Spartan Twins - Lucy F. Perkins

The Stranger's Story

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"Long, long ago, when the earth was young and the Gods mingled more freely with men than they do to-day, there lived in Hellas a beautiful youth named Epimetheus. I am not quite sure that he was the very first man that ever lived, but at any rate he was one of the first, and he was very lonely. The world was then more beautiful than I can say. The sun shone every day in the year, flowers bloomed everywhere, and the earth brought forth abundantly all that he needed for food, but still Epimetheus was not happy. The Gods saw how lonely he was and they felt sorry for him.

"'Let us give him a companion,' said Zeus, the father of all the Gods. 'Even sun-crowned Olympus would be a desolate place to me if I had to live all alone.' So the Gods all fell to hunting for just the right companion to send to poor lonely Epimetheus, and soon they found a lovely maiden whose name was Pandora. 'She's just the right one,' said Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. 'See how beautiful she is.' 'Yes,' said Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, 'but she will need more than beauty or Epimetheus will tire of her. One cannot love an empty head forever, even if it is a beautiful one. I will give her learning and wisdom.'

"'I will give her a sweet voice for singing,' said Apollo. In this way each one of the Gods gave to Pandora some wonderful gift, and when the time came for her departure from Olympus, where the Gods dwell, these gifts were packed away in a marriage-chest of curious workmanship, and were taken with her to the home of Epimetheus.

"You can imagine how glad Epimetheus was to receive a bride so nobly endowed, and for a time everything went very happily upon the earth. At last, one sad day, a dreadful thing happened.

"Pandora had been told by the Gods that she must not open the box, lest she lose all the blessings it contained.

"But she was curious. She wished to see with her own eyes what was in it, and one day, when Epimetheus was away from home, she lifted the corner of the lid! Out flew the gifts of the Gods! She tried her best to close the lid again, but before she could do so, the blessings had flown away in a bright cloud.

"Poor Pandora! She sat down beside the box and wept the very first tears that were ever shed in this world. While she was weeping and blaming herself for her disobedience and the trouble it had caused, she heard a little voice, way down in the bottom of the box.

"'Don't cry, dear Pandora!' the little voice said. 'You can never be quite unhappy when I am here, and I am always going to stay with you; I am Hope.' So Pandora dried her tears, and no matter how full of sorrow the world has been since, there has never been a time when Hope was gone. If that time should ever come, the world would be a desolate place indeed."

When he had finished the story, no one said anything at all for a minute, and then Daphne looked up at the Stranger.

"Is that really the way all the troubles began?" she asked. "Because if it isn't, I think it's mean to blame everything on poor Pandora."

"Why, Daphne!" said her Mother in a shocked voice; but the Stranger only smiled.

"I should not be surprised if Epimetheus were to blame for a few things himself," he said, stroking his beard. "Anyway, I'm sure he felt he would rather have Pandora and all the troubles in the world than to live without her, and men have felt the same way ever since."

"Well, then," began Daphne, her eyes shining like two blue sparks, "why don't—?"

"Daphne! Daphne!" cried Lydia warningly. "You are talking too much for a little girl."

The Stranger nodded kindly to Lydia. "Let her speak," he said. Daphne spoke.

"Didn't Athena say Epimetheus would get tired of Pandora if she had an empty head?"

"Yes," admitted the Stranger, "the story certainly runs that way."

"And have men felt like that ever since too?" Daphne asked.

"Yes, I think so," answered the Stranger. "Certainly women need wisdom now as much as Pandora did."

"Then why don't they let us learn things the same as boys," gasped Daphne, a little frightened at her own boldness. "Dion's always telling me I can't do things or go to places because I am a girl. I want to know things if I am a girl. I can't try for the Olympian games and I can't even go to see them just because I am a girl." She stopped quite overcome.

Melas and Lydia and Dion were all too astonished to speak. Only the Stranger did not seem shocked. He drew Daphne up beside him.

"My dear," he said, "a child can ask questions which even a philosopher cannot answer. I do not know myself why the world feels as it does, but it certainly has always seemed to be afraid to let women know too much. It has always seemed to prefer they should have beauty rather than brains."

"Yes, but," urged Daphne, "I don't see why I can't try for the games too, when I am big enough. I can run just as fast as Dion and do everything he can do."

Melas smiled. "Daphne is true to her Spartan blood," he said. "The girls used to compete in the games at Sparta."

The Philosopher stroked Daphne's hair. "So your name is Daphne," he said, smiling, "And you can run fast and you have golden hair! Did you know it was to the fleet-footed nymph Daphne with golden hair that we owe the victor's crown at the Olympian games, even though no woman may wear it?"

Daphne shook her head. "I don't know what you mean," she said.

"I mean this," said the Stranger. "It is said that once upon a time Apollo himself loved a beautiful nymph named Daphne. But Daphne did not love Apollo even though he was a God, and when he pursued her she ran away. She was as swift as the wind, but Apollo was still more swift, and when she saw that she could not escape him by flight, she prayed to her father, who was a river god, and, to protect her, he changed her form by magic. Her arms became branches, her golden hair became leaves, and her feet took root in the ground. When Apollo reached her side, she was no longer a beautiful maiden, but a lovely laurel tree. Apollo gathered some of the shining leaves and wove them into a wreath. 'If you will not be my bride,' he cried, 'you shall at least be my tree and your leaves shall be my crown,' and that is why at the games over which Apollo presides, the victor is still crowned with laurel. It was Apollo himself who gave us the custom and made it sacred. So, my little maid," he finished, "you give us our crowns even though you may not win them for yourselves, don't you see? Isn't that almost as good?"

"Maybe it is," sighed Daphne, thoughtfully, "but anyway I'd like to try it the other way." Then she slid from the Stranger's side to her Mother's footstool, and sat down with her head against her Mother's knee.

"You are sleepy," said Lydia, stroking her hair. "It is time you children were in bed."

"Oh, Mother," pleaded Dion, "please let him tell just one more story. It isn't late, truly." Then he turned to their guest. "Those were very good stories," he said, "but they were both about girls. Won't you please tell me one about a boy?"

"Very well," said the Stranger, "if your Mother will let me, I will tell you the story of Perseus and how the great Goddess Athena helped him to cut off the Gorgon's head with its writhing snaky locks! There's a story for you! And if you don't believe it is true, some day, when you go to Athens with your Father, you can see the Gorgon's head, snakes and all, on the breastplate of the Goddess Athena, where she has worn it ever since."

"Is it the real Gorgon's head?" asked Dion breathlessly, "all snakes and blood and everything?"

"No," said the Stranger, laughing, "the blood of the Gorgon dried up long ago. It is a sculptured head that adorns the breastplate of Athena."

Then the Twins and Chloe listened with open mouth and round eyes to another of the most wonderful stories in the world, while Lydia forgot to spin and the wine-cup of Melas stood untouched within reach of his hand. Even Lydia forgot all about time, and when the story was finished, the moon had already risen and was looking down upon them over the wall. Lydia pointed to it with her distaff.

"See, children," she said, "the Goddess Artemis herself has come to light you to bed. Thank your kind friend and say good-night."