This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
Scarcely had Teucer made good his retreat from the king of Egypt’s palace when its tall doors were flung open, and there issued forth a group of persons who advanced slowly and silently to the tomb before the chapel. First came four small negro boys, bearing on their heads flat baskets heaped with lotus flowers; next walked a woman of regal aspect, robed in pure white and having a jeweled diadem of strange device on her blue-black hair. On either side of her, a dusky, gaily-clad girl held up a fan of gilded palm leaf to shade her from the sun; and behind her stalked two gigantic negroes armed with broad-headed javelins and round targes of leopard skin, their heavy silver collars and armlets clanking as they moved. Halting beside the tomb, the four boys kneeled and presented their baskets to their mistress, who scattered the blue lotus blooms upon it, murmuring the while some rhythmic prayer or invocation.
This done, she approached the door of the chapel and called in grave, musical tones, “Good morrow, Helen. Why do you hide within there?”
The lady with whom Teucer had spoken stole timidly forth. “Oh, Theonoe,” she exclaimed, “I have been so affrighted! Teucer, son of Telamon, has been here — he is but this moment gone. He knew me at once and was ready to murder me then and there. Dear princess, conceive my terror!”
The princess Theonoe heard this without the least sign of surprise and tranquilly replied, “But you convinced him, doubtless, that you were not Helen?”
“Yes,” said the other in some confusion, “at least — he seemed to think I could not be. But as we talked, I almost betrayed myself, and to get rid of him I had to pretend that your brother — kills all Greek strangers. I begged him to depart instantly from the island, and I trust he has, for he only landed, he said, to learn his course for Cyprus, where Apollo had bidden him found a city.”
“And did not Teucer,” asked the princess, smiling subtly, “give you strange news — from Troy?”
“Ah,” exclaimed Helen in a tone of awe, “I see it is true what they say, that you know more than other mortals. You knew Troy was taken, you knew the incredible thing that has befallen, by that mysterious power you have from the gods. And you told me nothing! Was that kind, Theonoe?”
“I had nothing to tell you,” replied the Egyptian, “that was not better kept from your knowledge — until today.”
“But now you will tell me more?” cried Helen eagerly. “Oh, you must; I must know who and what this woman is — this counterfeit whom all, even my husband, take for me.”
Tears brimmed her great, grey eyes as she spoke, and with a sob she added, “What have I done, Theonoe, that the gods make such cruel sport of me? Hated in Hellas — my name a byword — my beauty a reproach — and I all the while eating my heart in a strange land, guiltless of the evil they lay to my charge as the babe unborn.”
“Do not weep,” said Theonoe gently, “all may yet be well. Come, return with me to the house, for the sun grows hot, and we will talk of all this at leisure.”
So saying, she led Helen within the palace; and while they reclined on couches of alabaster in the cool, rose-scented twilight of a pillared hall, the princess 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 even now beside his tomb, I renewed the promise I gave him in his last hour to cherish and protect the beauteous guest whom Zeus sent to his keeping nine years before. Mindful of that promise, I have thwarted the design of my brother to make you his queen against your will and trust me, though he is a headstrong wooer, you have nothing to fear from him while I stand your friend. No, although it pleases you to fancy that you are only safe within the sanctuary yonder, it is needless to haunt it as you do.”
Theonoe paused, regarding her guest with a smile of gentle mockery; but, seeing her flush and pout like a chidden child, stroked her arm caressingly and went on: “As you have heard, it is indeed given me to look at times through the veil that hides things to come, and read a little in the scroll of Fate; and I am about to speak to you more freely than hitherto, because the Lifters of the Veil have shown me that the hour whereon your destiny depends is close at hand.”
“May it be my last,” said Helen, weeping anew, “if the gods have more sorrows in store for a hapless innocent.”
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“Innocent,” repeated Theonoe, doubtfully, and as Helen flashed an indignant look upon her, she continued: “Be not offended; remember that the high gods judge not as men judge, by the outward act, but search the thoughts and intents of the heart. If you would understand their dealings with you, ask yourself this — did you not lend willing ear to that courtly stranger prince who tempted you to fly with him to his gorgeous East?”
A lovely blush glowed on Helen’s cheek. “I may have listened,” she murmured, “but I told Paris I never would consent.”
“And yet,” persisted her questioner, “when you stole out before daybreak to meet him in your garden of roses, you knew he had prepared for your flight together that same hour?”
“I went to bid him farewell to say I could not go with him,” faltered Helen; “and —ah, Theonoe, do you know this too?— it was not Paris who met me in the dim dawn, who threw his arms about me ere I could speak! It was a stranger, a shepherd lad. He laughed at my cry of terror — and I swooned, and knew nothing more until I found myself — here.”
“It was the divine shepherd, Hermes,” said Theonoe, “the herald and messenger of Zeus. I was a child then, but the gift had begun to come to me, and in a dream by night it was revealed to me who the wondrous lady was that my father found asleep on the seashore, and why she had been sent into his keeping.”
“Oh, that he were alive to guard me still,” cried Helen, “in him I too lost a father — the kindest, the most revered! But you, Theonoe — you have said it — you will still befriend me, aid me, for his sake?”
“To the utmost of my power,” replied the princess, gravely. “It concerns the honor of his unsullied name that the pledge entrusted to him should be restored safely to its rightful owner.”
“And is there still hope for that?” asked Helen earnestly. “When we heard the Greek host was beleaguering Troy, I asked you why the Trojans did not declare they had never seen me, but you only smiled and shook your head; so I thought, ‘No doubt Menelaus does not believe them, but when the city falls he will find they spoke truly.’ But now it is taken and he is deluded by some wicked witch, as it seems the Trojans were. Is it not so, Theonoe? Is she not one of those baleful sorceresses that can take what shape they will?”
“It is not by enchantment, but of her own nature,” answered Theonoe, “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!” cried 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 treason to your wedded lord. You do not yet understand, but hearken, and I will make all plain. Not your soul only, but every human soul has a shadowy double, which we Egyptians call the Ka. The soul alone is immortal, for that alone is from the gods; yet the Ka dies not with the body, and while the body still lives it has power to quit it, coming and going as it lists. It is the Ka we see when in dreams or waking visions the forms of the absent or the dead appear to us. Earthly passions and desires belong to the Ka; the soul knows them not, being divine, but oftentimes it is overcome and led astray by its mortal yoke fellow, which it ought to govern and subdue. And for this, Helen, the soul must render account when it is called at last before its judges.”
The Egyptian uttered these words in a low and solemn voice and remained silent. Helen regarded her with a troubled, awestruck countenance. “I see, now,” she whispered, “Zeus sent me here to save me from my other self. And that went with Paris to Troy. But how could a shadowy thing be taken for a living woman — even by — my husband?”
“With the gods, all things are possible,” answered Theonoe.
“Then he will never know — never seek for me,” said Helen wildly. “Oh, I am lost indeed! This evil thing——”
“Not evil,” interrupted the princess, “but of the earth, earthy. Only the soul is good or evil, since it can choose to do right or wrong; the Ka cannot choose; it must follow pleasure blindly, like the beasts that perish.”