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
For three days Psyche journeyed on, footsore and weary; then she came to a stately palace near the sea. It was built of white marble, and all around it were apple orchards full of fruit and gardens full of roses and myrtle. Sparrows were twittering under the eaves of the roof; and flocks of white doves, perched on ledges and cornices, made the air musical with their cooing. Psyche saw two hawks wheeling overhead, and dreaded to see them swoop upon doves; but to her great wonder, the doves still cooed serenely, the sparrows flew fearlessly down from their nests and hopped about the lawns, and the birds of prey sailed on. And by this token she knew she had come to the house of Venus, for the sparrow and the dove were the chosen favorites and pensioners of the love goddess. Doves drew her silver car whenever she went abroad in state, and the bold, merry sparrows cheeped and twittered as they followed in her train.
As Psyche approached the palace door, the portress, whose name was Custom, came out to meet her and cried with a loud voice:
“Oh ho, so you have come at last, you trollop — and high time, too! Nay, never look so innocent, as though you did not know well enough what a hue and cry there has been after you. Come along, come along, your mistress is waiting for you — and I promise you, you shall learn what slavery means. Ha, ha, she will make your life a torment!”
And seizing Psyche by the hair, she dragged her into the presence of Venus.
When Venus, who was lying on a golden couch heaped with fresh rose leaves, saw poor Psyche stand trembling before her, all dusty and travel-stained and with disheveled hair, she laughed aloud. But it was cruel laughter, that had more anger than mirth in it; and as angry women do, she tossed her head and pulled at her earrings while she laughed. Then said she:
“Oh, goddess, fair goddess, so you have deigned at last to visit your mother-in-law — or should I rather say, you have come to see your husband, who lies at death’s door from the wound you gave him? Be sure, in either case, I will treat you like a daughter… Ho, where are my handmaids, Sorrow and Sadness?”
Instantly those handmaids came forward, dark-robed and stern-visaged; Venus bade them take Psyche out of the chamber and scourge her with myrtle rods, and bring her back again. And when that was done, the goddess laughed louder than before and assailed Psyche with many a bitter taunt and gibe. Then she took her to a room empty of furniture, where a great heap of grains of wheat, barleycorns, poppy seeds, peas, lentils, and beans lay mixed together on the floor; and looking disdainfully at her, “You are such an ugly wench,” she said, “that your lover can only have chosen you because you seemed a hardworking servant. So now I will see what you can do. You shall sort out all the grains and seeds in this pile and make a separate heap of each kind — and mind you finish the task before night.”
Then, having shut Psyche up in the room, Venus went off to a great banquet that the gods were holding that day. But Psyche did not set about that task, for she saw it was impossible; she sat down on the floor in a corner and remained there motionless and silent, too dazed with wretchedness even to cry. But helpers were at hand that neither she nor her harsh taskmistress could have dreamed of.
A busy little ant on her travels had overheard all that passed between Venus and her prisoner, and the tiny creature pitied Psyche and cursed the cruelty of the goddess. Forthwith she ran hither and thither and called to her all the ants in the countryside, saying, “Oh, friends, nimble children of Earth the All-Mother, I pray you come and rescue this poor maiden who is married to Cupid, for she is in danger of death from her cruel mother-in-law. Come, let us all go quickly to her aid.”
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And presently, as Psyche sat staring dully at the heap in front of her, behold, it began to stir as though alive, and little brown streams seemed running from it in all directions, until it had melted away. Psyche thought she must be dreaming; she rubbed her eyes and looked again. Yes, the big heap was gone — but around the room lay six smaller heaps, one all wheat, one all barley, and so on, for a whole army of ants had crept in under the door and set to work sorting out the different kinds of grains and seeds; having done which, they ran away again as fast as they could.
At nightfall, Venus returned home from the banquet merry with wine, crowned with roses and smelling of spikenard; and in this guise she came to see what Psyche had been doing. When she saw that the task was done, she was astonished, but all she said was: “This is not your work, girl, but your lover’s.”
Then she threw Psyche a small piece of brown bread and went away to sleep. And much she wondered how Cupid could have contrived to help Psyche, for, after clipping his wings as she threatened, she had shut him up in the strongest room of her palace. So there were these two lovers under the same roof, but divided from each other by bolts and bars.