"Who can it be that owns so many rich and beautiful things!" she cried out at length; and soft voices answered in her ear, though as yet she saw no human form.
"All are thine, Psyche! And we are they servants, appointed to wait on thee. Command us as thou wilt, and it shall be done."
When she was tired of wandering through the palace, and feasting her eyes on its beauty, Psyche took courage to try what such invisible attendants could do for her. Having refreshed herself by bathing in a bath of silver, she took her place at a golden table that was at once spread with the finest fare; then as she ate and drank, soft music arose and a choir of sweet voices filled the room where she sat alone.
So the day passed by as in a dream; and when night feel, she would have lain down on a soft couch spread for her by those unseen hands. Now was she aware of a shadow by her side, and had almost cried out for terror. But her fears were kissed away as she found herself warmly embraced in the darkness, and heard a voice murmuring in kindest tones ---
"Dear Psyche, I am the husband chosen for thee by destiny. Ask not my name, seek not to see my face; only believe in my love, and all will be well with us!"
The very sound of his voice and the very touch of his hand won Psyche's heart to this unseen bridegroom. All night he told her of his love, and before daylight dawned, he was gone, since so it must be, promising with a kiss to return as soon as darkness fell.
Thus it was, night after night, that went by in tender speeches and endearments; yet never culd she see her lover's face.
The Jealous Sisters
Psyche rejoiced in the love of this husband who came to her only by night; but sad were the long days through which she had to live alone. She soon wearied of wandering about her splendid house that seemed like a gilded cage; the daintiest food did not please her so long as no one shared it; the sunlit hours went too slowly by in sighing for the darkness that should bring back the joy of her life. In vain she begged him not to leave her by day, when she might see his face.
"It may not be," he whispered, and sealed her lips with kisses. "A dire danger threatens thee, if thou shouldest know who or what I am. Be content to trust in my love, that is ever thine."
Strive as she might to be content, still poor Psyche pined in that daily solitude; and she besought her unseen husband to let her have at least a visit from her sisters to cheer her in his absence.
"Dearest Psyche!" cried he, "I fear they will come to do thee harm. Already they seek thee on the rocky crest where thou wert last seen of men; but they bring hate and peril for our love."
Yet she wept and entreated, till in the end he gave her leave to see her sisters, making her promise to tell them nothing about himself. So next morning, when he vanished with daylight, the same Zephyr that had wafted Psyche to this beautiful valley, was charged to catch up her two sisters and bring them to the house in which she lived alone with invisible attendants.
Glad was she to see them again, and not less amazed were they by the riches and adornments of her new home. But when eagerly they questioned her as to the master of all this wealth, she put them off with short answers. Her husband, she said, was a handsome young prince who strayed out all day hunting in the woods. And lest she should be tempted by their curiosity to say more, she made haste to dismiss the sisters with costly presents before the hour that should bring him to her arms.
But they, filled with envy of her good fortune, came back next day set on knowing who could be that great lord so much richer than their own husbands. With caresses they again sought to worm the secret out of her; and this time, forgetting what she had said of him before, she gave out her husband as a grey-bearded merchant, whose affairs called him often away from home. Nor did the sisters fail to note how she contradicted herself, so letting them understand she had something to hide.
Again dismissed with rich presents, the jealous elders were hotter than ever to know the secret of Psyche's marriage. They guessed that this husband of hers must be no mere man, and enviously railed at her for making a mystery of his real name. So they hatched a plot, of which he was well aware, for that night he murmured in her ear ---
"Dearest one, beware of thy sisters. To-morrow they will tempt thee to look on me; but that would be the end of our happiness."
With tears and kisses Psyche vowed she would rather die a hundred times than disobey his least wish; and when left alone in the morning, she was determined to keep her secret. But soon came the sisters, who now coaxed and threatened her by turns, till in her confusion she owned to not having told them the truth. At least they pressed her to a confession that she had never seen this bridegroom who visited her only by dark night, and that she knew not even his name.
"Dear sister," said they, "it is as we feared. Believe us, who are older and wiser, and mean thy welfare. That false bridegroom is in truth a loathly monster that durst not meet the eye, lest love should be changed to horror. For all his fair words, his purpose is to devour thee secretly; and such will soon be Psyche's fate unless she act by our counsel."
"What shall I do?" cried Psyche, wringing her hands, for she believed their false words, knowing not why else her husband should remain every unseen.
"Have ready a lamp and a sharp knife," they bid her. "As soon as he is asleep, light the lamp, then the sight of the monster's hateful form will steel they hand to drive the knife to his cruel heart. THus only canst though save thine own life."
Earnestly urging her to follow their counsel without delay, her sisters left Psyche tossed in mind like the waves of the sea. She doubted whether to obey them or her own heart. She at once loved her unseen husband and hates the monster they pictured him to be. But as night drew near, she made ready the lamp and the knife, with which she hoped to find courage to save herself from the threatened destruction.
As always, her husband came home with the darkness, and after embracing Psyche, lay down in bed. Curiosity now aiding dread, she made up her mind at least to see what shape he bore. When his breathing told that he was asleep, she rose to light he lamp; then holding it up in one hand and the sharp knife in the other, she stole softly to his side.
A cry had almost burst form her lips, as the lamp-gleam showed the sweetest and loveliest of monsters, Cupid himself in the bloom of youthful beauty, with ambrosial locks curling about his rosy cheeks, and snow-white shoulders on which his wings were softly folded like flowers. At such a sight the knife dropped from Psyche's trembling hand. Beside him lay his bow and quiver, whence she drew out one of the golden-tipped arrows, and in examining it pricked her finger, instantly inflaming her blood with new love for a husband no longer unseen.
Bending over this sleeping form, she would have hastily stooped to kiss him, when in her agitation she let a drop of hot oil fall from the lamp upon his shoulder. Roused by the smart, Cupid sprang up, and at a glance understood all.
"Ah, Psyche!" he exclaimed, "thou hast ruined our love. Why listen to they treacherous sisters rather than to my warning? Now we must part for ever!"
In tearful entreaties she sank before him, and sought to clasp his knees; but he spread his wings and flew into the air without a look of forgiveness. At the same moment, the enchanted palace vanished about her like a dream, then Psyche stood alone in the cold darkness, calling vainly for the love she had lost, with his last words ringing in her ears.
Penance and Pardon
Psyche's first thought, as she turned away from the scene of her lost happiness, was to die in despair. Coming to a river bank, she threw herself into its black water; but the pitiful stream washed her ashore on the further side, and she wandered on, hardly knowing where she went. She passed through the cities where lived her sisters; and these jealous women would have persuaded her that she had done well to follow their advice, since love was a cruel monster, for all the fair shapes he would take. Yet, on hearing truly how it had gone with her, the sisters in turn stole away to the top of that high mountain, each hoping that she herself might be chosen for the bridge of a god. Far otherwise it fared with them, when, one after the other, they were caught up by a strong wind and cashed to destruction over the misty cliffs.
Meanwhile Psyche went her way alone through the world, everywhere seeking in vain for her vanished love. He, fevered by the pain of his burnt shoulder, or rather by the same grief as gave Psyche no rest by night and day, had taken refuge in his mother's chamber, and lay sick of a wound he durst not own. But a telltale bird whispered in Aphrodite's ear how Cupid had deigned to love a mortal, and hot was her anger to learn this no other than the very maid boasted on earth as her rival.
In sore dudgeon the resentful goddess tended her son with rating and upbraiding. She threatened to take away his arrows, to unstring his bow, to quench his torch and to clip his wings, that he might no more fly about playing mischievous pranks on gods and men. And though she could not bring herself to punish him as he deserved, all the more eagerly she sought out Psyche for her vengeance. In vain her sister goddesses strove to appease her, making excuses for that wilful boy, reminding her that he must not be treated always as a child, asking who might choose a bridge if not the god of love, and why marriage should be hateful in her family of all others.
Their jests but stirred the mother of Cupid to direr wrath. By leave of Zeus, she sent down Hermes to proclaim through the world that whoever sheltered Psyche should be punished as an enemy to the gods, but seven kisses from Aphrodite herself were offered as reward to whoever gave her up. This proclamation reached poor Psyche's own ears, when, tired of the bootless search for her husband, she was ready to throw herself on his mother's mercy; and, going from one temple to another, some kinder goddess gave her counsel to seek forgiveness at the queen of Love's. Having none other refuge in her hapless plight, as a humble suppliant she approached the halls of Aphrodite, where she had no sooner told her name than one of the servants dragged her by the hair into her mistress's presence.
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