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- Types of Children's Literature - 70/107 -
and fawning, it was dry and husky like a toad's; and though his eyes were gentle, they were dull and cold like stones. But he consented, and went with the man up a glen which led from the road toward the peaks of Parnes, under the dark shadow of the cliffs.
And as they went up, the glen grew narrower, and the cliffs higher and darker, and beneath them a torrent roared, half seen between bare limestone crags. And around them was neither tree nor bush, while from the white peaks of Parnes the snow-blasts swept down the glen, cutting and chilling, till a horror fell on Theseus as he looked round at that doleful place. And he asked at last, "Your castle stands, it seems, in a dreary region."
"Yes; but once within it, hospitality makes all things cheerful. But who are these?" and he looked back, and Theseus also; and far below along the road which they had left, came a string of laden asses, and merchants walking by them, watching their ware.
"Ah, poor souls!" said the stranger. "Well for them that I looked back and saw them! And well for me too, for I shall have the more guests at my feast. Wait awhile till I go down and call them, and we will eat and drink together the live-long night. Happy am I, to whom Heaven sends so many guests at once!"
And he ran back down the hill, waving his hand and shouting to the merchants, while Theseus went slowly up the steep pass.
But as he went up he met an aged man, who had been gathering driftwood in the torrent-bed. He had laid down his fagot in the road, and was trying to lift it again to his shoulder. And when he saw Theseus, he called to him, and said--
"O fair youth, help me up with my burden, for my limbs are stiff and weak with years."
Then Theseus lifted the burden on his back. And the old man blest him, and then looked earnestly upon him, and said--
"Who are you, fair youth, and wherefore travel you this doleful road?"
"Who I am my parents know: but I travel this doleful road because I have been invited by a hospitable man, who promises to feast me, and to make me sleep upon I know not what wondrous bed."
Then the old man clapped his hands together, and cried,--
"O house of Hades, man-devouring! will thy maw never be full? Know, fair youth, that you are going to torment and to death; for he who met you (I will requite your kindness to another) is a robber and a murderer of men. Whatsoever stranger he meets he entices him hither to death; and as for this bed of which he speaks, truly it fits all comers, yet none ever rose alive off it save me."
"Why?" asked Theseus, astonished.
"Because, if a man be too tall for it, he lops his limbs till they be short enough, and if he be too short, he stretches his limbs till they be long enough: but me only he spared, seven weary years agone; for I alone of all fitted his bed exactly; so he spared me, and made me his slave. And once I was a wealthy merchant, and dwelt in brazen-gated Thebes; but now I hew wood and draw water for him, the torment of all mortal men."
Then Theseus said nothing; but he ground his teeth together.
"Escape then," said the old man, "for he will have no pity on thy youth. But yesterday he brought up hither a young man and a maiden, and fitted them upon his bed: and the young man's hands and feet he cut off; but the maiden's limbs he stretched until she died, and so both perished miserably--but I am tired of weeping over the slain. And therefore he is called Procrustes the stretcher, though his father called him Damastes. Flee from him: yet whither will you flee? The cliffs are steep, and who can climb them? and there is no other road."
But Theseus laid his hand upon the old man's mouth, and said, "There is no need to flee;" and he turned to go down the pass.
"Do not tell him that I have warned you, or he will kill me by some evil death;" and the old man screamed after him down the glen; but Theseus strode on in his wrath.
And he said to himself, "This is an ill-ruled land; when shall I have done ridding it of monsters?" And as he spoke, Procrustes came up the hill and all the merchants with him, smiling and talking gayly. And when he saw Theseus, he cried, "Ah, fair young guest, have I kept you too long waiting?"
But Theseus answered, "The man who stretches his guests upon a bed and hews off their hands and feet, what shall be done to him, when right is done throughout the land?"
Then Procrustes' countenance changed, and his cheeks grew as green as a lizard, and he felt for his sword in haste; but Theseus leapt on him, and cried--
"Is this true, my host, or is it false?" and he clasped Procrustes round waist and elbow, so that he could not draw his sword.
"Is this true, my host, or is it false?" But Procrustes answered never a word.
Then Theseus flung him from him, and lifted up his dreadful club; and, before Procrustes could strike him, he had struck, and felled him to the ground.
And once again he struck him; and his evil soul fled forth, and went down to Hades squeaking, like a bat into the darkness of a cave.
Then Theseus stript him of his gold ornaments, and went up to his house, and found there great wealth and treasure, which he had stolen from the passers-by. And he called the people of the country, whom Procrustes had spoiled a long time, and parted the spoil among them, and went down the mountains, and away.
And he went down the glens of Parnes, through mist, and cloud, and rain, down the slopes of oak, and lentisk, and arbutus, and fragrant bay, till he came to the Vale of Cephisus, and the pleasant town of Aphidnai, and the home of the Phytalid heroes, where they dwelt beneath a mighty elm.
And there they built an altar, and bade him bathe in Cephisus, and offer a yearling ram, and purified him from the blood of Sinis, and sent him away in peace.
And he went down the valley by Acharnai, and by the silver-swirling stream, while all the people blessed him; for the fame of his prowess had spread wide, till he saw the plain of Athens, and the hill where Athené dwells.
So Theseus went up through Athens, and all the people ran out to see him; for his fame had gone before him, and every one knew of his mighty deeds. And all cried, "Here comes the hero who slew Sinis, and Phaia the wild sow of Crommyon, and conquered Kerkuon in wrestling, and slew Procrustes the pitiless." But Theseus went on sadly and steadfastly, for his heart yearned after his father; and he said, "How shall I deliver him from these leeches who suck his blood?"
So he went up the holy stairs, and into the Acropolis, where Ęgeus' palace stood; and he went straight into Ęgeus' hall, and stood upon the threshold, and looked round.
And there he saw his cousins sitting about the table at the wine: many a son of Pallas, but no Ęgeus among them. There they sat and feasted, and laughed, and passed the wine-cup round; while harpers harped, and slave girls sang, and the tumblers showed their tricks.
Loud laughed the sons of Pallas, and fast went the wine-cup round; but Theseus frowned, and said under his breath, "No wonder that the land is full of robbers, while such as these bear rule."
Then the Pallantids saw him, and called to him, half-drunk with wine, "Holla, tall stranger at the door, what is your will today?"
"I come hither to ask for hospitality."
"Then take it, and welcome. You look like a hero and a bold warrior; and we like such to drink with us."
"I ask no hospitality of you; I ask it of Ęgeus the king, the master of this house."
At that some growled, and some laughed, and shouted, "Heyday! we are all masters here."
"Then I am master as much as the rest of you," said Theseus, and he strode past the table up the hall, and looked around for Ęgeus; but he was nowhere to be seen.
The Pallantids looked at him, and then at each other; and each whispered to the man next him, "This is a forward fellow; he ought to be thrust out at the door." But each man's neighbor whispered in return, "His shoulders are broad; will you rise and put him out?" So they all sat still where they were.
Then Theseus called to the servants, and said, "Go tell King Ęgeus, your master, that Theseus of Troezene is here, and asks to be his guest awhile."
A servant ran and told Ęgeus, where he sat in his chamber within, by Medeia the dark witch-woman, watching her eye and hand. And when Ęgeus heard of Troezene, he turned pale and red again, and rose from his seat trembling, while Medeia watched him like a snake.
"What is Troezene to you?" she asked. But he said hastily, "Do you not know who this Theseus is? The hero who has cleared the country from all monsters; but that he came from Troezene, I never heard before. I must go out and welcome him."
So Ęgeus came out into the hall; and when Theseus saw him, his heart leapt into his mouth, and he longed to fall on his neck and welcome him; but he controlled himself, and said, "My father may not wish for me, after all. I will try him before I discover myself;"
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