A Book of Myths
Page: 141But as the love that all others gave to the four children of Lîr grew, the hatred of Eva, their stepmother, kept pace with it, until at length the poison in her heart ate into her body as well as her soul, and she grew worn and ill out of her very wickedness. For nearly a year she lay sick in bed, while the sound of the children’s laughter and their happy voices, their lovely faces like the faces of the children of a god, and the proud and loving words with which their father spoke of them were, to her, like acid in a festering wound. At last there came a black day when jealousy had choked all the flowers of goodness in her heart, and only treachery and merciless cruelty remained. She rose from her couch and ordered the horses to be yoked to her chariot that she might take the four children to the Great Lake to see the king, her foster-father. They were but little children, yet the instinct that sometimes tells even a very little child when it is near an evil thing, warned Finola that harm would come to her and to her brothers were they to go. It may also have been, perhaps, that she had seen, with the sharp vision of a woman child, the thing to which Lîr was quite blind, and that in a tone of her stepmother’s voice, in a look she had surprised in her eyes, she had learned that the love that her father’s wife professed for her and for the [Pg 293] others was only hatred, cunningly disguised. Thus she tried to make excuses for herself and the little brothers to whom she was a child-mother, so that they need not go. But Eva listened with deaf ears, and the children said farewell to Lîr, who must have wondered at the tears that stood in Finola’s eyes and the shadow that darkened their blue, and drove off in the chariot with their stepmother.
When they had driven a long way, Eva turned to her attendants: “Much wealth have I,” she said, “and all that I have shall be yours if you will slay for me those four hateful things that have stolen from me the love of my man.”
The servants heard her in horror, and in horror and shame for her they answered: “Fearful is the deed thou wouldst have us do; more fearful still is it that thou shouldst have so wicked a thought. Evil will surely come upon thee for having wished to take the lives of Lîr’s innocent little children.”
Angrily, then, she seized a sword and herself would fain have done what her servants had scorned to do. But she lacked strength to carry out her own evil wish, and so they journeyed onwards. They came to Lake Darvra at last—now Lough Derravaragh, in West Meath—and there they all alighted from the chariot, and the children, feeling as though they had been made to play at an ugly game, but that now it was over and all was safety and happiness again, were sent into the loch to bathe. Joyously and with merry laughter the little boys splashed into the clear water by the [Pg 294] rushy shore, all three seeking to hold the hands of their sister, whose little slim white body was whiter than the water-lilies and her hair more golden than their hearts.