A Book of Myths
Page: 33[Pg 62] in amazement, realised that what she saw were unending processions of ants. And as though one who loved her directed their labours, the millions of busy little toilers swiftly did for Psyche what she herself had failed to do. When at length they went away, in those long dark lines that looked like the flow of a thread-like stream, the grains were all piled up in high heaps, and the sad heart of Psyche knew not only thankful relief, but had a thrill of gladness.
“Eros sent them to me:” she thought. “Even yet his love for me is not dead.”
And what she thought was true.
Amazed and angry, Aphrodite looked at the task she had deemed impossible, well and swiftly performed. That Psyche should possess such magic skill only incensed her more, and next day she said to her new slave:
“Behold, on the other side of that glittering stream, my golden-fleeced sheep crop the sweet flowers of the meadow. To-day must thou cross the river and bring me back by evening a sample of wool pulled from each one of their shining fleeces.”
Then did Psyche go down to the brink of the river, and even as her white feet splashed into the water, she heard a whisper of warning from the reeds that bowed their heads by the stream.
“Beware! O Psyche,” they said. “Stay on the shore and rest until the golden-fleeced sheep lie under the shade of the trees in the evening and the murmur of the river has lulled them to sleep.”
And again the reeds murmured, “Beware! for the golden-fleeced sheep, with their great horns, are evil creatures that lust for the lives of mortals, and will slay thee even as thy feet reach the other bank. Only when the sun goes down does their vice depart from them, and while they sleep thou canst gather of their wool from the bushes and from the trunks of the trees.”
And again the heart of Psyche felt a thrill of happiness, because she knew that she was loved and cared for still. All day she rested in the wood by the river and dreamt pleasant day-dreams, and when the sun had set she waded to the further shore and gathered the golden wool in the way that the reeds had told her. When in the evening she came to the goddess, bearing her shining load, the brow of Aphrodite grew dark.
“If thou art so skilled in magic that no danger is danger to thee, yet another task shall I give thee that is worthy of thy skill,” she said, and laid upon Psyche her fresh commands.
Sick with dread, Psyche set out next morning to seek the black stream out of which Aphrodite had commanded her to fill a ewer. Part of its waters flowed into the Styx, part into the Cocytus, and well did Psyche know that a hideous death from the loathly creatures that protected the fountain must be the fate of those who risked so proud an attempt. Yet because she knew that she must “dree her weird,” as Pan had said, she [Pg 64] plodded onward, towards that dark mountain from whose side gushed the black water that she sought. And then, once again, there came to her a message of love. A whirring of wings she heard, and
The bearer, of his servant, friend of Love,
Who, when he saw her, straightway towards her flew,
And asked her why she wept, and when he knew,
And who she was, he said, ‘Cease all thy fear,
For to the black waves I thy ewer will bear,
And fill it for thee; but, remember me,
When thou art come unto thy majesty.’”
And, yet once again, the stricken heart of Psyche was gladdened, and when at nightfall she came with her ewer full of water from the dread stream and gave it to Aphrodite, although she knew that a yet more arduous task was sure to follow, her fear had all passed away.
With beautiful, sullen eyes, Aphrodite received her when she brought the water. And, with black brow, she said: “If thou art so skilled in magic that no danger is known to thee, I shall now give thee a task all worthy of thy skill.”