Old Greek Stories
Page: 51It kindled at once, and she watched it as it blazed up brightly. Then it began to turn into ashes, and as the last spark died out, the noble Meleager, who was walking by the side of Atalanta, dropped to the ground dead.
When they carried the news to Althea she said not a word, for then she knew what she had done, and her heart was broken. She turned silently away and went to her own room. When the king came home a few minutes later, he found her dead.
So ended the hunt in the wood of Calydon.
V. THE RACE FOR A WIFE.
After the death of Meleager, Atalanta went back to her old home among the mountains of Arcadia. She was still the swift-footed huntress, and she was never so happy as when in the green woods wandering among the trees or chasing the wild deer. All the world had heard about her, however; and the young heroes in the lands nearest to Arcadia did nothing else but talk about her beauty and her grace and her swiftness of foot and her courage. Of course every one of these young fellows wanted her to become his wife; and she might have been a queen any day if she had only said the word, for the richest king in Greece would have been glad to marry her. But she cared nothing for any of the young men, and she liked the freedom of the green woods better than all the fine things she might have had in a palace.
The young men would not take "No!" for an answer, however. They could not believe that she really meant it, and so they kept coming and staying until the woods of Arcadia were full of them, and there was no getting along with them at all. So, when she could think of no other way to get rid of them, Atalanta called them together and said:
"You want to marry me, do you? Well, if any one of you would like to run a race with me from this mountain to the bank of the river over there, he may do so; and I will be the wife of the one who outruns me."
"Agreed! agreed!" cried all the young fellows.
"But, listen!" she said. "Whoever tries this race must also agree that if I outrun him, he must lose his life."
Ah, what long faces they all had then! About half of them drew away and went home.
"But won't you give us the start of you a little?" asked the others.
"Oh, yes," she answered. "I will give you the start by a hundred paces. But remember, if I overtake any one before he reaches the river, he shall lose his head that very day."
Several others now found that they were in ill health or that business called them home; and when they were next looked for, they were not to be found. But a good many who had had some practice in sprinting across the country stayed and made up their minds to try their luck. Could a mere girl outrun such fine fellows as they? Nonsense!