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Story III. - Theseus Charles Kingsley

Part II - How Theseus Slew The Devourers Of Men

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Theseus wished to go forwards: but he was ashamed to seem churlish to so hospitable a man; and he was curious to see that wondrous bed; and beside, he was hungry and weary: yet he shrank from the man, he knew not why; for, though his voice was gentle and fawning, it was dry and husky like a toad's; and though his eyes were gentle, they were dull and cold like stones. But he consented, and went with the man up a glen which led from the road toward the peaks of Parnes, under the dark shadow of the cliffs.

And as they went up, the glen grew narrower, and the cliffs higher and darker, and beneath them a torrent roared, half seen between bare limestone crags. And around there was neither tree nor bush, while from the white peaks of Parnes the snow-blasts swept down the glen, cutting and chilling till a horror fell on Theseus as he looked round at that doleful place. And he asked at last, 'Your castle stands, it seems, in a dreary region.'

'Yes; but once within it, hospitality makes all things cheerful. But who are these?' and he looked back, and Theseus also; and far below, along the road which they had left, came a string of laden asses, and merchants walking by them, watching their ware.

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'Ah, poor souls!' said the stranger. 'Well for them that I looked back and saw them! And well for me too, for I shall have the more guests at my feast. Wait awhile till I go down and call them, and we will eat and drink together the livelong night. Happy am I, to whom Heaven sends so many guests at once!'

And he ran back down the hill, waving his hand and shouting, to the merchants, while Theseus went slowly up the steep pass.

But as he went up he met an aged man, who had been gathering driftwood in the torrent-bed. He had laid down his faggot in the road, and was trying to lift it again to his shoulder. And when he saw Theseus, he called to him, and said -

'O fair youth, help me up with my burden, for my limbs are stiff and weak with years.'

Then Theseus lifted the burden on his back. And the old man blest him, and then looked earnestly upon him, and said -

'Who are you, fair youth, and wherefore travel you this doleful road?'

'Who I am my parents know; but I travel this doleful road because I have been invited by a hospitable man, who promises to feast me, and to make me sleep upon I know not what wondrous bed.'

Then the old man clapped his hands together and cried -

'O house of Hades, man-devouring! will thy maw never be full? Know, fair youth, that you are going to torment and to death, for he who met you (I will requite your kindness by another) is a robber and a murderer of men. Whatsoever stranger he meets he entices him hither to death; and as for this bed of which he speaks, truly it fits all comers, yet none ever rose alive off it save me.'

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Charles Kingsley

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