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 hush of burning noon had fallen like a spell over the Valley of Roses. The grasshoppers were silent in the long grass; the brown lizards basked motionless on sun-scorched patches of rock; even the bees were asleep, cradled each in the heart of a dreaming flower. Not a leaf stirred in the bronze-green towers of shade that beech and walnut reared, singly or in groups, on the lower slopes; above, on the sheer hillsides, the serried ranks of stone pines had the luster and the rigidity of burnished metalwork. The air, aquiver with heat, seemed curling in bluish, filmy wreaths about the pine stems, as if the trees sent forth visibly their pungent incense; and ever and again warm gusts of that heady aroma swept the valley, overpowering the sweeter breath of its leagues of bloom. From end to end, the levels of the long, narrow glen were incarnadined with the triumph of one flower — Aphrodite’s own.
Roses in millions, and with scarce a leaf between, sheeted the lawns and brimmed the hollows; and all were of the color that in every tongue is named from their name — “celestial rosy red, Love’s proper hue.” From their riotous and tangled growth in that lonely place, it was to be guessed that they were not of man’s planting or tendance; yet they were not like any other wild roses, but many-petalled, and fragrant beyond all blossoms that art has made sweetest. Here, truly, was the Reign of the Rose, a sight to make glad the heart of man or god — if there were any to see.
It seemed there was no one. There was no trace of human habitation in the valley, nor on the hills that rose steeply around it, their sides dark with forest, their naked peaks glittering against a sapphire heaven. There was no sign of life or movement — and only one sound broke the enchanted stillness of the place. A low, droning sound, that rose and fell rhythmically; not unmelodious, and somehow in keeping with the hour and scene — the sound of tranquil snoring. Someone or something — man or beast, was sleeping away the hot noontide of that midsummer day, hidden among the rose thickets. The sun was sloping westward, and a cool breeze from the heights came whispering among the pine trees and still that sound went on. But now it mingled with other sounds — the voices of men talking excitedly at the lower end of the valley, where two converging rocks, overgrown with mosses and ivy, made a natural archway.
“There has been a trespasser here!” exclaimed one voice. “Look how the grass is trodden down yonder, within the gateway.”
“Ay, so ’tis,” answered another. “Saw one ever the like of that, now? But it will have been some beast — a stag, maybe, or a wild boar.”
“You are a fool,” replied the first voice. “Who knows not that never a beast on all the hills dare set foot in the Garden of King Midas? They do say” —here the voice sank lower— “’tis because he is a son of the Mountain Mother — she that rides through our forests o’ nights, with lions drawing her car.”
“And you that are so wise,” retorted the other, “can you tell what should take a man in yonder, where it is death to trespass?”
“That is what we must find out,” cried the first speaker; “so come on, child of a tortoise.”
The two shepherds —for such they were who now advanced into the valley— had followed but a little way the track of the intruder, when that persistent and musical snoring signaled them to his lair. Pushing aside the tangled rose branches, they looked down on a man lying asleep. An old man, fat and paunchy, but strongly built. He lay sprawling, his bald and massive head, on which a garland of ivy sat askew, pillowed on a small, empty wineskin; his only garment was a tunic of undressed deer hide. At their loud halloo, he awoke and sat up, regarding them with pale and red-rimmed eyes that blinked in the sunshine. There was in his countenance an extraordinary mingling of wisdom, lewdness, and good humor. But the shepherds noticed only that he was exceedingly drunk. They threw themselves upon him and bound him, unresisting, with sprays they tore from the rose bushes, laughing the while at his bewildered air. The old man gave a sudden chuckle, and in a hiccuping voice — “Ho, ho!” he said. “It seems I am your prisoner, my fine fellows. And who may you be? If you are robbers, you waste time on me… a poor old man, with nothing left… not even a drop of wine in his traveling bottle.”
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“We be shepherds of King Midas,” replied one of his captors, “and we shall take you straightway to our lord, to answer for your trespass on his Rose Garden.”
“Why, very well said,” returned the old man, chuckling again; “I will be glad to see your lord. In my present case, I shall most likely see two of him. What did you say his name was, my friend?”
“His name is Midas,” said the shepherd, reverently. “All the world knows it and honors it.”
“Mine is not so famous,” said the old man; “but it will be heard of — it will be heard of.”
“What may it be?” asked the shepherd.
“I am called Silenus,” said the old man, and his fat sides shook with laughter, so that the shepherds laughed also, without knowing why.
And then they marched their prisoner, who lumbered unsteadily along in his flowery bonds, out of the Valley of Roses, and down through the plains to the city where King Midas’s palace was.