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Baucis And Philemon

from Good Stories For Great Holidays - ARBOR DAY





ADAPTED FROM H. P. MASKEL'S RENDERING OF THE GREEK MYTH

On the slopes of the Phrygian hills, there once dwelt a pious old couple
named Baucis and Philemon. They had lived all their lives in a tiny
cottage of wattles, thatched with straw, cheerful and content in spite
of their poverty.

As this worthy couple sat dozing by the fireside one evening in the late
autumn, two strangers came and begged a shelter for the night. They had
to stoop to enter the humble doorway, where the old man welcomed them
heartily and bade them rest their weary limbs on the settle before the
fire.

Meanwhile Baucis stirred the embers, blowing them into a flame with dry
leaves, and heaped on the fagots to boil the stew-pot. Hanging from the
blackened beams was a rusty side of bacon. Philemon cut off a rasher
to roast, and, while his guests refreshed themselves with a wash at the
rustic trough, he gathered pot-herbs from his patch of garden. Then the
old woman, her hands trembling with age, laid the cloth and spread the
table.

It was a frugal meal, but one that hungry wayfarers could well relish.
The first course was an omelette of curdled milk and eggs, garnished
with radishes and served on rude oaken platters. The cups of turned
beechwood were filled with homemade wine from an earthen jug. The second
course consisted of dried figs and dates, plums, sweet-smelling apples,
and grapes, with a piece of clear, white honeycomb. What made the
meal more grateful to the guests was the hearty spirit in which it was
offered. Their hosts gave all they had without stint or grudging.

But all at once something happened which startled and amazed Baucis and
Philemon. They poured out wine for their guests, and, lo! each time the
pitcher filled itself again to the brim.

The old couple then knew that their guests were not mere mortals;
indeed, they were no other than Jupiter and Mercury come down to
earth in the disguise of poor travelers. Being ashamed of their humble
entertainment, Philemon hurried out and gave chase to his only goose,
intending to kill and roast it. But his guests forbade him, saying:--

"In mortal shape we have come down, and at a hundred houses asked
for lodging and rest. For answer a hundred doors were shut and locked
against us. You alone, the poorest of all, have received us gladly and
given us of your best. Now it is for us to punish these impious people
who treat strangers so churlishly, but you two shall be spared. Only
leave your cottage and follow us to yonder mountain-top."

So saying, Jupiter and Mercury led the way, and the two old folks
hobbled after them. Presently they reached the top of the mountain, and
Baucis and Philemon saw all the country round, with villages and people,
sinking into a marsh; while their own cottage alone was left standing.

And while they gazed, their cottage was changed into a white temple. The
doorway became a porch with marble columns. The thatch grew into a roof
of golden tiles. The little garden about their home became a park.

Then Jupiter, regarding Baucis and Philemon with kindly eyes, said:
"Tell me, O good old man and you good wife, what may we do in return for
your hospitality?"

Philemon whispered for a moment with Baucis, and she nodded her
approval. "We desire," he replied, "to be your servants, and to have the
care of this temple. One other favor we would ask. From boyhood I have
loved only Baucis, and she has lived only for me. Let the selfsame hour
take us both away together. Let me never see the tomb of my wife, nor
let her suffer the misery of mourning my death."

Jupiter and Mercury, pleased with these requests, willingly granted
both, and endowed Baucis and Philemon with youth and strength as well.
The gods then vanished from their sight, but as long as their lives
lasted Baucis and Philemon were the guardians of the white temple that
once had been their home.

And when again old age overtook them, they were standing one day
in front of the sacred porch, and Baucis, turning her gaze upon her
husband, saw him slowly changing into a gnarled oak tree. And Philemon,
as he felt himself rooted to the ground, saw Baucis at the same time
turning into a leafy linden.

And as their faces disappeared behind the green foliage, each cried
unto the other, "Farewell, dearest love!" and again, "Dearest love,
farewell!" And their human forms were changed to trees and branches.

And still, if you visit the spot, you may see an oak and a linden tree
with branches intertwined.





Next: The Unfruitful Tree

Previous: The Proud Oak Tree



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