This is a chapter of Once Upon A Time: Children’s Stories From The Classics by Blanche Winder.
In the green glades of old Greece, where anemone and crocus grew, lived the wood nymphs, who danced in the sunlight and the moonlight upon the soft moss. They did not take much notice of human beings, but were content to laugh and play with all the strange fairy creatures that lived among the flowers.
One morning, however, as they chased each other through the trees, they came upon a beautiful youth named Narcissus, hunting with bow and arrows in the golden-green shadows of the forest. They peeped at him between the branches and whispered to each other, saying how handsome he was. Then all danced away again except one, who stood gazing, and gazing, and gazing at the tall, strong youth, longing, with all her heart, to speak to him.
But she could not do so, because she was Echo, and the only words she could pronounce were those that had just been said by somebody else!
However, she waited for her opportunity, and, when the youth suddenly called out to some distant companions, “Are you here?” Echo answered, “Here”, and came joyfully out of the bushes!
Narcissus was very much surprised, but tried to talk to her as best he could. Then, as she only repeated his own words, he called to his companions, “Come and join me!”; “Join me!”, whispered Echo, still following him through the trees. Narcissus, however, walked off the faster; and all the loving looks that Echo cast on him she cast in vain.
Every time Narcissus came into the forest to hunt, he met the pretty nymph and saw that she was daily growing paler and sadder, though she went on echoing his words as earnestly as ever. But Narcissus had never been in love in his life and had no idea how unhappy Echo was. He thought it was a foolish fancy on her part, of which she would soon be cured. And he did not even try to kiss her when she came and sat beside him on the riverbank where he was fishing, or suddenly appeared among the green laurel trees as he chased a stag.
At last, one day, Echo’s story reached the ears of Aphrodite, the most beautiful of the Shining Immortals and the queen of love among them. Aphrodite had been born out of the foam of the sea and had sailed to land on a great silver shell, with the whiteness of the ocean spray on her arms and shoulders, and the gold of sunlight in her hair.
She was always intensely interested in anyone in love; and, when she heard of Echo’s hopeless devotion, she said that the hard-hearted Narcissus should be made to know what it was like to love without return.
By this time Echo was so thin and pale that she looked like nothing but a little gossamer spirit as she followed Narcissus through the trees. But she went on loving him just the same and murmuring the last words of all his sentences. At last, she wandered away to the caves in the mountains, and there, in these hollow, lonely places, she pined away, until she became nothing but a voice, which fell sadly upon the mists of the lakes, and into the narrow valleys between the hills.
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Meanwhile, though all the other Immortals said that Echo had been rightly punished for loving a mortal, the queen of love had not forgotten her determination to make Narcissus suffer the same sort of grief; and one day, when he was hunting gaily in the forest, as usual, she set a magic spell upon him. He knew nothing of this spell, and he had quite forgotten poor Echo; his only thought at the time was how hot and thirsty the chase had made him.
Coming to a clear pool that glimmered, fresh and cool, among the tall reeds and green ferns, he knelt down, meaning to take a long drink, and also to bathe his face and hair in the pure water. As he leaned out, far over the mossy bank, he saw another face, smiling and beautiful, rise up to meet his own. The rosy lips seemed ready to kiss him; the clear blue eyes, pretty as forget-me-nots, laughed under the bright curls which shadowed them.
For a moment he gazed, delighted. Then, drawing a long breath of wonder, he raised his head a little, still looking intently at the exquisite face in the pool. The face, too, drew back; but, seen more dimly, it seemed to take on an even sweeter beauty. Stooping quickly again, he plunged his arms into the water to catch the lovely spirit who dwelt there. But his fingers only caught the wet weeds at the bottom of the pool, and, in the spray which fell about him, the face vanished.
Narcissus moved a little away from the water, and sat very still upon the bank, watching and waiting. “You beautiful being!”, he cried aloud, “Will you not come to me?”; “Beautiful being — come to me”, answered a faint voice from the mountains. But Narcissus never thought of the nymph who had once loved him; though now, indeed, he was deeply in love, himself, with the face which haunted the sparkling waters of the pool.
He waited a long time, hoping that this fairy-like creature would, perhaps, step out of the ripples, and, stealing softly up the bank, come and sit by his side upon the grass. He felt sure she must have wanted to kiss him when she put her face up to his so confidingly, with only the delicate silver veil of the water between them. But, as the minutes passed and nothing happened, he crept, very softly, back to the pool again, pushed aside the tall flowers and rushes, and once more bent over the water.
There, sure enough, was the face, looking up at him, with eyes as eager as before. With a cry of joy, he tried once more to catch her in his arms. But, again, he caught nothing save the deep weeds and the spray.
Poor Narcissus! How could he know that he was all the time looking at his own reflection and that this was the spell thrown upon him by Aphrodite? He had fallen hopelessly in love with his own beautiful face mirrored in the pool.
There were no looking glasses that showed him to himself in the way he was shown in that lovely and enchanted water. Day after day he visited it; day after day he tried to catch the fairy of the ripples. When he went in the sunshine, the face glowed bright and beautiful among the sparkling rays; when he hastened to seek it at nighttime, it smiled up through the dim silver of the moonlit water, with eyes that were like the stars. But never, never, could he clasp the fairy form in his arms! At last, he began to pine and fade just as Echo had pined and faded, with the sad hopelessness of unanswered love; and, as he stooped over the pitiless water, his tears would fall into the pool like rain.
Then the Immortals, as they floated across the sky one evening and saw him gazing, always gazing, into the pool, took pity on him, and turned him into a flower, which still hung, pale and beautiful, over the water, towards the reflection below. Narcissus, as he breathed his last breath before his lips gave out nothing but silent fragrance, whispered the one word, “Beloved!”. Echo, from her cave, replied, “Beloved!”. So that the voices mingled in tenderness at the very moment that Narcissus became a lovely blossom swaying on the bank of the water that now reflected, not a face, but a delicate, snow-white flower.