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The Trial Of Psyche:

from Good Stories For Great Holidays - WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY





Over mountains and valleys Psyche journeyed alone until she came to the
city where her two envious sisters lived with the princes whom they had
married. She stayed with them only long enough to tell the story of her
unbelief and its penalty. Then she set out again to search for Love.

As she wandered one day, travel-worn but not hopeless, she saw a lofty
palace on a hill near by, and she turned her steps thither. The place
seemed deserted. Within the hall she saw no human being,--only heaps
of grain, loose ears of corn half torn from the husk, wheat and barley,
alike scattered in confusion on the floor. Without delay, she set to
work binding the sheaves together and gathering the scattered ears of
corn in seemly wise, as a princess would wish to see them. While she
was in the midst of her task, a voice startled her, and she looked up
to behold Demeter herself, the goddess of the harvest, smiling upon her
with good will.

"Dear Psyche," said Demeter, "you are worthy of happiness, and you may
find it yet. But since you have displeased Venus, go to her and ask her
favor. Perhaps your patience will win her pardon."

These motherly words gave Psyche heart, and she reverently took leave of
the goddess and set out for the temple of Venus. Most humbly she offered
up her prayer, but Venus could not look at her earthly beauty without
anger.

"Vain girl," said she, "perhaps you have come to make amends for the
wound you dealt your husband; you shall do so. Such clever people can
always find work!"

Then she led Psyche into a great chamber heaped high with mingled grain,
beans, and lentils (the food of her doves), and bade her separate them
all and have them ready in seemly fashion by night. Heracles would have
been helpless before such a vexatious task; and poor Psyche, left alone
in this desert of grain, had not courage to begin. But even as she sat
there, a moving thread of black crawled across the floor from a crevice
in the wall; and bending nearer, she saw that a great army of ants in
columns had come to her aid. The zealous little creatures worked in
swarms, with such industry over the work they like best, that, when
Venus came at night, she found the task completed.

"Deceitful girl," she cried, shaking the roses out of her hair with
impatience, "this is my son's work, not yours. But he will soon forget
you. Eat this black bread if you are hungry, and refresh your dull mind
with sleep. To-morrow you will need more wit."

Psyche wondered what new misfortune could be in store for her. But when
morning came, Venus led her to the brink of a river, and, pointing to
the wood across the water, said: "Go now to yonder grove where the sheep
with the golden fleece are wont to browse. Bring me a golden lock from
every one of them, or you must go your ways and never come back again."

This seemed not difficult, and Psyche obediently bade the goddess
farewell, and stepped into the water, ready to wade across. But as Venus
disappeared, the reeds sang louder and the nymphs of the river, looking
up sweetly, blew bubbles to the surface and murmured: "Nay, nay, have a
care, Psyche. This flock has not the gentle ways of sheep. While the
sun burns aloft, they are themselves as fierce as flame; but when the
shadows are long, they go to rest and sleep, under the trees; and you
may cross the river without fear and pick the golden fleece off the
briers in the pasture."

Thanking the water-creatures, Psyche sat down to rest near them, and
when the time came, she crossed in safety and followed their counsel. By
twilight she returned to Venus with her arms full of shining fleece.

"No mortal wit did this," said Venus angrily. "But if you care to prove
your readiness, go now, with this little box, down to Proserpina and ask
her to enclose in it some of her beauty, for I have grown pale in caring
for my wounded son."

It needed not the last taunt to sadden Psyche. She knew that it was not
for mortals to go into Hades and return alive; and feeling that Love had
forsaken her, she was minded to accept her doom as soon as might be.

But even as she hastened towards the descent, another friendly voice
detained her. "Stay, Psyche, I know your grief. Only give ear and you
shall learn a safe way through all these trials." And the voice went on
to tell her how one might avoid all the dangers of Hades and come out
unscathed. (But such a secret could not pass from mouth to mouth, with
the rest of the story.)

"And be sure," added the voice, "when Proserpina has returned the box,
not to open it, ever much you may long to do so."

Psyche gave heed, and by this device, whatever it was, she found her way
into Hades safely, and made her errand known to Proserpina, and was soon
in the upper world again, wearied but hopeful.

"Surely Love has not forgotten me," she said. "But humbled as I am and
worn with toil, how shall I ever please him? Venus can never need all
the beauty in this casket; and since I use it for Love's sake, it must
be right to take some." So saying, she opened the box, heedless as
Pandora! The spells and potions of Hades are not for mortal maids, and
no sooner had she inhaled the strange aroma than she fell down like one
dead, quite overcome.

But it happened that Love himself was recovered from his wound, and he
had secretly fled from his chamber to seek out and rescue Psyche.
He found her lying by the wayside; he gathered into the casket what
remained of the philter, and awoke his beloved.

"Take comfort," he said, smiling. "Return to our mother and do her
bidding till I come again."

Away he flew; and while Psyche went cheerily homeward, he hastened up to
Olympus, where all the gods sat feasting, and begged them to intercede
for him with his angry mother.

They heard his story and their hearts were touched. Zeus himself coaxed
Venus with kind words till at last she relented, and remembered that
anger hurt her beauty, and smiled once more. All the younger gods were
for welcoming Psyche at once, and Hermes was sent to bring her hither.
The maiden came, a shy newcomer among those bright creatures. She took
the cup that Hebe held out to her, drank the divine ambrosia, and became
immortal.


Light came to her face like moonrise, two radiant wings sprang from her
shoulders; and even as a butterfly bursts from its dull cocoon, so the
human Psyche blossomed into immortality.

Love took her by the hand, and they were never parted any more.





Next: Three Old Tales

Previous: Cupid And Psyche



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