This is a chapter of Evergreen Stories by W. M. L. Hutchinson. It includes the following stories: King Midas and His Strange Adventures — Alcestis, the Noble Wife — The Real Helen — Cupid and Psyche — The Vision of Er — Circe, the Island Witch — Bellerophon, the Rider of Pegasus — How Theseus Slew the Minotaur — The Story of Pheidippides — The Story of Solon, Croesus, and Cyrus
Circe, the Island Witch has the following chapters: 1. Odysseus and His Men Arrive at Aeaea | 2. Eurylochus Returns with Frightening News | 3. Odysseus Gets Help from Hermes | 4. Odysseus Confronts Circe | 5. Circe Surrenders to Odysseus | 6. How Circe Entertained Odysseus and His Men
Odysseus had made certain observations, before his lucky encounter with the stag, which he thought best to keep to himself until the next day. He then called a council of the crew and thus addressed them:
“Friends all, we must mind what we are about, for I am sorry to tell you we are not out of our troubles yet. For one thing, we have clean lost our bearings; and whereabouts we are there is no knowing. Next, this land we have made is only a small island; yesterday I climbed a peak that overlooks the whole of it, and saw nothing all around but grey sea, stretching to the horizon. I saw, too, that the isle is all forest, and town or hamlet there is none; only, in one place, a single spire of blue smoke was curling up from among the trees. That smoke comes from a house; and the next thing is to go and see who live there and find out from them what part of the world this is that we have come to.”
Now the crew no sooner heard that here was no mainland nor town, but a lonely isle with but one dwelling upon it, than they burst into sobs and tears; then cried out that this place would be the death of them, as the countries of the Cyclopes and the Laestrygons had been to their comrades; and all but Elpenor clamored to put to sea forthwith.
Odysseus heard them calmly; then he said: “While I am your captain, I will be obeyed. But if you mutiny — take the ship and sail whither you choose; as for me, I will bide here”.
And at that their hearts failed them for fear; so they grudgingly said they would do his bidding.
“That is well,” said Odysseus; “now let us divide into two companies, one to go on this service, and the other to guard the ship. Come, Eurylochus, you and I will each pick twelve men by turns; you shall lead one company, as I the other; and we two will cast lots. The one whose lot comes out first, away he goes.”
The sides were quickly chosen; then Odysseus put a red pebble, and Eurylochus a white one, into a bronze helmet held by a sailor; it was the white pebble that bounced out first as the man shook the helmet up and down. Thereupon Eurylochus and his company made off into the woods, very loath, and even weeping; and those who remained on the beach with Odysseus had tears in their eyes too, as they watched them depart. The minds of all were oppressed with gloomy forebodings; there was something uncanny about the stillness and silence of this isle, where no birds sang and not a leaf rustled in the dark woods, where even the voice of the sea sank to a whisper.
A strange, eager cry broke the stillness. The next moment Eurylochus darted out of the wood, flung himself down on the beach among his astonished comrades, and lay there, shaken with sobs. For a while he could say nothing and seemed as one struck dumb by fear; it was in vain that the sailors plied him with questions — what had happened, and where were the others? Odysseus put them aside, and in quiet, soothing tones bade Eurylochus take courage, for he was safe now and among friends. And this so steadied the man that he sat up and began to tell his tale of his own accord.
“Captain,” he said, “I and my company went right on through the woods, looking for that house you saw the smoke of; and before long we came to a clearing among the trees, and there, sure enough, stood a great house built of hewn stone, like a king’s palace. But, for my part, I smelled sorcery about the place, for, as we approached, a pack of wolves and lions came slinking around us and fawned on us as house dogs do on their master at feeding time. Still, up to the house we went and stood outside the great, shining doors — gold they were, or of bronze as bright as gold. Then we heard from within the voice of someone singing, and the tune was such as women sing at their weaving, and the voice like a woman’s voice, only more heavenly sweet than any woman’s. Then one of us — ’twas Polites, that you like best of us all — Polites said: ‘Be she woman or goddess who sings so sweetly, let us call to her.’
“So we all gave a shout: ‘Open, you within there!’ — and suddenly the doors were opened wide. A tall woman stood on the threshold smiling; she greeted us very courteously and desired us to go in and drink a cup of wine. And the rest of us went in, glad enough, but I slipped behind a bush and waited there, for my heart misgave me when I looked on that woman’s face. She shut those shining doors behind my mates, and I heard her laugh as she did so…
“With that, I knew for certain they would never come out of those doors alive. I waited and waited, but there was never a sign of them, and not a sound from within the house… And there were those tame beasts crouching around about, watching me with their yellow eyes! At last I could bear the terror no more… and what good was it to stay? Those poor lads walked into a trap, and they are past help — dead already, belike.”
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“That is what I must know,” said Odysseus; “so come on, man, and show me the way to this palace of yours.”
But Eurylochus fell on his knees and cried imploringly:
“No, no, captain, for pity’s sake, don’t make me go back to that accursed house! I tell you, some evil thing lives there — ay, this isle is haunted by devils — you will never come back if you venture into yonder woods.”
The captain’s thin lips set grimly, and a gleam came into his eyes.
“Eurylochus,” he said, “you had better stop here and have your dinner and a drink — which you seem to be in want of. And the others can stay with you to look after the ship. But I am going to see what has become of our comrades. For that, I take it, is my duty.”
So saying, he fetched from the ship a bow and quiver and a silver-hilted sword which he buckled to his belt, and, without more words, he went off at a around pace into the woods.