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
The Real Helen has the following chapters: 1. Teucer’s Destiny after Troy | 2. Teucer Finds the Real Helen | 3. The Truth about Helen | 4. Menelaus Finds Out about Helen | 5. Helen’s Escape Plan | 6. The Egyptian King, Befooled | 7. The Moral of the Egyptian Princess
Menelaus had not sat long beside the tomb, pondering what Helen’s plan was to be, when a train of huntsmen with their hounds descended the flowery terraces of the cliff, headed by the king. Theoclymenus was a young man of fine presence; his features resembled his sister’s, but lacked her serenity of expression; from his lowering brow it might be guessed that the day’s sport had not pleased him. At his gesture of dismissal, the train withdrew to the rear of the palace; he himself was approaching the great doorway when Helen came forth again, in such guise that Menelaus scarcely repressed a cry of dismay. Her glorious hair was cut short, her face whitened to ghastliness, and a coarse black mantle enveloped her completely.
Theoclymenus rushed to meet her, exclaiming, “Queen of my heart, what sudden woe is this? Whom do you mourn…? Not, not my sister?”
“No… my husband,” answered Helen, and forthwith burst into violent weeping.
And now good cause had Menelaus to admire a woman’s wit, as with many a sob and sigh she replied to the king’s eager questioning. Of himself, Theoclymenus fortunately took no notice, after a single glance at the alleged sailor, whose rags and squalor bore eloquent witness to the truth of Helen’s tale. Had he deigned another look, he would have seen that the castaway was in a state of extraordinary agitation. Menelaus, indeed, could hardly contain himself when the Egyptian, taking Helen’s hand, addressed her in these words—
“Believe me, oh, world’s desire, I mourn the death of so gallant a prince as report calls Menelaus; yet I scorn to conceal that this news is far from unwelcome to me, for to all my pleading, you have ever answered that while he lived, you were his alone. And trust me, no less than your peerless beauty has this constancy won my heart. But now, put away unavailing sorrow, for in me you will have a husband as royal and, I promise you, as loving, as he whom you have lost. Nay, withdraw not this lovely hand; let it rest in mine for token of our troth plight.”
“Great lord of Egypt,” said Helen, casting down her eyes, “if the hand of a faded, desolate woman seem to you worth the taking — it is yours.”
At this reply, both her hearers started violently. But Helen, as she drew back from the king’s outstretched arms, darted at Menelaus a look so expressive that he controlled his rage.
“Nay, wait,” she said, sweetly, “I have a boon to ask, my Lord.”
“Name it, fairest of women,” replied her enraptured suitor, “and take it, to the half of my kingdom.”
“Before we wed,” she continued, “I desire to pay funeral honors to Menelaus, according to the custom of our land.”
“You shall do so,” said the king, “and I, for my part, will build him the grandest monument that has ever been seen in Egypt. But what manner of funeral rites do the Greeks pay to those who are lost at sea?”
“I will tell you,” said Helen. “We have a ship fitted out as for a voyage and loaded with offerings to the departed — jewels, rich robes, golden vessels, and, for a warrior, great store of fine weapons and armor. On this the chief mourners embark and, having gone far out to sea —that nothing may be washed ashore— they cast their gifts overboard together with meat offerings and drink offerings in abundance, praying the dead to accept them with favor. This I must do for Menelaus, lest if he lie unhonored in his vast and wandering grave, his spirit haunt us and bring a curse upon our house.”
“I will have a ship made ready instantly,” said the king, “furnished with all you need, and the offerings shall be the most precious things in my treasury. Only I do not like you to go — I cannot spare you now, my own! Cannot another — cannot this sailor here do the office of chief mourner?”
“What, a man of low degree!” exclaimed Helen in a shocked tone.
“True, that would be unseemly,” said Theoclymenus. “I will go myself, then. The king of Egypt will pay the last honors to a brother king.”
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“Royally spoken,” said Helen. “But that must not be. By our Greek custom, it is I, his nearest and dearest, who must perform the last rites — and no stranger must share in them.”
“Be it as you will,” answered Theoclymenus, somewhat sulkily. “I am loth to cross you in anything at such a moment.”
So saying, he went hastily into the palace.
It was easily seen he was a master whose commands brooked no delay, so quickly the work went forward. Within two hours, a splendid fifty-oared galley lay manned and freighted by the marble jetty near the palace; her sails were set; Helen embarked, closely followed by the ragged sailor, and as the galley stood out to sea, the king watched with admiration the graceful black-robed figure leaning on the bulwarks in an attitude of profound sorrow.
“Certainly,” thought he, “I am a happy man. This grief of Helen’s for a husband she has not seen these ten years proves what a loyal wife she will make me. And it is a piece of good luck that Menelaus did not get ashore like that sailor, for it saves me the unpleasantness of having to kill him.”