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 — Odysseus in the Land of Shadows — Heracles and the Poisoned Robe | The Story of Pheidippides — The Story of Solon, Croesus, and Cyrus
King Midas and His Strange Adventures has the following chapters: 1. King Midas’s Unexpected Guest | 2. King Midas Meets Silenus | 3. King Midas Charmed by Silenus | 4. King Midas Receives His Famous Reward from Bacchus | 5. King Midas Tastes His Prize | 6. King Midas’s Dream | 7. King Midas’s Butler’s Conjectures | 8. King Midas’s Disdain for Gold | 9. King Midas’s Judgment | 10. King Midas’s Asses’ Ears | 11. King Midas’s Butler’s Secret
But after that day, the chief butler kept away from the tavern and shunned even greetings in the marketplace when he went there, which was as seldom as he could. His fellow servants remarked that, from the most talkative and sociable of men, he had suddenly become the most silent and morose.
The truth was, the unfortunate man was bursting with a secret which he could only keep to himself by doing cruel violence to his natural instincts. A born blabber, no woman could revel more than he in the luxury of repeating a confidence. With him, to be told a secret, no matter how important or how trivial, was to know no rest until he had betrayed it to at least half a dozen people.
These betrayals were quite aimless, and, in a sense, involuntary; secrets might be said to dribble out of the man like water out of a leaky pitcher. And this foible of the chief butler’s having become notorious, the only confidences made to him for some time past had been, as even he felt, too paltry to be worth retailing.
But now, here was he possessed of a tremendous, an astounding, secret — and he dared not breathe a word of it. No, though his whole being craved for the relief of telling it to somebody —to anybody— he simply dared not; visions of what would happen to him if he did made his blood run cold.
“If I once let slip this thing,” he thought, “it will spread like wildfire; it will come to the king’s ears — pshaw! — How came that word in? — And then I am a lost man, for he will know that none but I could have betrayed him.”
The chief butler was thus in pitiable case. His secret so burned within him that at times he felt a mad desire to shout it aloud in the streets of the city. It obsessed him; he began to feel himself hag-ridden. Impossible to drive it from his mind while he saw — what he had to see every day. After his last visit to the tavern, he grew afraid of talking to anybody; so nearly had he then yielded to the force of old habit, and let his fatal knowledge escape him.
Ah, what a temptation it had been to stop the chatter of those ignorant blockheads and set them gaping with astonishment! One sentence would have done it — one little sentence of five short words. He could hear himself saying those words; soon, the sound of them rang perpetually through his dreams, and he would wake in terror, believing that he had really uttered them. And day he went about with a dreadful sense that they were on the tip of his tongue — at any moment he might simply not be able to keep them back…
At last, he could bear it no longer. In the dead of night, he stole out of the palace and went to a lonely part of the river bank. There, in the darkness, he threw himself down among a bed of reeds and, pressing his lips to the moist ground, whispered those haunting words. Then he scraped a handful of mud over the spot and rose up with a sigh of relief.
“I am rid of it now,” he muttered, “and the king’s secret is in safer keeping than mine… Dead earth can tell no tales…”
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But even as he spoke, a sound beside him made the chief butler start and pause. He tried to think it was only the rustling of the reeds, swaying in the night wind… What else could make that odd sound, as of people talking in whispers…? Only the whispering of the reeds… But it seemed they had human voices. Oh, gods! What was this they were saying?
In a frenzy of terror, the hapless chief butler plunged into the river and sank like a stone. And the reeds, swaying in the night wind, went on whispering together — “King Midas has asses’ ears.”