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The Golden Porch by  W. M. L. Hutchinson

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THE HEAVENLY TWINS

I

[221]

T
RAVELLERS in the ancient ages told that Laconia was the fairest land of all the kingdoms of the south. There you might journey all day through groves of citron and of orange, heavy with shining fruit, and sweet with blossom, and rest in the heat of noon-tide where the leafy sycamore and walnut trees made a pleasant shade on the river-banks. And there the nightingale sang all day long in the wayside copses, for the flowering myrtles grew so thickly that not a sunbeam could come through to tell her night had gone. But the travellers said that in all Laconia nothing could be seen more beautiful than the maidens of the land. Peasant-girl or king's daughter, they were all like queens to look upon, tall and stately and marvellous fair. Now there was once a maiden called Leda, and she was as far above the rest in beauty as the moon is brighter than the stars. It was said that the old chieftan, her father, came out of the north [222] country to dwell in Laconia, and indeed her golden hair and milk-white skin showed plainly that she was of northern race. So there was much murmuring when the King chose her for his bride, instead of taking to wife a princess of his own kindred, and it was whispered among the old folks that bad luck would come of it.

It happened, however, that the harvest that year was very great, and the King was at peace with all his neighbours. Moreover, Queen Leda was gentle and gracious to her household, and bountiful to the needy, so that the people began to forgive her for being a foreigner. The next year, in the spring, word came to her husband of a great hunting to be held in the mountains beyond the borders of his kingdom, to which many chiefs and princes were gathering, and he made ready to join them with a goodly company. Very busy were his men, sharpening and burnishing hunting-spears and knives, seeing to the horses, and to the great Laconian hounds of famous breed that could pull down wolf and wild-boar, and even the mountain-bull. Busy too was the Queen, looking well that her women prepared all needful food for the journey, and sorting out coverlets and bedding and garments for the King's use, for he would perhaps be many weeks among the hills. Then, when he was gone, the palace seemed to her silent and [223] empty, and a strange sadness came into her heart. That night she lay long awake, and when at last she slept, her old nurse, who had crept in to watch her, saw the tears stealing down her cheeks. "Child of my heart," said the old crone, bending over her, "never may the dream come true that you weep to see."

"Nurse," said Leda, starting up, "have I been asleep? Who spoke to me just now? Who came and told me—" She could say no more, and hid her face in her hands.

The old crone made the sign that drives away evil magic. "No one has entered, my Queen," she said. "Have I not kept watch at your chamber-door? This was some dream; come, let me hear it, it may be I can read it for you, and if it bodes misfortune (which the gods avert) you shall take counsel of some seer."

"No, no," cried Leda, and wrung her hands. "To no one can I tell it. Let me alone, nurse."

Nor could the nurse coax her into saying another word, and her silence vexed the old woman, who had no small skill in signs and omens.

Next morning, the Queen, as was then the custom of queens, herself gave orders to her women for all the work of the day; and because the time had come round for a great washing of the household linen, she went down to the river [224] to see that they did it properly. The younger handmaids were very merry over this work, which they liked much better than scrubbing and scouring, and weaving and spinning indoors. They knelt on the low bank and plunged the clothes into the shallow running water, and some of them tucked up their robes and paddled in to tread the clothes clean on the pebbly river-bed, just as Highland lassies used to do, not so very long ago. The sun was but just risen when they began their work, and all was done before the heat of the day set in. Then they took their pleasant meal of bread and figs and wine in the grassy meadow, and some lay down to rest, but the young girls began a game at ball. Many a happy day had Leda spent in this way in her girlhood, and always, till to-day, she had loved to watch the sport and join in the laughter and singing, but now, because her heart was heavy, she went and sat a little way off from the others, thinking strange thoughts. "See," cried a girl presently, as she tossed up the ball, "see those two great birds flying overhead!"

"Birds, said you," croaked the old nurse, peering up. "Ay, ay wild geese, most like, of your feather, my girl. Well may they flock hither, if the old proverb hold true."

"Your tongue is sharper than your eyes, old woman," laughed another handmaid, "for one of [225] those birds is an eagle. Look, sisters, look, how fiercely he chases the other! Round and round they fly—and lower and lower. See, the other is wearied out—ah, the beautiful creature, it is as white as snow."

"It is a swan," said Leda coming forward. All now stood still to watch this strange chase. The swan was wearied out indeed, and its great white wings flapped ever more feebly as it circled downward. Nearer and nearer it came to the spot where the women stood, till they shrieked and scattered in fear as the huge eagle swooped after it close to their heads. Only Leda did not move, and just as the beautiful bird sank at her feet, she threw her arms round it with a cry of pity, and shielded it with her mantle from those cruel claws. And, strange to tell, the eagle did not harm her. Up he soared into the sky, higher and higher he flew, till he was seen no more.

Now all the women had fled towards the palace, for they made certain that the eagle would kill the Queen with one blow of his beak, and even the old nurse had hobbled off as fast as she could for terror. Leda was left alone with the swan on the river-bank. She drew her mantle off the trembling bird, and stroked its head and smoothed its silvery wings, and told it it was safe, for the eagle was gone. It seem to [226] understand her, and came closer to her side, looking into her face with its lustrous eyes.

"Beautiful swan," she said, "why have you lingered in our country when winter has gone? Always, when the summer is over, we see your brothers and sisters come flocking from over the mountains, and they live all winter in the reed-beds of our river. But they fly back in the spring to their own lands, the far North land that was once my father's home." "Lady," said the swan, "far is that land, but not so far as mine. Farther then ever swan has flown have I journeyed to look on one who is whiter than any swan."

Then Leda trembled very much, for she knew that this was not a real swan, and that the gods could take any shape that pleased them, when they came among men, and she bowed herself humbly before the great bird, "Oh, my lord," she said, "be gracious to your handmaid. If indeed I speak to one of the blessed gods, tell me, I pray, by what name I may call you." This she said, because the Immortals were most particular about being called by their right names. "Fear nothing, sweet Leda," said the swan. "As for my name, I am he whose servant is the eagle. And I bade him chase me in this shape to your feet, that I might learn if you are as kind as you are fair." Then Leda knew that King Zeus himself talked with her, and she was the [227] more afraid. But the swan bent his arching neck, and laid his head gently on her arm. "Because you did not fear to save the hunted bird," he said, "ask what you will, and I will do it." Leda remembered her dream, and the tears sprang to her eyes. "Gracious Zeus," she said, "I know not what to ask. I have everything a queen can wish for, except children, and if you had come to me only yesterday, that is the gift I would have chosen. But last night I had a cruel dream. I thought I stood before the holy temple at Delphi, waiting while my husband inquired of the oracle if children should be born to us. Then a veiled messenger came out and said to me, 'The priestess has spoken. Twin children shall be born to King Tyndareus, an only son and an only daughter, and they shall both be slain while he yet lives.' At these words I awoke, weeping, and my nurse asked me my dream. But I dare not tell it to any one, for if the people hear of it, they will say, 'This is what comes of the King marrying an outlander,' and if my husband hears of it, his heart will be turned from me because I bring this evil on his house. Alas, alas! that the King should go down to his grave childless, and leave no son to sit upon his throne. And I have heard, O mightiest of the gods, that even you cannot turn away their doom from hapless mortals."

[228] "You have heard truly, lady," the swan answered, "for a law that cannot be broken governs all things in earth and heaven. Great is the power of the gods, but it is like the power of the sea, whose terrible waves cannot pass their appointed bounds. Yet, with our help, the thing that must come to pass may bring with it more good than evil. So now take comfort, and when your children come, the swan's gift shall come with them. But remember that you tell no one whence it came, nor who it was you saved from the eagle." So saying, he flapped his broad wings as if to fly; softly they brushed across Leda's eyes, and that instant she fell asleep.

Meanwhile, the women who had rushed home to the palace crying that the Queen was killed, came back with guards and serving-men to look for her, and were very much astonished because they could see no trace of her. Stranger still, they could not find the spot where they had left her. The flat and grassy bank where they had spread the linen to dry was just as they had left it, but a little way up stream, where the Queen had stood, they saw instead of level meadow a bed of tall reeds and rushes. "We are bewitched," they cried. "Yonder, just where the river makes a bend, is the very spot where the swan alighted." But the men mocked them, and said, "Are you all crazed with fright, you silly wenches? What, [229] did you play ball in a reed-bed? Come, show us where you left our mistress, or it will be the worse for you."

Now the old nurse had followed the others, crying and lamenting, and expecting every moment to see her lady lying dead. But when she saw the rushes waving where no rushes had been, it came into her mind that this might be the Water Fairies' doing. These Fairies, who were called Naiads in those days, are the gentlest and kindest of all (the Tree Fairies are kind-hearted too, but rather changeable, for their temper depends a good deal on the weather), and they delight in helping mortals in distress. One reason is, that many of them were once mortals themselves, who fell into the water, or jumped in to get away from some enemy, and so were drowned. The old nurse thought that one of them had most likely made the rushes spring up to hide Leda and the swan from the eagle. And she was very nearly right, only the Naiad had done it to make a bower for Leda while she rested. So the old crone went boldly forward, and pushed aside the screen of rushes. And there, with joy and wonder, they saw their Queen lying fast asleep, looking, as the old nurse said, just like a snow-white swan in its nest amont the reeds.

Weeks went by and months went by, and still [230] King Tyndareus did not come home from the hunting. Word came that he had sworn friendship with another prince who had saved his life from a savage boar, and was gone to help him win back his kingdom from a usurper. All this time Leda kept the swan's secret, as he had bidden her, and when the old nurse questioned her about what had happened, she only smiled and spoke of something else. So the old crone told the other women that the Naiad had hidden the Queen by enchantment in the nick of time, and they all believed her, and often threw flowers and cakes into the river to please that good fairy. At last news was brought to the palace that the King had helped his friend to win a great victory, and was coming home with much spoil. Already, said the messenger, he was near at hand, and in two days' time he would enter the city. That same night the Queen had a little son and a little daughter, and they were put to sleep in two ivory cradles beside their mother's bed. Before sunrise next morning she was awakened by a sound like the flapping of wings. She looked round, and saw nothing—only on the ledge of the open window lay a white feather. Then she leaned down and peeped into the cradles, and there, beside each baby, was a swan's egg among the pillows. "That is the gift," she thought, "but what can be the use of it?" and she took one of [231] the eggs in her hand to look at it. Instantly the shell cracked in two, and she saw inside it the loveliest baby, like a little doll. The tiny creature stretched out its arms to her and smiled; then, quickly as you can blow a bubble, it grew in her hand till it was as large as other babies. Full of wonder, she took the egg from the other cradle, and the same thing happened. The two swan-children were as like as two peas, only the one she had taken from her little son's cradles was a baby boy, ant the other was a baby girl. Leda knew that directly, because all new babies suck their thumbs if they are boys, and their fingers if they are girls. Then Leda began to think hard how she might keep the wonderful present without telling who had sent it.

Now every one in the palace was so busy getting ready for the King's home-coming that only the old nurse could be spared to wait on the Queen, so no one else knew yet of her having twins. Leda resolved to show the old woman the swan-babies at once, and make her promise to give out that they also were the Queen's children. "I will bring them up as my own," she said to herself, "and so, even if my two poor little ones must die untimely, the King and I will not be left childless in our old age." And she gave thanks to Zeus for his gift.

Quickly came the old nurse at her lady's call, [232] and loud were her cries of wonder when she saw the swan-babies. She willingly promised never to tell any one they were not the King's children, for she said, "One never knows what may happen, and a king with one son is like a ship with one anchor." But when she asked eagerly if Leda has seen nothing and heard nothing of the babies' coming, the Queen only said, "They were here when I awoke." The old crone was very shrewd and terribly inquisitive, and she thought to herself, "The Queen knows more than she will tell me, or why is she not more astonished at this marvellous thing? She does not seem to think it the least surprising to wake up and find four babies instead of two. Something, for sure, has troubled her since that dream she had, and I shall have no rest till I find out what all this means." So thinking, she began prying round the room, and soon found two things that made her more curious than ever. On the window-sill was a white swan's feather, and under the cradle of the girl-babies was the broken shell of a swan's egg. Leda had hidden the other in her bed, but this one had fallen to the floor, and she forgot it. The cunning old crone said nothing, but the moment Leda's back was turned she picked up both eggshell and feather, and hid them in a coffer. "Some day," she thought, "these tokens may bring to light the truth."

[233] A happy man was King Tyndareus when he saw those lovely children, and they pleased him more than all the treasures he brought home with him.

As time went on the two little princes grew up to be the handsomest and bravest lads that ever were seen in Laconia, and the two little princesses were the talk of the whole kingdom for their beauty. One of these maidens was dark-eyed and dark-haired, and her name was Clytaemnestra; the other, who was called Helen, was so enchanting in her loveliness that no one could refuse her anything, and everybody spoiled her. Strangely enough, although was one of the swan-children, she had the same violet eyes and golden hair as Leda. The two princesses were sought in marriage by so many king's sons, that their father feared to bestow them on any lest the others should take offence and make war upon him. Therefore he invited all the suitors to a wedding-feast, and said to them, "Princes, my daughters shall make their own choice from among you, but first you shall take an oath that whoever they choose, all the rest of you will fight for my sons-in-law if ever they are in need of help." All the suitors agreed to this condition, and thus King Tyndareus made sure allies for himself and his family. The princesses were brought into the hall to see their suitors, and they chose the two sons of a king named Atreus, and were married [234] that same day with great pomp and splendour. Now what befell them afterwards is the most famous of all stories, but here we bid them farewell, for this tale is about their brothers.

II

AFTER The marriage of the two princesses, Queen Leda said to her sons: "It is time that you went on your travels, like other princes, in search of brides, and brought me home two new daughters to take the place of Helen and Clytaemnestra." But Castor and Polydeuces had no mind to be wedded, for they loved each other with a great love, and desired nothing else than to pass their whole lives together. So they said to their mother: "Why should we bring stranger women into our house, who like enough would stir up strife between us, and vex your heart also? Nay, mother, we will let such things alone till we are older. Nevertheless, we will go on our travels and seek adventures as king's sons are wont to do." And they set out to see the world. Now these Twin Brethren had grown up so like one to the other that none could tell them apart, and neither the old nurse nor Leda herself knew whether Castor or Polydeuces was the swan-child. They went forth clad alike in silver armour, and Castor drove the white horses [235] of their silver chariot, for although both were marvellous tamers of horses, he was the better charioteer. In the first city where they sojourned they heard tidings of the ship that was to sail from Iolcos on the quest of the Golden Fleece, and how Prince Jason was gathering brave comrades to go with him. Forthwith they hastened to join themselves to that company, and as Iolcos they first saw Heracles, whose fame was already great in their own land, and they sailed with Jason in the ship Argo, and shared all those toils and perils set forth in the tale of "The Lad with One Sandal." Then, when Argo was come home again, and Jason had recovered the kingdom of his father, the Twins harnessed their white horses that were left in Aeson's charge, and journeyed southward to their own country. Their road led them to a strong-walled city with seven gates, and they entered one of the gates and asked the first man they met the name of the city, who told them it was Thebes. "Then we are come to the city of a friend," cried Polydeuces, "for Thebes is the home of Heracles. Is he here, stranger, or have you tidings of him since he sailed with the ship Argo? We are his shipmates, but he went not far on that voyage before he parted from us."

"He has been seen in Thebes since then," answered the stranger, "but he is ever coming [236] and going, for he never wearies of adventures, and he is not here now. It is said he is gone into the West with an army to war on a king there who did him a foul wrong."

"We will go after him, then," said the Twins, "and fight in his quarrel."

But the man of Thebes prayed them, if they were friends to Heracles, to lodge with him that night, and he brought them to his house, and feasted them with the best. "Kind hose," said Castor, presently, "may we know your name? We would fain tell Heracles when we see him which of his neighbours has received us so hospitably for his sake." "My name is Amphitryon," said their host, smiling, "and when you see Heracles, say that you lodges under his own roof-tree, for he is my son. In this house he was born after his mother and I fled hither out of Argos, our own city, from the power of a wicked king, and here, even in his cradle, Queen Hera sought to destroy him in her pitiless hate."

"It seems then that the tales are true," said Polydeuces, "which say that the Queen of the Gods bears a deep grudge against your noble son, and has wrought him toil and trouble without ceasing. But as to the cause of this, some say one thing and some another, and we would gladly hear from you, Amphitryon, the whole truth about the matter."

[237] "I will tell you the tale from the beginning," said Amphitryon, and thus he told it. "My brother and I were the sons of the King of Argos, that ancient city beloved of Hera, and when our father died, we should, by his command, have divided the kingdom, but my brother turned the folk against me with lying accusations, and I was forced to fly for my life, with my new-wedded bride. And we came to dwell at Thebes, where I was well received of the citizens because I had good repute as a warrior. At that time they made war upon certain islanders of the West, and I was chosen captain of their host because their prince was yet a child. By favour of the gods, we were conquerors in that war, and came home to Thebes laden with much spoil. Now it was late at night when we reached the city, and I would not sit down to feast and carouse with the rest, but hastened to my own house, that I might greet my wife. I found her asleep, and I awoke her, thinking to see her overcome with joy at my safe return, but she showed not the least surprise at the sight of me, and when I told her of the victory and the spoils, she said, 'All this, Amphitryon, you told me last night when you came home.' You may guess, princes, how these strange words troubled me; at first I thought my wife was crazed, but when I had questioned her closely, I perceived that some god [238] had visited her in my likeness. For she knew everything that had passed in the war, and he who had been with her, gave her a golden girdle, saying it was from his share of the spoil. Now I myself had brought her a golden girdle, and when we laid the two side by side they were alike down to every petal of the lotus flowers embossed upon them. But Alcmena, my wife, believed that I had played a trick upon her, and it vexed her so that she showed my great coldness, and my heart was much disquieted. Then, one night I dreamed that the King of the Gods stood before me in all his majesty, and said: 'Be not cast down, Amphitryon; it was I who visited Alcmena, having a desire to behold and converse with her in mortal shape, because it was reported to me that she is the fairest of all women alive. Tell her this, and say Zeus bids her be reconciled to you. Also she shall have a sign from me that she may believe, for twin sons shall be born to her before a year goes by.' And as the god promised, so it came to pass.

"Now, when the two babes were five days old, as I was sitting in the market-place with elders of the city, my wife's handmaids ran shrieking towards us, and loudly called 'Help! help! Two monstrous serpents are in our lady's chambers devouring her children.' I cried to my neighbours to follow, and rushed with drawn sword into my [239] house. What think you I saw, my guests, as I darted into the chamber of Alcmena? She, herself, half-clad as she had leapt from her couch, lay fainting by the cradle, her arms thrown round one child, and two huge snakes were writhing on the floor beside her. But they were writhing in death! The other babe sat upright in the cradle, and his tiny hands were gripping their scaly throats so fiercely that the breath came in hissing gasps from their red foaming jaws, and their glaring eyes seemed bursting from the sockets. For one instant that sight rooted me to the threshold—then, even as I sprang forward, the heads of the monsters fell back, and with a throttled cry they breathed their last. My little son looked up at me gravely, and, unclenching his hands, he let the lifeless bodies drop thudding to the ground. Then did I, and the men that followed me, give a mighty shout of joy, and it roused Alcmena from her swoon of terror, and she caught both children to her breast, sobbing for gladness. News of the marvel brought all the city flocking to our doors, and with the rest came blind Teiresias, that aged seer. Forthwith he prophesied to us concerning the child, and said this deed was but the beginning of wonders that he should do all his life long. For Hera, he said, had sent those serpents, because it angered her that Zeus praised the beauty of Alcmena in the presence of all the gods, saying [240] he had seen none fairer in earth of heaven, and the jealous goddess would avenge that slight by contriving many another dire encounter for Alcmena's son. Yet all the perils she brought him into should but work him the more renown, and therefore he should be named Heracles, which is, being interpreted, 'Glory that cometh of Hera.'"

When Amphitryon had made an end of his story, both the Twins kept silence for a space, and then Castor, "Marvellous, in truth, are the ways of the Immortals. But I would fain hear one thing more; is their no hope that the wrath of Hera may yet be turned from your son, our dear comrade, or will she be his enemy for ever?" "Teiresias foretold that she would make peace with him at last," answered Amphitryon; "nay, he spoke of strange bliss that she would grant him one day, when he should rest from toil and suffering in an eternal home. But, with your pardon, I will not repeat that prophecy, for it well-nigh passes belief that any man born of woman should be exalted to such a height of glory as it foreshadowed, nor do I desire it should be known." "You do wisely to conceal it," said Polydeuces, "for what men cannot credit, they are ever ready to mock at. But I also would hear one thing, if it be not unpleasing to you. Since Alcmena has two sons, how is it that Hera's hatred pursues Heracles, and not his brother also?"

[241] "I can but guess," said Amphitryon, "that her anger rests specially on the child who slew her ministers, the serpents. Darker to me is the cause of the measureless difference between my twin sons; the strength of Heracles you know, and can bear my witness that it is as the strength of a god, but Iphicles, his brother, is no stronger than other men. It is not so with you, noble sons of Tyndareus, whom I knew at first sight of you by report from Heracles, for he said also that you were alike in prowess as in form and face."

Long and late the Twin Brethren sat in Amphitryon's hall, and still their talk was of Heracles and his mighty deeds, of which his father had much to tell that they had never heard. For Heracles himself was very loth to speak of his own wondrous acts to his friends. Next morrow they took farewell of their host, and set forth again to seek Heracles and his army in the West, and made good speed upon the road, but for all that, he was already returning homeward when they met him, so when glad greetings had passed between the friends, the Twins told Heracles how they had come in hope to fight by his side, and asked what the feud was with King Augeas, and how it ended. And Heracles told them all the adventure, as it is set down in the tale of "The Pansy Baby." But whilst he told of the games held at the temple and tomb by the [242] ford, a new thing befell him for Zeus sent the spirit of prophecy upon him, so that he began to speak like a seer, with chanting utterance, and fixed, unseeing gaze. "Sons of Leda," he said, "I have dedicated a sanctuary yonder by the river for great Zeus, the protector both of me and you, and I purposed to return ere long to see the temple a-building. But it is revealed to me even now that my time on earth is short, and there is yet much work ordained for me to accomplish before I pass away by a fiery doom. Therefore I go not home till I have taken a far journey, and brought to the sanctuary of Zeus that which it sorely needs, for it lies in a treeless plain, and no pleasant shade defends men there from the scorching noonday sun; but I will plant it with shoots of those fairest trees which I saw once in the Land Beyond the North Wind, when I had chased through a thousand leagues of forest the Hind with the Golden Horns. And when I have done this, I must pass to those other labours that await me, and before the fourth year comes round, I shall be gone from earth. Now, I appointed the fourth year for the renewal of the Sacred Games, and since I may not hold that second festival, I charge you both, as you are true comrades to Heracles, fail not to hold it in my stead. And now, farewell."

Then, before the Twins could stay him, he [243] turned and left them, going northward with great strides, and they, sad at his words, went to their own home. There was great joy in the house of Tyndareus at their home-coming, and after that, they wandered to far lands no more, though many a brave deed and strange adventure were theirs in neighbouring countries.

Now, when the foruth year was come, and the midsummer season drew on in which Heracles had held his festival, Castor and Polydeuces went to the sanctuary by the Western river, to fulfil their friend's last charge, and beheld the temple of Zeus that Iamos the Seer had builded, and a grove of young trees about it, the like of which they had never seen. For these were the first olive trees that ever grew in the land of Greece, and Heracles had brought them as he purposed from the land beyond the North Wind. Then they asked Iamos if he had any tidings of Heracles, of whom they had long heard nothing, save confused rumours of his distant wanderings. "This very day," said the seer, "that great spirit had departed from among men. Yes, for it was shown me in a vision how he met the doom of fire, and entered by that flaming gate into everlasting bliss. Heracles had taken to wife the fair Princess Deianira, and he loved her truly, but in her folly she doubted of it, and caused him to wear a tunic which she had anointed with a [244] certain magic philtre. That philtre was the blood of Nessus the Centaur, whom Heracles shot with a poisoned arrow because he offered insult to Deianira, and Nessus gave it to her, as he lay dying, telling her that it was a potent love-charm. Thus was the centaur avenged, for the poison of the arrow was in it, even the deadly venom of the hundred-headed snake that Heracles slew of old, and dipped his shafts in its black gore. So, when Heracles put on that tunic, it clung, like eating fire, to his mighty limbs, and in agony he strove to tear it off, but could not, for the poison glued it to his flesh. Then, when he saw he must die in that torment, he commanded a great funeral pyre to be raised and kindled on the hillside, and cast himself alive into the flames. Thus, in the sight of men he seemed to perish, but I say to you, sons of Leda, that in those flames the hero ascended bodily to the halls of Zeus. Weep not for the comrade you loved, for even now Queen Hera smiles upon him, and leads him to the heavenly marriage-feast, where he shall sit enthroned by her daughter Hebe, youngest of the goddesses, whom Zeus gives him for his bride."

Then said Castor, "Let us build here another altar, and offer sacrifice to Heracles as to a god, forasmuch as he, our man of men, is henceforth numbered with the Immortals." And Polydeuces [245] said, "We will do so, yet, lest there be jealousy in heaven, let us build altars also to the Twelve Greatest Gods, save Zeus, whose altar Heracles himself has built already." This was done forthwith, and all the mightiest gods looked down with favour on that Second Festival of the Games that Heracles founded.

III

AFTER these things, a feud began between King Tyndareus and another king, who was his kinsman and neighbour, ruling a country on the western border of Laconia. This king's name was Aphareus, and he had two sons, Idas and Lynceus, youths of the same age with Castor and Polydeuces. Idas had no little renown as a warrior, and he was very fair to look upon, but Lynceus was swart and small in stature, and all his delight was in woodcraft. It was hateful to Lynceus to dwell within the four walls of a house, and he passed his days and nights in the wide forest, and lived by hunting. And he was the best of hunters, though he had neither strength nor skill in archery; never man could track the game as he did, for he had lynx-eyes, that saw through rocks and through trees, and through [246] the earth. Now, when the two kings fell to feud, their sons began to make forays over the border, and raided the cattle of their enemies; but at first King Tyndareus had the greater loss, because Lynceus could spy his herds from leagues away, and told his brother where he might surprise them. But Idas kept a herd of red cows that he set great store by, and one day Castor and Polydeuces came upon them feeding in a vale, and drove them off across the border, and the herdsmen fled to tell their lord. Then Idas rose up in great wrath, and swore that he would not rest till he had slain those Twin Brethren, and Marpessa his wife heard him. This Marpessa had great beauty, so that many princes had sought her in marriage, and even a god was among her suitors. For the golden-haired Apollo himself came to her father's house, and wooed her to be his bride, but she chose rather to wed Idas, and she said to the god, "When I am old and grey, shall I be still dear to you, who are young continually? Nay, let me wed a lover who will grow old along with me, to whose age-dimmed eyes I shall still seem fair." And Apollo bore Marpessa no malice for her choice, but was ever a friend to her, and gave her timely warning of a doom that threatened her husband. Therefore, when she heard the angry words of Idas, she besought him not to plan death for the Twin Brethren, for [247] that, she said, would prove his bane, if Apollo had told her truly. But Idas paid her no heed, and he bade Lynceus be on the watch for those two marauders continually, so that when next they came, he might lay some ambush for them.

Not many days after, Castor said to his brother, "Let us make another raid beyond the border, and see if there are not other cattle of Idas in the glens of Mount Ta˙getos." So they came by stealth to the wooded mountain, and it chanced, as they went along, that Castor caught his foot in the root of a beech, and fell, and his foot was sprained in the fall. Polydeuces tore a strip from his cloak, to bandage it, and looked for water, but there was none at hand. "I will go find a spring," he said, "and bring water in my helm to lave your foot, and ease the pain. Only, I fear lest the sons of Aphareus be abroad in these woods, and come upon you thus helpless." "Do you see yonder hollow oak?" said Castor; "that were a safe hiding-place, if I crept within it." "Well thought of," said Polydeuces, and kneeling down, he drew Castor's arms round his neck, and bore him on his back to the hollow tree. Then, placing him carefully within it, he heaped brushwood against the trunk to hide the opening, and went in search of water. But Lynceus was perched on a crag of the mountain, keeping his watch, and while Polydeuces was gone, he cast his eyes [248] towards the glen where Castor sat in the oak, and saw him through the tree-trunk as through clear crystal. Down the rocks he bounded like a wild goat, and flew to tell Idas, and they both ran to the oak with the speed of the wind. Never a word said Castor when he saw their fierce faces, knowing full well that he hour was come, but as Idas dragged him forth and plunged a dagger into his side, he cried with a great voice on his brother's name. Polydeuces heard the cry, for he was that moment returning, and with a roar like a wounded lion's, he rushed upon the sons of Aphareus. Panic fear seized them at that sudden onslaught; they turned and fled before him into the depths of the forest, yet though they had the name of the swiftest runners alive, he overtook them in a dusky hollow, where a white headstone marked a solitary grave. Beside that tomb, the resting-place of a king, their forefather, Idas and Lynceus turned to bay, and as Polydeuces poised his spear for a throw, they heaved aloft the headstone and hurled it upon him. Full on the breast it struck him, but he stood firm in his godlike strength, nor flinched from the blow, and the next instant, his spear pierced the heart of Idas, and Lynceus, in act to flee once more, fell dead on his dead brother, stricken by a thunderbolt from the blue.

For Zeus looked down with pity on the children [249] of Leda in their hour of anguish, and sent swift vengeance on Castor's murderers. So perished those two brothers, and the green grave of their forefather was their funeral pyre; there, with none to pay them the last rites, their bodies smouldered to ashes in the sulphurous flames of the thunderbolt. But Polydeuces sped back to his brother, and found him not yet dead, though already the failing breath rattled in his throat. The hot tears broke from his eyes at that sight, and with a deep groan, he said, "Do you see this, O Zeus on high? Alas, what hope, what help is left to me, most wretched! Now, King of Gods, take away my life also, for what profits it a man to live, bereft of his heart's friend?" Then straightway Zeus himself, in his own shape of majesty, stood before him, with compassionate look.

"Polydeuces," said the god, "you know not what you ask. Death has claimed Castor, because he is the son of a mortal father, but on you death has no power, for you are not the son of Tyndareus, nor of any man. I myself gave you being, and brought you for a gift to Queen Leda, a tiny babe, shut in the shell of a swan's egg. But now, since you so love him whom you called brother, that you strive to share his lot whether for good or ill, I set a choice before you. It is yours, if you so choose, to abide henceforth for ever in my [250] palace halls, where you shall find comrades meet for your warrior soul, even Athena, and Ares, Lord of War. Or, if that content you not, you may give half your birthright of immortality to Castor, and the two of you shall lead a double life, dwelling one day in the Nether World of the dead, and the next, in the golden houses of Heaven. Think well, Polydeuces, what your choice shall be."

But in the faithful heart of Polydeuces there was no thought of self. "Great Zeus," he cried, "save my Castor, and be the rest as it may." The god laid his hand on Castor's eyes, already closed in death, and they opened, bright with new life; he touched the blue gasping lips, and the rose-red flushed them once more. Castor drew a deep breath, and raising himself on one arm, he said, "Brother, I have surely slept, I thought, but it was dream, that Idas and Lynceus set upon me while you were gone."

With a cry of joy, Polydeuces flung himself into his arms, and when he looked up from that embrace, they were alone. Then he told Castor what had befallen, and how King Zeus himself had stood beside them; but Castor had seen no one save Polydeuces when his eyes opened, for they were holden from the sight of the god. Now the touch of Zeus had made him whole from head to foot, so that he rose up and walked [251] lightly at his brother's side, and they came home at the setting of the sun. But as the Twins passed into the palace, the sun went down, and they fell lifeless on the threshold, for that day was Castor's day of doom, nor could Zeus himself give him one hour of earthly life, beyond his destined span. Then there was weeping and wailing in the house of Tyndareus, and Queen Leda tore her golden hair for sorrow, beholding those pale, silent forms of her beloved sons. From ancient times, the kings of Laconia were buried in rock-hewn sepulchres on the hillside without their city, and in such a vault Tyndareus laid the Twin Brethren. And all the land mourned them many days.

At this same time, Leda's nurse, now very aged, lay in her death-bed, and when she felt her hour was come, she sent for the King and told him all she knew, and showed him the swan's feather and the broken eggshell to prove her tale. Tyndareus was filled with rage that his wife had so deceived him, and reared as his lawful heir a child who was none of his, and he burst with drawn sword into her chamber, for he had a mind to kill her.

"Basely have you dealt with me, Leda," he cried to her, "and a bitter woe has your deceit brought on my house. Yes, I well believe that the gods, to punish such falseness, have cut off [252] my only son, together with that stranger whom you dared to call his brother. Now must I go childless to my grave, but you shall not live to see it."

Pale and trembling stood Leda before the furious King, but she answered never a word. Then suddenly a great light shone round about her, and Tyndareus saw the Twin Brethren hovering in that glory above her head. "My father," said Castor, in a voice of celestial sweetness, "be not wroth with our dear mother, for all she did was commanded her by most high Zeus." And he revealed the whole truth to Tyndareus, and bade him and Leda grieve no more, because both he and Polydeuces were happy for ever.

"To you also," he said to them, "Zeus grants happiness beyond the lot of other mortals, not that your children shall reign after you, but that you shall be called the father and mother of the Heavenly Twins, the Saviours of men." When Castor had thus spoken, the glory faded away, and the radiant Brethren vanished with it.

But, ever after, just such a light would often play over masts and sails of ships in peril at sea, and immediately the tempest would cease. Sometimes, in its sudden glare, the sailors caught sight of two princely youths standing on their deck who disappeared the next instant. Often, too, men hard pressed in battle saw two strange [253] warriors fighting in their ranks, arrayed in silver armour, and riding on snow-white steeds, and they were liker each to the other than any twins that were ever seen. Before the charge of those riders, the bravest foes, although they were ten to one, broke and scattered in headlong rout, but always when the victory was won they vanished into air. At last a rumour spread (but none could say how it arose) that these workers of deliverance were the twin sons of Leda, whom the gods had taken to themselves in their youthful prime, and given them power to become saviours of men after their death, as Heracles, their comrade, was in his lifetime. And thereafter shrines were built in many cities to Castor and Polydeuces, whither many a warrior and seaman whom they had succoured in dire peril came with grateful heart to pay his vows of thanksgiving.

"Back comes the chief in triumph

Who in the hour of fight

Hath seen the Great Twin Brethren

In Harness on his right:

Safe comes the ship to haven

Through billows and through gales,

If one the Great Twin Brethren

Sit shining on the sails."


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