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
Scarcely had Teucer made good his retreat from the Egyptian king’s palace, when the great bronze doors swung open, and a small group of persons advanced in procession to the tomb before the chapel. First came four small negro boys, carrying on their heads baskets of woven reeds, heaped with blue lotus flowers.
Next walked a tall, majestic woman, robed in pure white and wearing a jeweled diadem of strange device on her blue-black hair. On either hand, a dusky, gaily-clad girl held up a fan of gilded palm leaf to shade her from the sun; behind her stalked two gigantic negroes armed with broad-headed spears and round targes covered with leopard skin, their heavy silver collars and armlets clanking as they moved.
Arrived at the tomb, the four boys kneeled and presented their baskets to their mistress, who scattered the lotus blooms upon it, murmuring some sort of litany.
This done, she approached the door of the chapel and, in a grave, sweet voice —
“Good morrow, Helen,” she called. “Why are you hiding there?”
The lady with whom Teucer had spoken glided forth.
“Ah, princess,” she exclaimed, “I have been terribly frightened. Teucer, son of Telamon, has been here — he knew me at once, and vowed he would kill me, the savage!”
The Egyptian princess heard this without the least sign of surprise, and calmly answered, “But you convinced him, it seems, that you were not Helen.”
“Yes,” said the other, in some confusion, “it was the only way to save myself. But do not be angry with me, Theonoe — I was so terrified that to get rid of him I pretended that your brother… kills all Greeks at sight. I begged him to leave the island instantly and I trust he has, for he only landed, he said, to ask his way to Cyprus, where Apollo has bidden him found a city.”
“And did not Teucer,” said Theonoe, smiling subtly, “give you strange news — from Troy?”
“Ah!” cried Helen, in awestruck tones. “I see it is true what they say, that you know more than other mortals. You knew Troy has fallen — you knew the incredible, bewildering thing that has happened. And you told me nothing. Oh, Theonoe, how could you be so unkind?”
“I had nothing to tell you,” said the Egyptian, “that was not better hidden from you — until this day.”
“But now you will tell me more,” pleaded Helen. “Oh, you must — I must know who and what that woman is that cheat, that counterfeit whom even my own husband takes for me.” And then, bursting into tears, “What have I done,” she cried, passionately, “that the gods make such cruel sport of me? Hated of all men — my name, a byword — my beauty, a reproach — and I all the while guiltless as an unborn babe — and eating my heart among strangers.”
“Do not weep,” said Theonoe, gently. “All may yet come right. Let us go in, for the sun grows hot, and we will talk together at leisure.”
So saying, she led Helen into the palace. And while they rested on alabaster couches in the cool, rose-scented twilight of Theonoe’s chamber, she began to speak as follows:
“It is a year today, fair Helen, since King Proteus, my beloved father, passed into the world of souls; and as I stood just now beside his tomb, I renewed the promise I gave him in his last hour. And that was, to guard and cherish the lovely guest Zeus sent to his keeping nine years before. Therefore, dearly as I love my brother, I have thwarted his desire to wed you against your will; and trust me, though he is rash and headstrong, you have nothing to fear from him while I stand your friend. So, though it pleases you to fancy you are only safe within my father’s shrine yonder, it is needless to haunt it as you do.”
Theonoe paused, regarding Helen with a half-tender, half-mocking smile; but seeing her flush and pout like a spoiled child, stroked her arm caressingly and went on: “As you have heard, it is indeed granted me to see at times beyond the veil that hides things to come, and read a little in the scroll of fate. And I am about to speak to you freely, because the lifters of the veil have shown me that the hour whereon hangs your destiny is close at hand.”
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“May it be my last,” exclaimed Helen, weeping afresh, “if the gods have no pity left for a hapless innocent.”
“Innocent,” repeated the Egyptian. “Are you so sure of that, Queen Helen? Nay, be not offended; remember, since you talk of the gods, that they judge not as men judge, by the outward act, but search the thoughts and intents of the heart. Before claiming innocence in their sight, ask yourself this — did you not lend willing ear to Paris when he made passionate love to you?”
A lovely blush glowed on Helen’s cheek. “I may have listened,” she faltered, “but I told him I never would… consent.”
“And yet,” persisted the questioner, “when you stole out before daybreak to meet him in your garden of roses, you knew all was prepared for your flight together that same hour?”
“But I never meant to go with him,” cried Helen. “I went only to bid him farewell — and send him away. And — ah, Theonoe, do you know this too? It was not Paris who met me. It was a stranger, a shepherd lad he came on me unawares, and caught me in his arms. I swooned with terror, and knew nothing more till I found myself… here.”
“It was the divine shepherd, Hermes,” said Theonoe, “the herald and messenger of Zeus, who sent him to your rescue in that hour of temptation… Swiftly, as gods can, he bore you across the sea and gave you, still tranced, into my father’s keeping, and told him the will of Zeus concerning you. How King Proteus fulfilled that trust, you can bear witness.”
“Indeed, yes,” replied Helen, warmly, “in him I too lost a father — the kindest, the most revered. ‘My child,’ he used to say, ‘let us be patient and have hope in the gods. Surely the day will come when they will reveal the truth to your husband, and he will speed hither to claim you.’ But alas, alas, that can never be, now.”
“I would not say that,” said the princess, quietly.
“Why not? What hope have I left now?” cried Helen impatiently. “When we heard the Greeks were besieging Troy, I asked you why the Trojans did not tell them I had never gone there — but you only smiled and said time would show. So I thought no doubt Menelaus has refused to believe the Trojans, but when the city falls, he will find they spoke truly. But now it has fallen — and he is deluded by some wicked witch, as it seems the Trojans have been. Is it not so, Theonoe? Is not the creature one of those baleful sorceresses that can take what shape they will?”
“Nay,” said the princess, “it is not by enchantment, but of her own nature, that she wears your likeness. For soul makes the body, Helen, and she is your soul’s double part of your own self.”
“Part of myself!” exclaimed Helen, amazedly. “What can you mean? What part?”
“The part that listened to Paris,” replied Theonoe, “even while something else in you revolted from the thought of betraying your husband… You do not understand; but listen, and I will make this plain… Not your soul only but every human soul has a shadowy double, which we Egyptians call the Ka. The soul alone is immortal, being of one substance with the gods; yet the Ka dies not with the body, and while the body lives it has power to quit it and wander at will. It is the Ka we see when in dreams or waking visions the forms of the living or the dead appear to us. Earthly passions and desires belong to the Ka; the immortal soul knows them not yet oftentimes it is vanquished and led astray by its mortal yoke fellow, which it ought to govern and subdue. And for this, oh, Helen, the soul must render account when it stands at last before its judges.”
The Egyptian uttered these words in a low and solemn voice and remained silent, gazing dreamily before her. Not for the first time, Helen felt over-awed and chilled by her presence.
“I see, now, Theonoe,” she said, humbly, “Zeus sent me here to save me from my other self. And that went with Paris to Troy… But how could a wraith, a shadow, be taken for a woman of flesh and blood — even by her husband?”
“With the gods all things are possible,” answered Theonoe.
“Then, will Menelaus never find her out?” cried Helen, despairingly; “never seek for me, because he is happy with this evil thing?”
“Not evil, but of the earth earthy,” said the princess; “only the soul can be either good or evil, since it alone can choose to do right or wrong. The Ka cannot choose; it must follow pleasure blindly, like the beasts that perish.”
At this moment, the noontide hush that reigned over the palace was broken by a sound of voices raised in loud and angry dispute. The clang of brazen doors shut with violence followed; then all was still again. Theonoe clapped her hands, and as a slavegirl glided into the room — “How now, Iras,” she said, “what means this unseemly clamor in the house?”
“Gracious mistress,” said the girl, “here has been a crazy beggarman at the door, demanding to see our lord the king and saying he is a king himself — one Menelaus of Sparta. Seeing he was some madman, the doorkeepers did him no hurt, but thrust him out without more ado.”
“Menelaus!” shrieked Helen, springing from her couch. “Can it be true, Theonoe?”
“Leave us, Iras,” said the princess, calmly arising; and as the girl obeyed, she took her trembling guest by the hand and gently kissed her cheek. “Fear not, Queen,” she said; “now show the courage I know you have, for the hour is come and the man. Trust to your own quick wits for guidance — think how you foiled Teucer — well, now you have to foil my brother. For, Helen, though he does not kill all Greek visitors” -with a fleeting smile- “there is one here now whom he might — in his jealous fury. I will take care the servants tell him nothing; and do you go quickly to your husband and devise means of escape together. For I must have no hand in that —unless there is desperate need—, but then I shall not fail you. Go, now, and keep a brave heart. You will find Menelaus by the chapel, and you had best stay there so that he can take sanctuary if in danger.”