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 next morning, Venus took Psyche to the bank of a river that flowed by the end of her garden and said:
“Do you see yonder forest across the river? There are great wild sheep in it, with fleeces of shining gold, and I will have you go over the ford and fetch me some locks of their wool.” So saying, she went back to the house.
But Psyche went not to the ford, but to a deep pool of the river, that she might throw herself headlong into the water to end her sorrows. Then a green reed called to her in a sweet, singing voice, “Oh, Psyche, Psyche, I pray you not to trouble and foul my stream by your death. Yet beware you go not near those terrible wild sheep until noontide is past; for whilst the sun is in his strength, then are they most savage and dangerous, and will kill whoever approaches them with their sharp horns and deadly teeth. But when the fierce midday heat is over, their fury abates, and they come down to cool themselves in the river. So, till they have come and gone, do you hide by me and my sisters under the shade of this great plane tree; and then you may gather the tufts of their golden fleeces that they leave on the briars and thorn bushes by the waterside.”
Then Psyche thanked the gentle, kindly reed, and gladly followed her counsel. And when she had filled the lap of her gown with the golden wool she found hanging on the bushes, she carried it to Venus, not without hope that by this dangerous service she might have won her pardon. But the goddess seemed as ill-pleased that Psyche had performed this second task as when the first task was done; she laughed sourly and said:
“I know well enough that you did not get this wool yourself. However, tomorrow I will prove whether you are as wondrous brave and clever as you pretend.”
And the next day she took Psyche to a window that gave a wide view of open country and said:
“Do you see yonder steep, rocky hill, with a fall of black water rushing down from the top of it? That is the deadly water of Styx, which feeds the rivers of hell. Now take this crystal bottle, and fetch me some of that water. Go quickly, I say — and be sure, if you fail in this, there are rare torments in store for you.”
Away went poor Psyche and climbed the hill, though rather with intent to kill herself there than to fetch any water. And when she got to the top, she knew that task was hopeless. For she saw a great rock, out of which gushed a cataract that went leaping down from ledge to ledge into a ravine far below. And on either side of the torrent she saw huge dragons —the sleepless warders of the fount of Styx— stretching out their long, gory necks towards her; and the roaring water itself seemed to utter a hoarse voice, saying:
“Away, away, what wilt thou do? Fly, fly, or else thou wilt be slain!”
But Psyche could neither move, nor think, nor so much as shed a tear, she was so benumbed with terror; there she stood, rigid, as if she had been turned into stone.
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And now indeed it seemed that she was to perish on that desolate mountain, far from any succor. But the royal bird of great Jupiter, the eagle, saw her from the god’s heavenly house and swooped down to her on his mighty wings. A grand sight he was as he perched on a rock beside her, his brown, glossy plumage glinting in the sun; though he looked fierce enough, Psyche had no fear of him, but was comforted to see that he was between her and the dragons.
“Oh, most simple and ignorant of maidens,” he said, speaking gruffly, as is the way of eagles, “do you think you can get a single drop of this terrible stream, which the gods themselves cannot look upon without fear and trembling? What, have you never heard that whereas mortals swear their solemn oaths by the gods, gods are wont to swear by the awful sanctity of the Styx — and that oath they dare not break? But give me your bottle.”
And suddenly taking it from her hand, the eagle flew past the dragons and filled it, and brought it back to Psyche in the twinkling of an eye.
“No words,” he said, as she began to thank him. “Sit yourself on my back, put your arm around my neck, and I will carry you down from the mountain. Come, you need not be afraid; I will carry you as safely as I once did Ganymede — but I daresay you never heard of him, for you seem to know nothing at all.”
Then gladly Psyche obeyed, and all in a moment, as it seemed to her, she was wafted gently down to the house of Venus, and the eagle soared up into the clouds out of her sight.