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Cupid And Psyche

from Good Stories For Great Holidays - SAINT VALENTINE'S DAY





BY JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY

THE ENCHANTED PALACE

Once upon a time, through that Destiny that overrules the gods, Love
himself gave up his immortal heart to a mortal maiden. And thus it came
to pass:--

There was a certain king who had three beautiful daughters. The two
elder married princes of great renown; but Psyche, the youngest, was so
radiantly fair that no suitor seemed worthy of her. People thronged
to see her pass through the city, and sang hymns in her praise, while
strangers took her for the very goddess of beauty herself.

This angered Venus, and she resolved to cast down her earthly rival. One
day, therefore, she called hither her son, Love (Cupid, some name him),
and bade him sharpen his weapons. He is an archer more to be dreaded
than Apollo, for Apollo's arrows take life, but Love's bring joy or
sorrow for a whole life long.

"Come, Love," said Venus. "There is a mortal maid who robs me of my
honors in yonder city. Avenge your mother. Wound this precious Psyche,
and let her fall in love with some churlish creature mean in the eyes of
all men."

Cupid made ready his weapons, and flew down to earth invisibly. At that
moment Psyche was asleep in her chamber; but he touched her heart with
his golden arrow of love, and she opened her eyes so suddenly that he
started (forgetting that he was invisible), and wounded himself with
his own shaft. Heedless of the hurt, moved only by the loveliness of the
maiden, he hastened to pour over her locks the healing joy that he ever
kept by him, undoing all his work. Back to her dream the princess went,
unshadowed by any thought of love. But Cupid, not so light of heart,
returned to the heavens, saying not a word of what had passed.

Venus waited long; then, seeing that Psyche's heart had somehow escaped
love, she sent a spell upon the maiden. From that time, lovely as she
was, not a suitor came to woo; and her parents, who desired to see her a
queen at least, made a journey to the Oracle, and asked counsel.

Said the voice: "The Princess Psyche shall never wed a mortal. She shall
be given to one who waits for her on yonder mountain; he overcomes gods
and men."

At this terrible sentence the poor parents were half-distraught, and
the people gave themselves up to grief at the fate in store for their
beloved princess. Psyche alone bowed to her destiny. "We have angered
Venus unwittingly," she said, "and all for sake of me, heedless maiden
that I am! Give me up, therefore, dear father and mother. If I atone, it
may be that the city will prosper once more."

So she besought them, until, after many unavailing denials, the parents
consented; and with a great company of people they led Psyche up
the mountain,--as an offering to the monster of whom the Oracle had
spoken,--and left her there alone.

Full of courage, yet in a secret agony of grief, she watched her kindred
and her people wind down the mountain-path, too sad to look back, until
they were lost to sight. Then, indeed, she wept, but a sudden breeze
drew near, dried her tears, and caressed her hair, seeming to murmur
comfort. In truth, it was Zephyr, the kindly West Wind, come to befriend
her; and as she took heart, feeling some benignant presence, he lifted
her in his arms, and carried her on wings as even as a sea-gull's, over
the crest of the fateful mountain and into a valley below. There he left
her, resting on a bank of hospitable grass, and there the princess fell
asleep.

When she awoke, it was near sunset. She looked about her for some sign
of the monster's approach; she wondered, then, if her grievous trial had
been but a dream. Near by she saw a sheltering forest, whose young
trees seemed to beckon as one maid beckons to another; and eager for the
protection of the dryads, she went thither.

The call of running waters drew her farther and farther, till she
came out upon an open place, where there was a wide pool. A fountain
fluttered gladly in the midst of it, and beyond there stretched a white
palace wonderful to see. Coaxed by the bright promise of the place, she
drew near, and, seeing no one, entered softly. It was all kinglier than
her father's home, and as she stood in wonder and awe, soft airs stirred
about her. Little by little the silence grew murmurous like the woods,
and one voice, sweeter than the rest, took words. "All that you see is
yours, gentle high princess," it said. "Fear nothing; only command us,
for we are here to serve you."

Full of amazement and delight, Psyche followed the voice from hall to
hall, and through the lordly rooms, beautiful with everything that could
delight a young princess. No pleasant thing was lacking. There was even
a pool, brightly tiled and fed with running waters, where she bathed her
weary limbs; and after she had put on the new and beautiful raiment that
lay ready for her, she sat down to break her fast, waited upon and sung
to by the unseen spirits.

Surely he whom the Oracle had called her husband was no monster, but
some beneficent power, invisible like all the rest. When daylight waned
he came, and his voice, the beautiful voice of a god, inspired her to
trust her strange destiny and to look and long for his return. Often
she begged him to stay with her through the day, that she might see his
face; but this he would not grant.

"Never doubt me, dearest Psyche," said he. "Perhaps you would fear if
you saw me, and love is all I ask. There is a necessity that keeps me
hidden now. Only believe."

So for many days Psyche was content; but when she grew used to
happiness, she thought once more of her parents mourning her as lost,
and of her sisters who shared the lot of mortals while she lived as a
goddess. One night she told her husband of these regrets, and begged
that her sisters at least might come to see her. He sighed, but did not
refuse.

"Zephyr shall bring them hither," said he. And on the following morning,
swift as a bird, the West Wind came over the crest of the high mountain
and down into the enchanted valley, bearing her two sisters.

They greeted Psyche with joy and amazement, hardly knowing how they had
come hither. But when this fairest of the sisters led them through her
palace and showed them all the treasures that were hers, envy grew in
their hearts and choked their old love. Even while they sat at feast
with her, they grew more and more bitter; and hoping to find some little
flaw in her good fortune, they asked a thousand questions.

"Where is your husband?" said they. "And why is he not here with you?"

"Ah," stammered Psyche. "All the day long--he is gone, hunting upon the
mountains."

"But what does he look like?" they asked; and Psyche could find no
answer.

When they learned that she had never seen him, they laughed her faith to
scorn.

"Poor Psyche," they said. "You are walking in a dream. Wake, before it
is too late. Have you forgotten what the Oracle decreed,--that you were
destined for a dreadful creature, the fear of gods and men? And are
you deceived by this show of kindliness? We have come to warn you. The
people told us, as we came over the mountain, that your husband is
a dragon, who feeds you well for the present, that he may feast the
better, some day soon. What is it that you trust? Good words! But only
take a dagger some night, and when the monster is asleep go, light a
lamp, and look at him. You can put him to death easily, and all his
riches will be yours--and ours."

Psyche heard this wicked plan with horror. Nevertheless, after her
sisters were gone, she brooded over what they had said, not seeing their
evil intent; and she came to find some wisdom in their words. Little
by little, suspicion ate, like a moth, into her lovely mind; and
at nightfall, in shame and fear, she hid a lamp and a dagger in her
chamber. Towards midnight, when her husband was fast asleep, up she
rose, hardly daring to breathe; and coming softly to his side, she
uncovered the lamp to see some horror.

But there the youngest of the gods lay sleeping,--most beautiful, most
irresistible of all immortals. His hair shone golden as the sun, his
face was radiant as dear Springtime, and from his shoulders sprang two
rainbow wings.

Poor Psyche was overcome with self-reproach. As she leaned towards him,
filled with worship, her trembling hands held the lamp ill, and some
burning oil fell upon Love's shoulder and awakened him.

He opened his eyes, to see at once his bride and the dark suspicion in
her heart.

"O doubting Psyche!" he exclaimed with sudden grief,--and then he flew
away, out of the window.

Wild with sorrow, Psyche tried to follow, but she fell to the ground
instead. When she recovered her senses, she stared about her. She was
alone, and the place was beautiful no longer. Garden and palace had
vanished with Love.





Next: The Trial Of Psyche:

Previous: Mr Pepys His Valentine



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