Myths and Legends of All Nations Famous Stories from the Greek, German, English, Spanish, Scandinavian, Danish, French, Russian, Bohemian, Italian and other sources

Page: 44

"Well said, wise man with the one sandal!" cried he. "Go, then, and at the peril of your life bring me back the Golden Fleece!"

"I go," answered Jason composedly. "If I fail, you need not fear that I will ever come back to trouble you again. But if I return to Iolchos with the prize, then, King Pelias, you must hasten down from your lofty throne and give me your crown and scepter."

"That I will," said the king, with a sneer. "Meantime I will keep them very safely for you."

[Pg 78] The first thing that Jason thought of doing after he left the king's presence was to go to Dodona and inquire of the Talking Oak what course it was best to pursue. This wonderful tree stood in the center of an ancient wood. Its stately trunk rose up a hundred feet into the air and threw a broad and dense shadow over more than an acre of ground. Standing beneath it, Jason looked up among the knotted branches and green leaves and into the mysterious heart of the old tree, and spoke aloud, as if he were addressing some person who was hidden in the depths of the foliage.

"What shall I do," said he, "in order to win the Golden Fleece?"

At first there was a deep silence, not only within the shadow of the Talking Oak, but all through the solitary wood. In a moment or two, however, the leaves of the oak began to stir and rustle as if a gentle breeze were wandering among them, although the other trees of the wood were perfectly still. The sound grew louder and became like the roar of a high wind. By and by Jason imagined that he could distinguish words, but very confusedly, because each separate leaf of the tree seemed to be a tongue and the whole myriad of tongues were babbling at once. But the noise waxed broader and deeper until it resembled a tornado sweeping through the oak and making one great utterance out of the thousand and thousand of little murmurs which each leafy tongue had caused by its rustling. And now, though it still had the tone of a mighty wind roaring among the branches, it was also like a deep bass voice speaking, as distinctly as a tree could be expected to speak, the following words:

"Go to Argus, the shipbuilder, and bid him build a galley with fifty oars."

Then the voice melted again into the indistinct murmur of the rustling leaves and died gradually away. When it was[Pg 79] quite gone Jason felt inclined to doubt whether he had actually heard the words or whether his fancy had not shaped them out of the ordinary sound made by a breeze while passing through the thick foliage of the tree.

But on inquiry among the people of Iolchos, he found that there was really a man in the city by the name of Argus, who was a very skilful builder of vessels. This showed some intelligence in the oak, else how should it have known that any such person existed? At Jason's request Argus readily consented to build him a galley so big that it should require fifty strong men to row it, although no vessel of such a size and burden had heretofore been seen in the world. So the head carpenter and all his journeymen and apprentices began their work; and for a good while afterward there they were busily employed hewing out the timbers and making a great clatter with their hammers, until the new ship, which was called the Argo, seemed to be quite ready for sea. And as the Talking Oak had already given him such good advice, Jason thought that it would not be amiss to ask for a little more. He visited it again, therefore, and standing beside its huge, rough trunk, inquired what he should do next.