A Book of Myths
Page: 86When all the world was young, and nymphs and fauns and dryads dwelt in the forests, there was no nymph more lovely and more gay than she whose name was Echo. Diana would smile on her for her fleetness of foot when she followed her in the chase, and those whom she met in the leafy pathways of the dim, green woods, would pass on smiling at the remembrance of her merry chatter and her tricksy humour.
It was an evil day for Echo when she crossed the path of Hera, queen of the gods. The jealous goddess sought her errant husband, who was amusing himself with some nymphs, and Echo, full of mischievous glee, kept her in talk until the nymphs had fled to safety. Hera was furious indeed when she found out that a frolicsome nymph had dared to play on her such a trick, and ruthlessly she spoke fair Echo’s doom.
“Henceforth,” she said, “the tongue with which thou hast cheated me shall be in bonds. No longer wilt thou have the power to speak in greeting. To the tongues of others shall thy tongue be slave, and from this day until time shall cease thou shalt speak only to repeat the last words that have fallen on thine ears.”
A maimed nymph indeed was Echo then, yet whole in all that matters most, in that her merry heart was still her own. But only for a little while did this endure.
Narcissus, the beautiful son of a nymph and a river [Pg 176] god, was hunting in a lonely forest one day when Echo saw him pass. To her he seemed more fair than god or man, and once she had seen him she knew that she must gain his love or die. From that day on, she haunted him like his shadow, gliding from tree to tree, nestling down amongst thick fern and undergrowth, motionless as one who stalks a wild thing, watching him afar off while he rested, gladdening her eyes with his beauty. So did she feed her hungering heart, and sought to find contentment by looking on his face each day.
To her at length came a perfect moment when Narcissus was separated from his companions in the chase and, stopping suddenly where the evening sun chequered the pathway of the forest with black and gold, heard the nymph’s soft footfall on the rustling leaves.
“Who’s here?” he called.
“Here!” answered Echo.
Narcissus, peering amongst the trees’ long shadows and seeing no one, called “Come!”
And “Come!” called the glad voice of Echo, while the nymph, with fast-beating heart, felt that her day of happiness had come indeed.
“Why do you shun me?” then called Narcissus.
“Why do you shun me?” Echo repeated.
“Let us join one another,” said the lad, and the simple words seemed turned into song when Echo said them over.
“Let us join one another!” she said, and not Eos herself, as with rosy fingers she turns aside the dark clouds of night, could be fairer than was the nymph as [Pg 177] she pushed aside the leaves of the trackless wood, and ran forward with white arms outstretched to him who was lord of her life.