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 amazing sequel to the visit of the old man called Silenus was quickly bruited in the city, and the most incredulous now agreed that the king had suffered some powerful enchantment. But a rumor soon prevailed, to the great indignation of the chief butler, that he and his fellow servants had been likewise under some kind of spell or glamour when they saw, as they declared, the king’s food and drink turning to gold at his touch, so that he could swallow neither bite nor sup.
For certain traders who had been early at the palace testified that they had found the king eating and drinking at his ease; and so far from everything he handled turning into gold, they had noticed with surprise that there were none but silver vessels on his table.
The chief butler lost no time in seeking his former entertainers at their favorite tavern. They greeted him warmly, and the tavern keeper hastened to fill his cup.
“Now, sirs,” said he, “we shall hear the truth about this strange matter. It is my turn today, with your leave, to play host to our friend from the palace.”
The chief butler, flattered, bowed graciously to the company as he took his seat. But he looked even graver than usual and sipped his wine in silence.
“This Silenus of yours,” began a townsman presently, “is certainly some great wizard, such as travelers in the Eastern lands tell of, who can bewitch the eyesight of multitudes and make them see things as they are not.”
“There it is, now,” said the chief butler, peevishly. “You are all so wondrous wise in this city that you must find a reason for everything. Eyewitnesses tell you of a miracle, and you cry there was none — ’twas mere delusion of our senses. It was not real gold that he saw, all but choking our master. No, and this is not my nose, either. But come, your reason, I pray you.”
“For one thing,” said a religious-minded townsman, “if what the king touched really became gold, it was, as you say, a miracle. But miracles are wrought by the gods alone. Great Zeus, when he loved a Greek king’s daughter, rained golden rain upon her bed, and himself descended in that shower. And he snowed golden snow upon the island of Rhodes to reward the folk of it for being the first of all men to sacrifice to his newborn daughter, Pallas Athene; which was the beginning of their famous wealth. But you will not tell us, I suppose, that yon fat, drunken, old Silenus is a god. It remains, then, that he is a wizard.”
“Maybe, maybe,” said the chief butler, “but had you heard him sing, as I did, you would have thought him liker a god than a man.”
“The point is this,” said another townsman. “By your way of it, the king was suddenly endowed, last night, with a miraculous power. Today, as all accounts agree, he has no such power and is in all respects his usual self. What can we conclude, but that he and his household labored under some enchantment, which has passed off as enchantments do?”
“Well said, neighbor,” put in a third townsman, “but you might add another point. We all know the king’s master passion — if he had such a power but for a single day, he would have turned the very stones of his palace into gold then and there.”
“Very true,” said a fourth townsman; “but so far from anything of the kind, I hear that his table equipage this morning was of mere silver. Why so, master butler, if indeed he turned table, dishes, supper and all, into pure gold overnight?”
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“Fairy gold, my son,” chirped an aged townsman, ’twas fairy gold, such as old wives tell of in their tales; it turns to withered leaves when the glamour passes.”
The chief butler heaved an impatient sigh. Useless to tell these thick-witted citizens that the king had suddenly taken a violent dislike to the sight of gold in any shape. They would not understand — and he only vaguely understood himself. Impossible to tell them his excellent reason for knowing that the things the king had turned to gold were gold still. He, in his great discretion, had cleared the hall of them with his own hands — and had quickly seen that his master desired to hear no more of them. Fairy gold and withered leaves, forsooth! The great locked chest that held his private possessions could tell a different tale. But he dared not hint at that… He remained silent for a space.
“My friends,” he said at last, “I speak as a plain man, who professes not to unravel mysteries. But in my poor thought, the stranger who called himself Silenus is none of your Eastern wizards and warlocks. Believe or not, as you choose, that the affair of last night was glamour of his working; I could prove the gold was true gold, only I must not. But take this from me: the magic of Silenus changes not things alone — it changes the hearts of men. And that will be seen, mark me, in our lord the king.”
And before anyone could question him further, the chief butler arose and departed.