THE GORGON'S HEAD





Nathaniel Hawthorne







Perseus was the son of Danaë, who was the daughter of a king. And when

Perseus was a very little boy, some wicked people put his mother and

himself into a chest, and set them afloat upon the sea. The wind blew

freshly, and drove the chest away from the shore, and the uneasy

billows tossed it up and down; while Danaë clasped her child closely to

her bosom, and dreaded that some big wave would dash its foamy crest

over them both. The chest sailed on, however, and neither sank nor was

upset; until, when night was coining, it floated so near an island that

it got entangled in a fisherman's nets, and was drawn out high and dry

upon the sand. The island was called Seriphus, and it was reigned over

by King Polydectes, who happened to be the fisherman's brother.



This fisherman, I am glad to tell you, was an exceedingly humane and

upright man. He showed great kindness to Danaë and her little boy; and

continued to befriend them, until Perseus had grown to be a handsome

youth, very strong and active, and skillful in the use of arms. Long

before this time King Polydectes had seen the two strangers--the mother

and her child--who had come to his dominions in a floating chest. As he

was not good and kind, like his brother the fisherman, but extremely

wicked, he resolved to send Perseus on a dangerous enterprise, in which

he would probably be killed, and then to do some great mischief to

Danaë herself. So this bad-hearted king spent a long while in

considering what was the most dangerous thing that a young man could

possibly undertake to perform. At last, having hit upon an enterprise

that promised to turn out as fatally as he desired, he sent for the

youthful Perseus.



The young man came to the palace, and found the king sitting upon his

throne.



"Perseus," said King Polydectes, smiling craftily upon him, "you are

grown up a fine young man. You and your good mother have received a

great deal of kindness from myself, as well as from my worthy brother,

the fisherman, and I suppose you would not be sorry to repay some of

it."



"Please, your Majesty," answered Perseus, "I would willingly risk my

life to do so."



"Well, then," continued the king, still with a cunning smile on his

lips, "I have a little adventure to propose to you; and, as you are a

brave and enterprising youth, you will doubtless look upon it as a

great piece of good luck to have so rare an opportunity of

distinguishing yourself. You must know, my good Perseus, I think of

getting married to the beautiful Princess Hippodamia; and it is

customary, on these occasions, to make the bride a present of some

farfetched and elegant curiosity. I have been a little perplexed, I

must honestly confess, where to obtain anything likely to please a

princess of her exquisite taste. But, this morning, I flatter myself, I

have thought of precisely the article."



"And can I assist your Majesty in obtaining it?" cried Perseus,

eagerly.



"You can, if you are as brave a youth as I believe you to be," replied

King Polydectes, with the utmost graciousness of manner. "The bridal

gift which I have set my heart on presenting to the beautiful

Hippodamia is the head of the Gorgon Medusa, with the snaky locks; and

I depend on you, my dear Perseus, to bring it to me. So, as I am

anxious to settle affairs with the princess, the sooner you go in quest

of the Gorgon, the better I shall be pleased."



"I will set out tomorrow morning," answered Perseus.



"Pray do so, my gallant youth," rejoined the king. "And, Perseus, in

cutting off the Gorgon's head, be careful to make a clean stroke, so as

not to injure its appearance. You must bring it home in the very best

condition, in order to suit the exquisite taste of the beautiful

Princess Hippodamia."



Perseus left the palace, but was scarcely out of hearing before

Polydectes burst into a laugh; being greatly amused, wicked king that

he was, to find how readily the young man fell into the snare. The news

quickly spread abroad, that Perseus had undertaken to cut off the head

of Medusa with the snaky locks. Everybody was rejoiced; for most of the

inhabitants of the island were as wicked as the king himself, and would

have liked nothing better than to see some enormous mischief happen to

Danae and her son. The only good man in this unfortunate island of

Seriphus appears to have been the fisherman. As Perseus walked along,

therefore, the people pointed after him, and made mouths, and winked to

one another, and ridiculed him as loudly as they dared.



"Ho, ho!" cried they; "Medusa's snakes will sting him soundly!"



Now, there were three Gorgons alive, at that period, and they were the

most strange and terrible monsters that had ever been seen since the

world was made, or that have been seen in after days, or that are

likely to be seen in all time to come. I hardly know what sort of

creature or hobgoblin to call them. They were three sisters, and seem

to have borne some distant resemblance to women, but were really a very

frightful and mischievous species of dragon. It is, indeed, difficult

to imagine what hideous beings these three sisters were. Why, instead

of locks of hair, if you can believe me, they had each of them a

hundred enormous snakes growing on their heads, all alive, twisting,

wriggling, curling, and thrusting out their venomous tongues, with

forked stings at the end! The teeth of the Gorgons were terribly long

tusks; their hands were made of brass; and their bodies were all over

scales, which, if not iron, were something as hard and impenetrable.

They had wings, too, and exceedingly splendid ones, I can assure you;

for every feather in them was pure, bright, glittering, burnished gold,

and they looked very dazzlingly, no doubt, when the Gorgons were flying

about in the sunshine.



But when people happened to catch a glimpse of their glittering

brightness, aloft in the air, they seldom stopped to gaze, but ran and

hid themselves as speedily as they could. You will think, perhaps, that

they were afraid of being stung by the serpents that served the Gorgons

instead of hair--or of having their heads bitten off by their ugly

tusks,--or of being torn all to pieces by their brazen claws. Well, to

be sure, these were some of the dangers, but by no means the greatest,

nor the most difficult to avoid. For the worst thing about these

abominable Gorgons was, that, if once a poor mortal fixed his eyes full

upon one of their faces, he was certain, that very instant, to be

changed from warm flesh and blood into cold and lifeless stone!



Thus, as you will easily perceive, it was a very dangerous adventure

that the wicked King Polydectes had contrived for this innocent young

man. Perseus himself, when he had thought over the matter, could not

help seeing that he had very little chance of coming safely through it,

and that he was far more likely to become a stone image than to bring

back the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. For, not to speak of

other difficulties, there was one which it would have puzzled an older

man than Perseus to get over. Not only must he fight with and slay this

golden-winged, iron-scaled, long-tusked, brazen-clawed, snaky-haired

monster, but he must do it with his eyes shut, or, at least, without so

much as a glance at the enemy with whom he was contending. Else, while

his arm was lifted to strike, he would stiffen into stone, and stand

with that uplifted arm for centuries, until time, and the wind and

weather, should crumble him quite away. This would be a very sad thing

to befall a young man who wanted to perform a great many brave deeds

and to enjoy a great deal of happiness in this bright and beautiful

world.



So disconsolate did these thoughts make him, that Perseus could not

bear to tell his mother what he had undertaken to do. He therefore took

his shield, girded on his sword, and crossed over from the island to

the mainland, where he sat down in a solitary place, and hardly

refrained from shedding tears.



But, while he was in this sorrowful mood, he heard a voice close beside

him.



"Perseus," said the voice, "why are you so sad?"



He lifted his head from his hands, in which he had hidden it, and,

behold! all alone as Perseus had supposed himself to be, there was a

stranger in the solitary place. It was a brisk, intelligent, and

remarkably shrewd-looking young man, with a cloak over his shoulders,

an odd sort of cap on his head, a strangely twisted staff in his hand,

and a short and very crooked sword hanging by his side. He was

exceeding light and active in his figure, like a person much accustomed

to gymnastic exercises, and well able to leap or run. Above all, the

stranger had such a cheerful, knowing, and helpful aspect (though it

was certainly a little mischievous, into the bargain), that Perseus

could not help feeling his spirits grow livelier, as he gazed at him.

Besides, being really a courageous youth, he felt greatly ashamed that

anybody should have found him with tears in his eyes, like a timid

little schoolboy, when, after all, there might be no occasion for

despair. So Perseus wiped his eyes, and answered the stranger pretty

briskly, putting on as brave a look as he could.



"I am not so very sad," said he; "only thoughtful about an adventure

that I have undertaken."



"Oho!" answered the stranger. "Well, tell me all about it, and possibly

I may be of service to you. I have helped a good many young men through

adventures that looked difficult enough beforehand. Perhaps you may

have heard of me. I have more names than one; but the name of

Quicksilver suits me as well as any other. Tell me what your trouble

is, and we will talk the matter over and see what can be done."



The stranger's words and manner put Perseus into quite a different mood

from his former one. He resolved to tell Quicksilver all his

difficulties, since he could not easily be worse off than he already

was, and, very possibly, his new friend might give him some advice that

would turn out well in the end. So he let the stranger know, in few

words, precisely what the case was;--how that King Polydectes wanted

the head of Medusa with the snaky locks as a bridal gift for the

beautiful Princess Hippodamia, and how that he had undertaken to get it

for him, but was afraid of being turned into stone.



"And that would be a great pity," said Quicksilver, with his

mischievous smile. "You would make a very handsome marble statue, it is

true, and it would be a considerable number of centuries before you

crumbled away; but, on the whole, one would rather be a young man for a

few years, than a stone image for a great many."



"Oh, far rather!" exclaimed Perseus, with the tears again standing in

his eyes. "And, besides, what would my dear mother do, if her beloved

son were turned into a stone?"



"Well, well; let us hope that the affair will not turn out so very

badly," replied Quicksilver, in an encouraging tone. "I am the very

person to help you, if anybody can. My sister and myself will do our

utmost to bring you safe through the adventure, ugly as it now looks."



"Your sister?" repeated Perseus.



"Yes, my sister," said the stranger. "She is very wise, I promise you;

and as for myself, I generally have all my wits about me, such as they

are. If you show yourself bold and cautious, and follow our advice, you

need not fear being a stone image yet awhile. But, first of all, you

must polish your shield, till you can see your face in it as distinctly

as in a mirror."



This seemed to Perseus rather an odd beginning of the adventure; for he

thought it of far more consequence that the shield should be strong

enough to defend him from the Gorgon's brazen claws than that it should

be bright enough to show him the reflection of his face.



However, concluding that Quicksilver knew better than himself, he

immediately set to work and scrubbed the shield with so much diligence

and good will, that it very quickly shone like the moon at harvest

time. Quicksilver looked at it with a smile, and nodded his

approbation. Then, taking off his own short and crooked sword, he

girded it about Perseus instead of the one which he had before worn.



"No sword but mine will answer your purpose," observed he: "the blade

has a most excellent temper, and will cut through iron and brass as

easily as through the slenderest twig. And now we will set out. The

next thing is to find the Three Gray Women, who will tell us where to

find the Nymphs."



"The Three Gray Women!" cried Perseus, to whom this seemed only a new

difficulty in the path of his adventure; "pray, who may the Three Gray

Women be? I never heard of them before."



"They are three very strange old ladies," said Quicksilver, laughing.

"They have but one eye among them, and only one tooth. Moreover, you

must find them out by starlight or in the dusk of the evening; for they

never show themselves by the light either of the sun or moon."



"But," said Perseus, "why should I waste my time with these Three Gray

Women? Would it not be better to set out at once in search of the

terrible Gorgons?"



"No, no," answered his friend. "There are other things to be done,

before you can find your way to the Gorgons. There is nothing for it,

but to hunt up these old ladies; and when we meet with them, you may be

sure that the Gorgons are not a great ways off. Come, let us be

stirring!"



Perseus, by this time, felt so much confidence in his companion's

sagacity, that he made no more objections, and professed himself ready

to begin the adventure immediately. They accordingly set out, and

walked at a pretty brisk pace; so brisk, indeed, that Perseus found it

rather difficult to keep up with his nimble friend Quicksilver. To say

the truth, he had a singular idea that Quicksilver was furnished with a

pair of winged shoes, which, of course, helped him along marvelously.

And then, too, when Perseus looked sideways at him, out of the corner

of his eye, he seemed to see wings on the side of his head; although,

if he turned a full gaze, there were no such things to be perceived,

but only an odd kind of cap. But, at all events, the twisted staff was

evidently a great convenience to Quicksilver, and enabled him to

proceed so fast, that Perseus, though a remarkably active young man,

began to be out of breath.



"Here!" cried Quicksilver at last--for he knew well enough, rogue that

he was, how hard Perseus found it to keep pace with him--"take you the

staff, for you need it a great deal more than I. Are there no better

walkers than yourself in the island of Seriphus?"



"I could walk pretty well," said Perseus, glancing slyly at his

companion's feet, "if I had only a pair of winged shoes."



"We must see about getting you a pair," answered Quicksilver.



But the staff helped Perseus along so bravely, that he no longer felt

the slightest weariness. In fact, the stick seemed to be alive in his

hand, and to lend some of its life to Perseus. He and Quicksilver now

walked onward at their ease, talking very sociably together; and

Quicksilver told so many pleasant stories about his former adventures,

and how well his wits had served him on various occasions, that Perseus

began to think him a very wonderful person. He evidently knew the

world; and nobody is so charming to a young man as a friend who has

that kind of knowledge. Perseus listened the more eagerly, in the hope

of brightening his own wits by what he heard.



At last he happened to recollect that Quicksilver had spoken of a

sister, who was to lend her assistance in the adventure which they were

now bound upon.



"Where is she?" he inquired. "Shall we not meet her soon?"



"All at the proper time," said his companion. "But this sister of mine,

you must understand, is quite a different sort of character from

myself. She is very grave and prudent, seldom smiles, never laughs, and

makes it a rule not to utter a word unless she has something

particularly profound to say. Neither will she listen to any but the

wisest conversation."



"Dear me!" ejaculated Perseus; "I shall be afraid to say a syllable."



"She is a very accomplished person, I assure you," continued

Quicksilver, "and has all the arts and sciences at her fingers' ends.

In short, she is so immoderately wise, that many people call her wisdom

personified. But, to tell you the truth, she has hardly vivacity enough

for my taste; and I think you would scarcely find her so pleasant a

traveling companion as myself. She has her good points, nevertheless;

and you will find the benefit of them, in your encounter with the

Gorgons."



By this time it had grown quite dusk. They were now come to a very wild

and desert place, overgrown with shaggy bushes, and so silent and

solitary that nobody seemed ever to have dwelt or journeyed there. All

was waste and desolate, in the gray twilight, which grew every moment

more obscure. Perseus looked about him rather disconsolately, and asked

Quicksilver whether they had a great deal farther to go.



"Hist! hist!" whispered his companion. "Make no noise. This is just the

time and place to meet the Three Gray Women. Be careful that they do

not see you before you see them, for, though they have but a single eye

among the three, it is as sharp-sighted as half a dozen common eyes."



"But what must I do," asked Perseus, "when we meet them?"



Quicksilver explained to Perseus how the Three Gray Women managed with

their one eye. They were in the habit, it seems, of changing it from

one to another, as if it had been a pair of spectacles or--which would

have suited them better--a quizzing-glass. When one of the three had

kept the eye a certain time, she took it out of the socket and passed

it to one of her sisters, whose turn it might happen to be, and who

immediately clapped it into her own head and enjoyed a peep at the

visible world. Thus it will easily be understood that only one of the

Three Gray Women could see, while the other two were in utter darkness;

and, moreover, at the instant when the eye was passing from hand to

hand neither of the poor old ladies was able to see a wink. I have

heard of a great many strange things, in my day, and have witnessed not

a few; but none, it seems to me, that can compare with the oddity of

these Three Gray Women, all peeping through a single eye.



So thought Perseus, likewise, and was so astonished that he almost

fancied his companion was joking with him, and that there were no such

old women in the world.



"You will soon find whether I tell the truth or no," observed

Quicksilver. "Hark! hush! hist! hist! There they come, now!"



Perseus looked earnestly through the dusk of the evening, and there,

sure enough, at no great distance off, he descried the Three Gray

Women. The light being so faint, he could not well make out what sort

of figures they were; only he discovered that they had long gray hair;

and, as they came nearer, he saw that two of them had but the empty

socket of an eye, in the middle of their foreheads. But, in the middle

of the third sister's forehead, there was a very large, bright, and

piercing eye, which sparkled like a great diamond in a ring; and so

penetrating did it seem to be, that Perseus could not help thinking it

must possess the gift of seeing in the darkest midnight just as

perfectly as at noonday. The sight of three persons' eyes was melted

and collected into that single one.



Thus the three old dames got along about as comfortably, upon the

whole, as if they could all see at once. She who chanced to have the

eye in her forehead led the other two by the hands, peeping sharply

about her, all the while, insomuch that Perseus dreaded lest she should

see right through the thick clump of bushes behind which he and

Quicksilver had hidden themselves. My stars! it was positively terrible

to be within reach of so very sharp an eye!



But before they reached the clump of bushes one of the Three Gray Women

spoke.



"Sister! Sister Scarecrow!" cried she, "you have had the eye long

enough. It is my turn now!"



"Let me keep it a moment longer, Sister Nightmare," answered Scarecrow

"I thought I had a glimpse of something behind that thick bush."



"Well, and what of that?" retorted Nightmare, peevishly. "Can't I see

into a thick bush as easily as yourself? The eye is mine, as well as

yours, and I know the use of it as well as you, or maybe a little

better. I insist upon taking a peep immediately."



But here the third sister, whose name was Shakejoint, began to

complain, and said that it was her turn to have the eye, and that

Scarecrow and Nightmare wanted to keep it all to themselves. To end the

dispute, old Dame Scarecrow took the eye out of her forehead and held

it forth in her hand.



"Take it, one of you," cried she, "and quit this foolish quarreling.

For my part, I shall be glad of a little thick darkness. Take it

quickly, however, or I must clap it into my own head again!"



Accordingly, both Nightmare and Shakejoint stretched out their hands,

groping eagerly to snatch the eye out of the hand of Scarecrow. But,

being both alike blind, they could not easily find where Scarecrow's

hand was; and Scarecrow, being now just as much in the dark as

Shakejoint and Nightmare, could not at once meet either of their hands,

in order to put the eye into it. Thus (as you will see, with half an

eye, my wise little auditors) these good old dames had fallen into a

strange perplexity. For, though the eye shone and glistened like a

star, as Scarecrow held it out, yet the Gray Women caught not the least

glimpse of its light, and were all three in utter darkness, from too

impatient a desire to see.



Quicksilver was so much tickled at beholding Shakejoint and Nightmare

both groping for the eye, and each finding fault with Scarecrow and one

another, that he could scarcely help laughing aloud.



"Now is your time!" he whispered to Perseus. "Quick, quick! before they

can clap the eye into either of their heads. Rush out upon the old

ladies, and snatch it from Scarecrow's hand!"



In an instant, while the Three Gray Women were still scolding each

other, Perseus leaped from behind the clump of bushes, and made himself

master of the prize. The marvelous eye, as he held it in his hand,

shone very brightly, and seemed to look up into his face with a knowing

air, and an expression as if it would have winked, had it been provided

with a pair of eyelids for that purpose. But the Gray Women knew

nothing of what had happened; and, each supposing that one of her

sisters was in possession of the eye, they began their quarrel anew. At

last, as Perseus did not wish to put these respectable dames to greater

inconvenience than was really necessary, he thought it right to explain

the matter.



"My good ladies," said he, "pray do not be angry with one another. If

anybody is in fault, it is myself; for I have the honor to hold your

very brilliant and excellent eye in my own hand."



"You! you have our eye! And who are you?" screamed the Three Gray Women

all in a breath, for they were terribly frightened, of course, at

hearing a strange voice, and discovering that their eyesight had got

into the hands of they could not guess whom. "Oh, what shall we do,

sisters? what shall we do? We are all in the dark! Give us our eye!

Give us our one, precious, solitary eye! You have two of your own! Give

us our eye!"



"Tell them," whispered Quicksilver to Perseus, "that they shall have

back the eye as soon as they direct you where to find the Nymphs who

have the flying slippers, the magic wallet, and the helmet of

darkness."



"My dear, good, admirable old ladies," said Perseus, addressing the

Gray Women, "there is no occasion for putting yourselves into such a

fright. I am by no means a bad young man. You shall have back your eye,

safe and sound, and as bright as ever, the moment you tell me where to

find the Nymphs."



"The Nymphs! Goodness me! sisters, what Nymphs does he mean?" screamed

Scarecrow. "There are a great many Nymphs, people say; some that go

a-hunting in the woods, and some that live inside of trees, and some that

have a comfortable home in fountains of water. We know nothing at all

about them. We are three unfortunate old souls, that go wandering about

in the dusk, and never had but one eye amongst us, and that one you

have stolen away. Oh, give it back, good stranger!--whoever you are,

give it back!"



All this while, the Three Gray Women were groping with their

outstretched hands, and trying their utmost to get hold of Perseus. But

he took good care to keep out of their reach.



"My respectable dames," said he--for his mother had taught him always

to use the greatest civility--"I hold your eye fast in my hand, and

shall keep it safely for you, until you please to tell me where to find

these Nymphs. The Nymphs, I mean, who keep the enchanted wallet, the

flying slippers, and the what is it?--the helmet of invisibility."



"Mercy on us, sisters! what is the young man talking about?" exclaimed

Scarecrow, Nightmare, and Shakejoint one to another, with great

appearance of astonishment. "A pair of flying slippers, quoth he! His

heels would quickly fly higher than his head, if he were silly enough

to put them on. And a helmet of invisibility! How could a helmet make

him invisible, unless it were big enough for him to hide under it? And

an enchanted wallet! What sort of a contrivance may that be, I wonder?

No, no, good stranger! we can tell you nothing of these marvelous

things. You have two eyes of your own, and we have but a single one

amongst us three. You can find out such wonders better than three blind

old creatures like us."



Perseus, hearing them talk in this way, began really to think that the

Gray Women knew nothing of the matter; and, as it grieved him to have

put them to so much trouble, he was just on the point of restoring

their eye and asking pardon for his rudeness in snatching it away. But

Quicksilver caught his hand.



"Don't let them make a fool of you," said he. "These Three Gray Women

are the only persons in the world that can tell you where to find the

Nymphs; and, unless you get that information, you will never succeed in

cutting off the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. Keep fast hold of

the eye, and all will go well."



As it turned out, Quicksilver was in the right. There are but few

things that people prize so much as they do their eyesight; and the

Gray Women valued their single eye as highly as if it had been half a

dozen, which was the number they ought to have had. Finding that there

was no other way of recovering it, they at last told Perseus what he

wanted to know. No sooner had they done so, than he immediately, and

with the utmost respect, clapped the eye into the vacant socket in one

of their foreheads, thanked them for their kindness, and bade them

farewell. Before the young man was out of hearing, however, they had

got into a new dispute, because he happened to have given the eye to

Scarecrow, who had already taken her turn of it when their trouble with

Perseus commenced.



It is greatly to be feared that the Three Gray Women were very much in

the habit of disturbing their mutual harmony by bickerings of this

sort; which was the more pity, as they could not conveniently do

without one another, and were evidently intended to be inseparable

companions. As a general rule, I would advise all people, whether

sisters or brothers, old or young, who chance to have but one eye

amongst them, to cultivate forbearance, and not all insist upon peeping

through it at once.



Quicksilver and Perseus in the meantime were making the best of their

way in quest of the Nymphs. The old dames had given them such

particular directions, that they were not long in finding them out.

They proved to be very different persons from Nightmare, Shakejoint,

and Scarecrow; for, instead of being old, they were young and

beautiful; and instead of one eye amongst the sisterhood, each Nymph

had two exceedingly bright eyes of her own, with which she looked very

kindly at Perseus. They seemed to be acquainted with Quicksilver; and

when he told them the adventure which Perseus had undertaken, they made

no difficulty about giving him the valuable articles that were in their

custody. In the first place, they brought out what appeared to be a

small purse, made of deerskin, and curiously embroidered, and bade him

be sure and keep it safe. This was the magic wallet. The Nymphs next

produced a pair of shoes, or slippers, or sandals, with a nice little

pair of wings at the heel of each.



"Put them on, Perseus," said Quicksilver. "You will find yourself as

light-heeled as you can desire for the remainder of our journey."



So Perseus proceeded to put one of the slippers on, while he laid the

other on the ground by his side. Unexpectedly, however, this other

slipper spread its wings, fluttered up off the ground, and would

probably have flown away, if Quicksilver had not made a leap, and

luckily caught it in the air.



"Be more careful," said he, as he gave it back to Perseus. "It would

frighten the birds, up aloft, if they should see a flying slipper

amongst them."



When Perseus had got on both of these wonderful slippers, he was

altogether too buoyant to tread on earth. Making a step or two, lo and

behold! upward he popt into the air, high above the heads of

Quicksilver and the Nymphs, and found it very difficult to clamber down

again. Winged slippers, and all such high-flying contrivances, are

seldom quite easy to manage, until one grows a little accustomed to

them. Quicksilver laughed at his companion's involuntary activity, and

told him that he must--not be in so desperate a hurry, but must wait

for the invisible helmet.



The good-natured Nymphs had the helmet, with its dark tuft of waving

plumes, all in readiness to put upon his head. And now there happened

about as wonderful an incident as anything that I have yet told you.

The instant before the helmet was put on, there stood Perseus, a

beautiful young man, with golden ringlets and rosy cheeks, the crooked

sword by his side, and the brightly polished shield upon his arm,--a

figure that seemed all made up of courage, sprightliness, and glorious

light. But when the helmet hid descended over his white brow there was

no longer any Perseus to be seen! Nothing but empty air! Even the

helmet that covered him with its invisibility, had vanished!



"Where are you, Perseus?" asked Quicksilver.



"Why, here, to be sure!" answered Perseus very quietly, although his

voice seemed to come out of the transparent atmosphere. "Just where I

was a moment ago. Don't you see me?"



"No, indeed!" answered his friend. "You are hidden under the helmet.

But if I cannot see you, neither can the Gorgons. Follow me therefore,

and we will try your dexterity in using the winged slippers."



With these words Quicksilver's cap spread its wings, as if his head

were about to fly away from his shoulders; but his whole figure rose

lightly into the air, and Perseus followed. By the time they had

ascended a few hundred feet, the young man began to feel what a

delightful thing it was to leave the dull earth so far beneath him, and

to be able to flit about like a bird.



It was now deep night. Perseus looked upward, and saw the round,

bright, silvery moon, and thought that he should desire nothing better

than to soar up thither, and spend his life there. Then he looked

downward again, and saw the earth, with its seas, and lakes, and the

silver courses of its rivers, and its snowy mountain peaks, and the

breadth of its fields, and the dark cluster of its woods, and its

cities of white marble; and, with the moonshine sleeping over the whole

scene, it was as beautiful as the moon or any star could be. And, among

other objects, he saw the island of Seriphus, where his dear mother

was. Sometimes, he and Quicksilver approached a cloud, that, at a

distance, looked as if it were made of fleecy silver; although, when

they plunged into it, they found themselves chilled and moistened with

gray mist. So swift was their flight, however, that, in an instant,

they emerged from the cloud into the moonlight again. Once, a high-

soaring eagle flew right against the invisible Perseus. The bravest

sights were the meteors, that gleamed suddenly out, as if a bonfire had

been kindled in the sky, and made the moonshine pale for as much as a

hundred miles around them.



As the two companions flew onward, Perseus fancied that he could hear

the rustle of a garment close by his side; and it was on the side

opposite to the one where he beheld Quicksilver, yet only Quicksilver

was visible.



"Whose garment is this," inquired Perseus, "that keeps rustling close

beside me, in the breeze?"



"Oh, it is my sister's!" answered Quicksilver. "She is coming along

with us, as I told you she would. We could do nothing without the help

of my sister. You have no idea how wise she is. She has such eyes, too!

Why, she can see you, at this moment, just as distinctly as if you were

not invisible; and I'll venture to say, she will be the first to

discover the Gorgons."



By this time, in their swift voyage through the air, they had come

within sight of the great ocean, and were soon flying over it. Far

beneath them, the waves tossed themselves tumultuously in midsea, or

rolled a white surf-line upon the long beaches, or foamed against the

rocky cliffs with a roar that was thunderous, in the lower world;

although it became a gentle murmur, like the voice of a baby half

asleep, before it reached the ears of Perseus. Just then a voice spoke

in the air close by him. It seemed to be a woman's voice, and was

melodious, though not exactly what might be called sweet, but grave and

mild.



"Perseus," said the voice, "there are the Gorgons."



"Where?" exclaimed Perseus. "I cannot see them."



"On the shore of that island beneath you," replied the voice. "A

pebble, dropped from your hand, would strike in the midst of them."



"I told you she would be the first to discover them," said Quicksilver

to Perseus. "And there they are!"



Straight downward, two or three thousand feet below him, Perseus

perceived a small island, with the sea breaking into white foam all

around its rocky shore, except on one side, where there was a beach of

snowy sand. He descended towards it, and, looking earnestly at a

cluster or heap of brightness, at the foot of a precipice of black

rocks, behold, there were the terrible Gorgons! They lay fast asleep,

soothed by the thunder of the sea; for it required a tumult that would

have deafened everybody else to lull such fierce creatures into

slumber. The moonlight glistened on their steely scales, and on their

golden wings, which drooped idly over the sand. Their brazen claws,

horrible to look at, were thrust out, and clutched the wave-beaten

fragments of rock, while the sleeping Gorgons dreamed of tearing some

poor mortal all to pieces. The snakes, that served them instead of

hair, seemed likewise to be asleep; although, now and then, one would

writhe, and lift its head, and thrust out its forked tongue, emitting a

drowsy hiss, and then let itself subside among its sister snakes.



The Gorgons were more like an awful, gigantic kind of insect--immense,

golden-winged beetles, or dragon-flies, or things of that sort,--at

once ugly and beautiful,--than like anything else; only that they were

a thousand and a million times as big. And, with all this, there was

something partly human about them, too. Luckily for Perseus, their

faces were completely hidden from him by the posture in which they lay;

for, had he but looked one instant at them, he would have fallen

heavily out of the air, an image of senseless stone.



"Now," whispered Quicksilver as he hovered by the side of Perseus,--

"now is your time to do the deed! Be quick, for, if one of the Gorgons

should awake, you are too late."



"Which shall I strike at?" asked Perseus, drawing his sword and

descending a little lower. "They all three look alike. All three have

snaky locks. Which of the three is Medusa?"



It must be understood that Medusa was the only one of these dragon-

monsters whose head Perseus could possibly cut off. As for the other

two, let him have the sharpest sword that ever was forged, and he might

have hacked away by the hour together, without doing them the least

harm.



"Be cautious," said the calm voice which had before spoken to him. "One

of the Gorgons is stirring in her sleep, and is just about to turn

over. That is Medusa. Do not look at her. The sight would turn you to

stone. Look at the reflection of her face and figure in the bright

mirror of your shield."



Perseus now understood Quicksilver's motive for so earnestly exhorting

him to polish his shield. In its surface, he could safely look at the

reflection of the Gorgon's face. And there it was,--that terrible

countenance,--mirrored in the brightness of the shield, with the

moonlight falling over it, and displaying all its horror. The snakes,

whose venomous natures could not altogether sleep, kept twisting

themselves over the forehead. It was the fiercest and most horrible

face that ever was seen or imagined, and yet with a strange, fearful,

and savage kind of beauty in it. The eyes were closed, and the Gorgon

was still in a deep slumber; but there was an unquiet expression

disturbing her features, as if the monster was troubled with an ugly

dream. She gnashed her white tusks, and dug into the sand with her

brazen claws.



The snakes, too, seemed to feel Medusa's dream, and to be made more

restless by it. They twined themselves into tumultuous knots, writhed

fiercely, and uplifted a hundred hissing heads, without opening their

eyes.



"Now, now!" whispered Quicksilver, who was growing impatient. "Make a

dash at the monster!"



"But be calm," said the grave, melodious voice, at the young man's

side. "Look in your shield, as you fly downward, and take care that you

do not miss your first stroke."



Perseus flew cautiously downward, still keeping his eyes on Medusa's

face, as reflected in his shield. The nearer he came, the more terrible

did the snaky visage and metallic body of the monster grow. At last,

when he found himself hovering over her within arm's length, Perseus

uplifted his sword, while, at the same instant, each separate snake

upon the Gorgon's head stretched threateningly upward, and Medusa

unclosed her eyes. But she awoke too late. The sword was sharp; the

stroke fell like a lightning flash; and the head of the wicked Medusa

tumbled from her body!



"Admirably done!" cried Quicksilver. "Make haste, and clap the head

into your magic wallet."



To the astonishment of Perseus, the small, embroidered wallet, which he

had hung about his neck, and which had hitherto been no bigger than a

purse, grew all at once large enough to contain Medusa's head. As quick

as thought, he snatched it up, with the snakes still writhing upon it,

and thrust it in.



"Your task is done," said the calm voice. "Now fly; for the other

Gorgons will do their utmost to take vengeance for Medusa's death."



It was indeed necessary to take flight; for Perseus had not done the

deed so quietly but that the clash of his sword, and the hissing of the

snakes, and the thump of Medusa's head as it tumbled upon the sea-

beaten sand, awoke the other two monsters. There they sat, for an

instant, sleepily rubbing their eyes with their brazen fingers, while

all the snakes on their heads reared themselves on end with surprise,

and with venomous malice against they knew not what. But when the

Gorgons saw the scaly carcass of Medusa, headless, and her golden wings

all ruffled, and half spread out on the sand, it was really awful to

hear what yells and screeches they set up. And then the snakes! They

sent forth a hundred-fold hiss, with one consent, and Medusa's snakes

answered them, out of the magic wallet.



No sooner were the Gorgons broad awake, than they hurtled upward into

the air, brandishing their brass talons, gnashing their horrible tusks,

and flapping their huge wings so wildly, that some of the golden

feathers were shaken out, and floated down upon the shore. And there,

perhaps, those very feathers lie scattered, till this day. Up rose the

Gorgons, as I tell you, staring horribly about, in hopes of turning

somebody to stone. Had Perseus looked them in the face, or had he

fallen into their clutches, his poor mother would never have kissed her

boy again! But he took good care to turn his eyes another way; and, as

he wore the helmet of invisibility, the Gorgons knew not in what

direction to follow him; nor did he fail to make the best use of the

winged slippers, by soaring upward a perpendicular mile or so. At that

height, when the screams of those abominable creatures sounded faintly

beneath him, he made a straight course for the island of Seriphus, in

order to carry Medusa's head to King Polydectes.



I have no time to tell you of several marvelous things that befell

Perseus, on his way homeward; such as his killing a hideous sea-

monster, just as it was on the point of devouring a beautiful maiden;

nor how he changed an enormous giant into a mountain of stone, merely

by showing him the head of the Gorgon. If you doubt this latter story,

you may make a voyage to Africa, some day or other, and see the very

mountain, which is still known by the ancient giant's name.



Finally, our brave Perseus arrived at the island, where he expected to

see his dear mother. But, during his absence, the wicked king had

treated Danaë so very ill, that she was compelled to make her escape,

and had taken refuge in a temple, where some good old priests were

extremely kind to her. These praiseworthy priests, and the kind-hearted

fisherman, who had first shown hospitality to Danaë and little Perseus

when he found them afloat in the chest, seem to have been the only

persons on the island who cared about doing right. All the rest of the

people, as well as King Polydectes himself, were remarkably ill-behaved,

and deserved no better destiny than that which was now to happen.



Not finding his mother at home, Perseus went straight to the palace,

and was immediately ushered into the presence of the king. Polydectes

was by no means rejoiced to see him, for he had felt almost certain, in

his own evil mind, that the Gorgons would have torn the poor young man

to pieces, and have eaten him up, out of the way. However, seeing him

safely returned, he put the best face he could upon the matter and

asked Perseus how he had succeeded.



"Have you performed your promise?" inquired he. "Have you brought me

the head of Medusa with the snaky locks? If not, young man, it will

cost you dear; for I must have a bridal present for the beautiful

Princess Hippodamia, and there is nothing else that she would admire so

much."



"Yes, please your Majesty," answered Perseus, in a quiet way, as if it

were no very wonderful deed for such a young man as he to perform. "I

have brought you the Gorgon's head, snaky locks and all."



"Indeed! Pray let me see it," quoth King Polydectes. "It must be a very

curious spectacle, if all that travelers tell about it be true."



"Your Majesty is in the right," replied Perseus. "It is really an

object that will be pretty certain to fix the regards of all who look

at it. And, if your Majesty think fit, I would suggest that a holiday

be proclaimed, and that all your Majesty's subjects be summoned to

behold this wonderful curiosity. Few of them, I imagine, have seen a

Gorgon's head before, and perhaps never may again!"



The king well knew that his subjects were an idle set of reprobates,

and very fond of sight-seeing, as idle persons usually are. So he took

the young man's advice, and sent out heralds and messengers, in all

directions, to blow the trumpet at the street corners, and in the

market-places, and wherever two roads met, and summon everybody to

court. Thither, accordingly, came a great multitude of good-for-nothing

vagabonds, all of whom, out of pure love of mischief, would have been

glad if Perseus had met with some ill-hap, in his encounter with the

Gorgons. If there were any better people in the island (as I really

hope there may have been, although the story tells nothing about any

such), they stayed quietly at home, minding their own business, and

taking care of their little children. Most of the inhabitants, at all

events, ran as fast as they could to the palace, and shoved, and

pushed, and elbowed one another, in their eagerness to get near a

balcony, on which Perseus showed himself, holding the embroidered

wallet in his hand.



On a platform, within full view of the balcony, sat the mighty King

Polydectes, amid his evil counselors, and with his flattering courtiers

in a semicircle round about him. Monarch, counselors, courtiers, and

subjects, all gazed eagerly toward Perseus.



"Show us the head! Show us the head!" shouted the people; and there was

a fierceness in their cry, as if they would tear Perseus to pieces,

unless he should satisfy them with what he had to show. "Show us the

head of Medusa with the snaky locks!"



A feeling of sorrow and pity came over the youthful Perseus.



"O King Polydectes," cried he, "and ye many people, I am very loath to

show you the Gorgon's head."



"Ah, the villain and coward!" yelled the people, more fiercely than

before. "He is making game of us! He has no Gorgon's head! Show us the

head, if you have it, or we will take your own head for a football!"



The evil counselors whispered bad advice in the king's ear; the

courtiers murmured, with one consent, that Perseus had shown disrespect

to their royal lord and master; and the great King Polydectes himself

waved his hand and ordered him, with the stern, deep voice of

authority, on his peril, to produce the head.



"Show me the Gorgon's head, or I will cut off your own!"



And Perseus sighed.



"This instant," repeated Polydectes, "or you die!"



"Behold it, then!" cried Perseus, in a voice like the blast of a

trumpet.



And, suddenly holding up the head, not an eyelid had time to wink

before the wicked King Polydectes, his evil counselors, and all his

fierce subjects, were no longer anything but the mere images of a

monarch and his people. They were all fixed, forever, in the look and

attitude of that moment! At the first glimpse of the terrible head of

Medusa, they whitened into marble! And Perseus thrust the head back

into his wallet, and went to tell his dear mother that she need no

longer be afraid of the wicked King Polydectes.





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