Old Greek Stories

Page: 50

The heroes hid behind the trees or climbed up among the branches, for they had not expected to see so terrible a creature. He stood in the middle of a little open space, tearing up the ground with his tusks. The white foam rolled from his mouth, his eyes glistened red like fire, and he grunted so fiercely that the woods and hills echoed with fearful sounds.



Then one of the bravest of the men threw his spear. But that only made the beast fiercer than ever; he charged upon the warrior, caught him before he could save himself, and tore him in pieces with his tusks. Another man ventured too far from his hiding-place and was also overtaken and killed. One of the oldest and noblest of the heroes leveled his spear and threw it with all his force; but it only grazed the boar's tough skin and glanced upward and pierced the heart of a warrior on the other side. The boar was getting the best of the fight.

Atalanta now ran forward and threw her spear. It struck the boar in the back, and a great stream of blood gushed out. A warrior let fly an arrow which put out one of the beast's eyes. Then Meleager rushed up and pierced his heart with his spear. The boar could no longer stand up; but he fought fiercely for some moments, and then rolled over, dead.

The heroes then cut off the beast's head. It was as much as six of them could carry. Then they took the skin from his great body and offered it to Meleager as a prize, because he had given the death wound to the wild boar. But Meleager said:

"It belongs to Atalanta, because it was she who gave him the very first wound." And he gave it to her as the prize of honor.

You ought to have seen the tall huntress maiden then, as she stood among the trees with the boar's skin thrown over her left shoulder and reaching down to her feet. She had never looked so much like the queen of the woods. But the rude brothers of Queen Althea were vexed to think that a maiden should win the prize, and they began to make trouble. One of them snatched Atalanta's spear from her hand, and dragged the prize from her shoulders, and the other pushed her rudely and bade her go back to Arcadia and live again with the she-bears on the mountain side. All this vexed Meleager, and he tried to make his uncles give back the spear and the prize, and stop their unmannerly talk. But they grew worse and worse, and at last set upon Meleager, and would have killed him if he had not drawn his sword to defend himself. A fight followed, and the rude fellows struck right and left as though they were blind. Soon both were stretched dead upon the ground. Some who did not see the fight said that Meleager killed them, but I would rather believe that they killed each other in their drunken fury.

And now all the company started back to the city. Some carried the boar's huge head, and some the different parts of his body, while others had made biers of the green branches, and bore upon them the dead bodies of those who had been slain. It was indeed a strange procession.

A young man who did not like Meleager, had run on in front and had reached the city before the rest of the company had fairly started. Queen Althea was standing at the door of the palace, and when she saw him she asked what had happened in the forest He told her at once that Meleager had killed her brothers, for he knew that, with all their faults, she loved them very dearly. It was terrible to see her grief. She shrieked, and tore her hair, and rushed wildly about from room to room. Her senses left her, and she did not know what she was doing.

It was the custom at that time for people to avenge the death of their kindred, and her only thought was how to punish the murderer of her brothers. In her madness she forgot that Meleager was her son. Then she thought of the three Fates and of the unburned firebrand which she had locked up in her chest so many years before. She ran and got the stick and threw it into the fire that was burning on the hearth.