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
The wise princess had her will, and the king’s mood softened in spite of himself as she plied him with the delicate fare and the noble wine set before them. And then she brought him to her chamber, where the great southern moon looked in through casements opening on the sea, and paled the radiance of seven golden lamps fed with ambergris. The lofty walls were covered with row on row of bright-hued blazonry — the wars and triumphs of bygone monarchs, the incarnations as beast or bird of the strange gods of Nile, displayed in endless processions of solemn and fantastic figures.
Theonoe motioned her brother to a couch heaped with broidered pillows, seated herself near him on an ivory chair, and began to speak in low, lulling tones, slowly waving the while a fan of ibis plumes. Even thus in his childhood he had loved to hear her tell the wonder tales of ancient Egypt and the scarcely less marvellous doings of kings and heroes beyond the sea. Like one that had seen it all, she now related the story of Troy’s downfall from the beginning; how Paris, king-born but reared as a shepherd, was chosen to judge the three goddesses and gave the prize of beauty, the golden apple of Discord, to Aphrodite; how she promised him Helen, the world’s desire, whom all believed to have fled with him to Troy; the ten years’ siege, and how it ended.
The king listened enthralled and, when she ceased, he said with a deep sigh, “All this woe, then, was wrought by Aphrodite! The flower of the Greeks, the race and city of Troy, have perished by reason of the bribe she offered Paris. And of that she cheated him by a counterfeit. Can there indeed be such perfidy in celestial minds?”
“To that goddess,” replied his sister, “I render no worship, as you know; yet let us beware of rash words concerning one whose power is so great in earth and heaven. It may be, she would have given Paris the real Helen if she could; but Zeus, lord of all, who overrules in his wisdom the purposes of the other immortals, would not have it so. For you must know that Helen, though born of a mortal mother, is not as other women. She is as it were a sacred vessel, formed and set apart by divine hands to be a pattern on earth of the beauty that is heavenly. Therefore Zeus would not suffer her to come to dishonor, but in the hour of temptation she was rapt away to an abode of safety and peace — for such was this house to her while our father ruled it.”
Theoclymenus reddened at the last words and hastily said — “I should not have deserved that reproach, my sister, had you told me these things earlier. How could I know that Helen was in a manner sacred and under the special protection of Zeus?”
“It should have been enough,” said Theonoe, softly, “that you knew her to be a guest, a stranger — and defenseless. For all such are the special charge of Zeus. But I meant not to upbraid you — nay, dearest brother, I would rather crave your forgiveness for having thwarted even in duty’s cause the desire of your heart. My prayer is, our love for each other may yet bring you truer happiness than you could have known with Helen.”
“Theonoe,” exclaimed her brother, melted almost to tears, “I were a heartless, thankless fool if I did not prize such love as yours above all else on earth. But I do… and you shall see it… though I have yielded too long to blind passion; by the soul of Proteus, you shall find me a changed man from this hour. Happier with you than with Helen! Ay, truly, for now it is as though scales had fallen from my eyes, and I see that in your face which hers lacks for all its beauty. It is truth, Theonoe — the stainless truth of your soul shining forth… a light wherein a man may trust. I need but look at you to know you would die a thousand deaths rather than weave the tissue of lies Helen did today.”
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Theonoe pressed his hand and said, with her rare and lovely smile — “But those falsehoods, remember, were told to save the man she loved. And if Helen is not one to die for truth’s sake, she would die for him — yes, Theoclymenus, she has the courage to do that, and more than that, though she ever seemed compact of sweet weaknesses. Think, was it not more bitter than death to her to renounce the last hope of home — to tell Menelaus she had only pretended to be herself — and so let him leave her forever, without a word or look to still the heart — hunger of ten widowed years? And she did it; her nature rose to that height in the hour of need.
“Ah, my brother, that is what we must remember when we think of Helen. Others will know her only as the loveliest of created women — the world’s desire; her beauty and her falseness will be sung and told from age to age in other lands. But we of Egypt will preserve the memory of the real Helen; to us, she shall stand forever as the type of woman’s faithfulness, woman’s divine self-sacrifice.”