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
Not knowing in what part of the wide world to seek his fortune, Teucer resolved to ask counsel of Apollo’s famous oracle at Delphi. So he sailed first to the port of Cirrha, whence he traveled on foot to the high mountain glen of Delphi and entered the holy temple. When he had duly sacrificed, he made known his request; and the priestess, speaking by inspiration of Apollo, bade him found a city in the far island of Cyprus and name it Salamis after his old home. There, she said, he should dwell prosperously all his days and see his children’s children, who should reign as kings after him.
Many weeks did Teucer sail the Midland Sea on that quest, and touched at many an island, but none of them proved to be Cyprus. At last, the wanderers sighted at dawn the white gleaming cliffs of a small isle and a long coastline behind it, misty and low-lying. So much as they could see of the isle appeared desert, but as they needed fresh water they put into a cove among the cliffs where a brook ran down to the sea. And while the crews were filling the waterskins and cooking a meal on the beach, Teucer went to see if any folk dwelt inland, from whom he might ask his bearings.
A path led up from the cove to the top of the isle, which was flat as a table, partly wooded and partly open down. No sign of habitation could Teucer spy until he had crossed this plateau and looked down on the landward shore. But there, to his wonder, stood a great mansion of dark red stone, with courts and colonnades, built so massively that it seemed the work of giants. The face of the cliff above it was cut into terraces which were ablaze with strange flowers, and a broad stairway wound from terrace to terrace. Down this he hastened well pleased, trusting to find hospitality in so stately a house and learn his course for Cyprus.
Then he saw that the front of the house was a blank wall, with no openings but a central doorway of great height, and the carved bronze doors were shut. This looked unpromising; he began to wonder if the place was a temple, or a fortress, though what either could be doing in this apparently desert isle he could not imagine. And then he saw on his left a small chapel of black marble, and a low, flat-topped tomb of the same stone in front of it; and beside the tomb stood a woman very richly dressed and adorned.
“Lady,” said Teucer, “of your courtesy tell me the name of this place and who is lord of so royal a dwelling.”
But scarce had he spoken this when, looking at her more narrowly — “Gods above,” he cried, “what do I see? Are you— can you be— Helen? Nay, nay,” he muttered, “I must be dreaming. How could the accursed wretch come here? And yet— so like— so like! Now by my brother’s soul, if it is Helen, I will kill her on the spot.”
And his hand moved to his sword hilt. But the lady looked him full in the face, drawing herself up with the air of an insulted queen.
“Stranger,” she said, haughtily, “I know not of whom you speak, and I desire I may hear no more of such language.”
“Your pardon, Lady,” said Teucer, abashed by her look and manner, “I took you for one whom every Greek holds in utter loathing — a golden-haired fiend for whose wicked sake hundreds of brave men have fallen and hundreds of homes been made desolate. I was wrong —of course— but you would forgive me if you knew what an extraordinary resemblance——”
“Say no more of that,” said the lady, hastily, “but tell me who you are, and what brings you here.”
Then Teucer told her his name and story; and when he spoke of Troy she said, “I have heard how the Greeks laid siege to that city to win back his wife for king Menelaus. Some say it will never be taken, so long and gallantly have the Trojans defended it.”
“They say false, then,” said Teucer; “it was taken the night before I sailed thence, and burned to the ground — for we had sworn not to leave one stone upon another.”
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“Troy is taken?” exclaimed the lady. “Then Menelaus knows… I mean… surely you heard… what befell his wife.”
“Nay, I saw it with my own eyes,” replied Teucer. “Menelaus, the fond fool, would not kill her, for all our urging him to do justice on the adulteress, but took her on board his ship and made as much of her as ever. And if they weathered the great storm coming home, by this time she is once more queening it in Sparta.”
“She,” gasped the lady. “But— but— this false Helen——”
“Well may you say false,” said Teucer; “but when you say Helen, you give her a worse name still — ay, one that shall stand for infamy to the world’s end. But what ails you, noble dame? You look of a sudden as white as death.”
“It will pass,” she answered, faintly; “your story has brought back my own misfortunes — that is all. I, too, have known exile — and loss of loved ones.”
Tears brimmed her great grey eyes as she spoke, and she looked at the young man with a wistful smile that went straight to his heart.
“If I could serve you in any way——” he began.
“Ah, but you cannot!” she cried. “You must leave me instantly — selfish that I am, I was forgetting the danger you are in. Know that the land you see yonder is Egypt, and this is the summer palace of the king, who has such a mortal hatred of your race that he puts to death every Greek that sets foot in his country. He has gone hunting this morning — but any moment some of his people may spy you from the house. Go, go quickly, I entreat you — and take heed you do not fall in with him on your way. Hasten aboard your ship and may the gods bring you to your desired haven. Farewell, farewell!”
And before Teucer could utter a word, she had disappeared into the chapel. He saw nothing for it but to do as she had bidden him.
“That was a strange encounter,” he thought, as he cautiously retraced his steps across the isle, “and why that noble and virtuous lady —for such I dare swear she is— should be the living image of the vile traitress Helen, is a mystery the gods alone can unriddle. But one thing is clear — this isle is a good place to be leaving.”
And here our story bids farewell to the good Teucer. Yet it may be told that when he had safely rejoined his comrades, they sailed with a fair wind to a spacious island haven, where Phoenician merchant ships were lying at anchor, and learned from the dark-skinned crews that this was Cyprus at last. There the exiles built a new Salamis and took wives from among the island folk; their colony flourished according to Apollo’s promise, and the descendants of Teucer reigned as kings of Cyprus for many generations.