time to
wink before the wicked King Polydectes, his evil
counselors, and all his fierce subjects were no longer
anything but the mere images of a monarch and his people.
They were all fixed, forever, in the look and attitude of
that moment! At the first glimpse of the terrible head of
Medusa, they whitened into marble! And Perseus thrust the
head back into his wallet, and went to tell his dear mother
that she need no longer be afraid of the wicked King
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