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And, unless their eyes much deceived them, he began to grow round and rosy and well!
“Will you give this child entirely into my keeping?” asked Ceres.
“Gladly, gladly!” exclaimed the mother, Metanira. For who would not have been glad to engage a nurse whose mere touch worked such wonders?
But as the child's bedtime drew near, Metanira became worried and restless. No one but herself had ever tended him before—was it really safe to trust this stranger? At least, she would watch; and quietly she stole to the door which separated her own apartment from that which had been given to Ceres. The stranger sat before the hearth, with the crowing, happy baby on her knee. Gently she drew off his clothing, gently she anointed him with some liquid, the delicious perfume of which reached Metanira. Then, murmuring some sounding, rhythmic words, she leaned forward and placed him on the glowing coals.
Shrieking, Metanira rushed into the room and caught up her baby, burning herself badly in the act; and furiously she turned to the aged nurse.
“How dare you—” she began; but there she stopped; for before her stood, not the ragged stranger, but a woman taller than mortal, with flowing yellow hair, bound with a wreath of wheat ears and red poppies. And from her face shone a light so bright that Metanira was well-nigh blinded.
“O queen,” she said gravely, “thy curiosity and thy lack of faith have cost thy son dear. Immortality was the gift I meant to bestow upon him, but now he shall grow old and die at last as other
THE UNDERWORLD men.” And with these words the goddess vanished.?
Still finding no trace of her daughter, Ceres cursed the earth and forbade it to bring forth fruit until Proserpina should be found.
“Then on all lands
Great indeed must have been the anguish of this kindest of all goddesses when she could bring herself to adopt such measures. Even the grief and want of the people among whom she moved could not waken her pity.
One day, when her wanderings had brought her back to Italy, Ceres came to the bank of the Cyane River, and there, glittering at her feet, was the girdle which she had watched her daughter put on the last day she saw her. Torn between hope and fear, Ceres snatched it up. Had Proserpina, then, been drowned in this raging river? At any rate, it was much, after all these months, to find something which her dear daughter had touched, and with renewed energy she started on. As she rested, late in the day, by the side of a cool, sparkling fountain, she fancied she heard words mingling with the splashing of the water. Holding her breath, she listened:
2. Although Ceres was unable to do all she wished for Triptolemus, she did not forget him. When he grew up she loaned him her dragon-car and sent him about the world teaching people how to till the soil, and, in particular, to use the plow. It was Triptolemus who instituted the great festival at Eleusis which was held in honor
“O Ceres,” came the words, scarcely distinguishable, “I made a long journey underground, to cool my waters ere they burst forth at this point. As I passed through the lower world, I saw, seated beside Pluto on his gloomy throne, a queen, crowned with stars and poppies. Strangely like Proserpina she looked.”
The words died away, and Ceres, knowing well that none but the king of gods could help her now, hastened to Olympus and cast herself at the feet of Jupiter.
“Listen, O father of gods and men,” she said. “What is that sound which you hear rising from the earth?” .
"It sounds to me,” replied Jupiter, “like the wailing of men, joined with the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle. Who is afflicting my people on earth?”
“It is 1,” replied Ceres sternly; “I, of old their best friend. Never shall spear of grass or blade of corn show above the ground, never shall blossom or fruit appear on any tree, until my beloved daughter is brought back to me from the realm of Pluto.”
Then indeed there was consternation on Olympus; for Jupiter did not wish to anger his brother, and yet, how could he let the earth continue to be barren? There was much consulting of the Fates, those three dread sisters whose decrees even Jupiter could not break, and finally Jupiter called Mercury to him, and said:
“Hasten to the lower world, and lead thence Proserpina, the daughter of Ceres. Only, if during her stay there she have allowed food to pass her lips, she shall not return.”
Meanwhile, Proserpina had been dwelling in gloom. How could one whose chief care had been the flowers, whose chief joy had been to stray abroad in the sunshine with gay companions, be happy in a realm where the sun never shone, where no flowers ever grew save the white, sleep-bringing poppies, where she had no companions except the gloomy king of the dead? Pluto was kind to her, he showered jewels upon her, and gorgeous raiment; but what meant such things to her when she could not delight with them the eyes of her mother and her friends? The dead over whom she reigned she could not even make happy, and the only one who seemed to have profited at all by her coming to Hades was Pluto, who was of a certainty somewhat less stern and gloomy.
Of all the food that had been set before Proserpina since she entered Hades, nothing had tempted her but a pomegranate, and of that she had eaten but six seeds. This one taste of food, however, she soon had reason to regret, for ere long Mercury, Jupiter's messenger, stood before Pluto and cried with a flourish:
"Hear the decree of mighty Jupiter and of the Fates, powerful over all. The Lady Proserpina shall return with me, the messenger of mighty Jupiter, to the upper world. Only, if she have allowed food to pass her lips, she shall not return, but shall remain queen of the dead forever.”
Proserpina turned palepaler than her months underground had made her—but she said nothing. Then, from the throng of spirits who had crowded round to see the messenger of the gods, stepped forth one, Ascalaphus. No pity for the white
OF THE UNDERWORLD 477 faced, sad-eyed queen moved him as he told how he had seen Proserpina eat of the pomegranate. Poor Proserpina felt that she would never see her beloved mother again, and was overwhelmed with grief when the messenger of the gods, the first cheerful personage she had seen since leaving earth, turned to depart.
Mercury was a kindly god, and he described to his father and the Fates most touchingly the grief of Proserpina. Ceres joined her tears with those of her daughter, and the Fates finally decreed that while Proserpina must spend underground one month of every year for each pomegranate seed she had eaten, she might spend the rest of her time on earth. Back hastened Mercury with the new decree, and Pluto unwillingly let his wife go. She bade him an almost affectionate farewell, for after all, he had been good to her, and she might quite have loved him had his abode been a less gloomy place. Up the dark and dangerous passages to earth Mercury conducted her, and it was strange to see how, as she stepped forth into the sunshine, her pallor and her sadness left her, and she became the bright-eyed, happy Proserpina of old. And not only in her did the change appear. About her, on all sides, the grass and corn came shooting through the dry brown earth. Violets, hyacinths, daisies were everywhere, and Proserpina stooped and caressed them, with a gay laugh. But what was her joy when she saw at the door of her home Mother Ceres, with arms outstretched to greet her! Not even the thought of the separation which must surely come again could sadden their meeting. For that day they sat together and talked of all that