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A Book of Myths

Page: 96

But to Syrinx, who knew no fear, Fear came at last. She was returning one evening from the shadowy hills, untired by the chase that had lasted for many an hour, when, face to face, she met with one whom hitherto she had only seen from afar. Of him the other nymphs spoke often. Who was so great as Pan?—Pan, who ruled the woods. None could stand against Pan. Those who defied him must ever come under his power in the end. He was Fear; he was Youth; he was Joy; he was Love; he was Beast; he was Power; he was Man; he was God. [Pg 199] He was Life itself. So did they talk, and Syrinx listened with a smile. Not Pan himself could bring Fear to her.

Yet when he met her in the silent loneliness of a great forest and stood in her path and gazed on her with eyes of joyous amazement that one so fair should be in his kingdom without his having had knowledge of it, Syrinx felt something come to her heart that never before had assailed it.

Pan’s head was crowned with sharp pine-leaves. His face was young and beautiful, and yet older than the mountains and the seas. Sadness and joy were in his eyes at the same time, and at the same moment there looked out from them unutterable tenderness and merciless cruelty. For only a little space of time did he stand and hold her eyes with his own, and then in low caressing voice he spoke, and his words were like the song of a bird to his mate, like the call of the earth to the sun in spring, like the lap of the waves when they tell the rocks of their eternal longing. Of love he spoke, of love that demanded love, and of the nymph’s most perfect beauty. Yet as he spoke, the unknown thing came and smote with icy hands the heart of Syrinx.

“Ah! I have Fear! I have Fear!” she cried, and more cruel grew the cruelty in the eyes of Pan, but his words were still the words of passionate tenderness. Like a bird that trembles, helpless, before the serpent that would slay it, so did Syrinx the huntress stand, and her face in the shade of the forest was like a white lily in the night. But when the god would have drawn her close to him and kissed her red lips, Fear leapt to Terror, [Pg 200] and Terror winged her feet. Never in the chase with Diana had she run as now she ran. But like a rushing storm did Pan pursue her, and when he laughed she knew that what the nymphs had said was true—he was Power—he was Fear—he was Beast—he was Life itself. The darkness of the forest swiftly grew more dark. The climbing trails of ivy and the fragrant creeping plants caught her flying feet and made her stumble. Branches and twigs grew alive and snatched at her and baulked her as she passed. Trees blocked her path. All Nature had grown cruel, and everywhere there seemed to her to be a murmur of mocking laughter, laughter from the creatures of Pan, echoing the merciless merriment of their lord and master. Nearer he came, ever nearer. Almost she could feel his breath on her neck; but even as he stretched out his arms to seize the nymph whose breath came with sobs like that of a young doe spent by the chase, they reached the brink of the river Ladon. And to her “watery sisters” the nymphs of the river, Syrinx breathed a desperate prayer for pity and for help, then stumbled forward, a quarry run to the death.


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