A Book of Myths
With cold eyes and colder heart the one she loved beheld her.
“Away!” he cried, shrinking back as if from something that he hated. “Away! I would rather die than that you should have me!”
“Have me!” cried Echo pitifully, but she pled in vain. Narcissus had no love to give her, and his scorn filled her with shame. Thenceforth in the forest revels she never more was seen, and the nymphs danced gaily as ever, with never a care for her who had faded and gone away as completely as though she were a blossom in the passing of spring. In the solitude of mountain cliffs and caves and rocky places, and in the loneliest depths of the forest, Echo hid her grief, and when the winds blew through the dark branches of the trees at night, moaning and sighing, they could hear far below them the voice of Echo repeating their lamentations. For her, long nights followed hopeless days, and nights and days only told her that her love was all in vain. Then came a night when the winds no longer saw the figure of the nymph, white and frail as a broken flower, crouching close to the rocks they passed over. Grief had slain the body of Echo. Only her voice was left to repeat their mocking laughter, their wistful sighs—only her voice that lives on still though all the old gods are gone, and but few there are who know her story.
Heartwhole and happy, Narcissus, slayer of happiness, [Pg 178] went on his way, and other nymphs besides fair Echo suffered from loving him in vain. One nymph, less gentle than Echo, poured the tale of her love that was scorned into the sympathetic ears of the goddess of Love, and implored her to punish Narcissus.
Hot and tired from the chase, Narcissus sought one day a lonely pool in the woods, there to rest and to quench his thirst.
A little space, with boughs all woven round;
And in the midst of all, a clearer pool
Than e’er reflected in its pleasant cool
The blue sky here, and there, serenely peeping
Through tendril wreaths fantastically creeping.”
As he stooped down to drink, a face looked at his through the crystal clear water, and a pair of beautiful eyes met his own. His surprise and joy at the sight of what he felt sure must be the most beautiful creature on earth, was evidently shared by the nymph of the pool, who gazed fearlessly up at him.
Round her head she had a nimbus of curls than which that of Adonis—nay, of the sun-god himself, was not more perfect, while her eyes were like the brown pools of water in a rippling mountain stream, flecked with sunshine, yet with depths untold. When Narcissus smiled at her in rapture, her red lips also parted in a smile. He stretched out his arms towards her, and her arms were stretched to him. Almost trembling in his delight, he slowly stooped to kiss her. Nearer she drew to him, nearer still, but when his mouth would have [Pg 179] given itself to that other mouth that was formed like the bow of Eros—a thing to slay hearts—only the chilly water of the pool touched his lips, and the thing of his delight vanished away. In passionate disappointment Narcissus waited for her to return, and as soon as the water of the pool grew still, once more he saw her exquisite face gazing wistfully up into his. Passionately he pled with the beautiful creature—spoke of his love—besought her to have pity on him, but although the face in the pool reflected his every look of adoration and of longing, time and again he vainly tried to clasp in his arms what was but the mirrored likeness of himself.
In full measure had the avenging goddess meted out to Narcissus the restless longing of unsatisfied love. By day and by night he haunted the forest pool, and ere long the face that looked back at his was pale as a lily in the dawn. When the moonbeams came straying down through the branches and all the night was still, they found him kneeling by the pool, and the white face that the water mirrored had the eyes of one of the things of the woods to which a huntsman has given a mortal wound. Mortally wounded he truly was, slain, like many another since his day, by a hopeless love for what was in truth but an image, and that an image of his own creation. Even when his shade passed across the dark Stygian river, it stooped over the side of the boat that it might try to catch a glimpse of the beloved one in the inky waters.