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Ceyx And Halcyone
by [?]

“St. Martin’s summer, halcyon days.”

King Henry VI, i. 2, 131.

“Halcyon days”–how often is the expression made use of, how seldom do its users realise from whence they have borrowed it.

“These were halcyon days,” says the old man, and his memory wanders back to a time when for him

“All the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen.”

Yet the story of Halcyone is one best to be understood by the heavy-hearted woman who wanders along the bleak sea-beach and strains her weary eyes for the brown sail of the fishing-boat that will never more return.

Over the kingdom of Thessaly, in the days of long ago, there reigned a king whose name was Ceyx, son of Hesperus, the Day Star, and almost as radiant in grace and beauty as was his father. His wife was the fair Halcyone, daughter of AEolus, ruler of the winds, and most perfectly did this king and queen love one another. Their happiness was unmarred until there came a day when Ceyx had to mourn for the loss of a brother. Following close on the heels of this disaster came direful prodigies which led Ceyx to fear that in some way he must have incurred the hostility of the gods. To him there was no way in which to discover wherein lay his fault, and to make atonement for it, but by going to consult the oracle of Apollo at Claros, in Ionia. When he told Halcyone what he must do, she knew well that she must not try to turn him from his solemn purpose, yet there hung over her heart a black shadow of fear and of evil foreboding that no loving words of assurance could drive away. Most piteously she begged him to take her with him, but the king knew too well the dangers of the treacherous AEgean Sea to risk on it the life of the woman that he loved so well.

“I promise,” he said, “by the rays of my Father the Day Star, that if fate permits I will return before the moon shall have twice rounded her orb.”

Down by the shore the sailors of King Ceyx awaited his coming, and when with passionately tender love he and Halcyone had taken farewell of each other, the rowers sat down on the benches and dipped their long oars into the water.

With rhythmic swing they drove the great ship over the grey sea, while Ceyx stood on deck and gazed back at his wife until his eyes could no longer distinguish her from the rocks on the shore, nor could she any longer see the white sails of the ship as it crested the restless waves. Heavier still was her heart when she turned away from the shore, and yet more heavy it grew as the day wore on and dark night descended. For the air was full of the clamorous wailings of the fierce winds whose joy it is to lash the waves into rage and to strew with dead men and broken timber the angry, surf-beaten shore.

“My King,” she sighed to herself. “My King! my Own!” And through the weary hours she prayed to the gods to bring him safely back to her, and many times she offered fragrant incense to Juno, protectress of women, that she might have pity on a woman whose husband and true lover was out in the storm, a plaything for ruthless winds and waves.

A helpless plaything was the king of Thessaly. Long ere the dim evening light had made of the shore of his own land a faint, grey line, the white-maned horses of Poseidon, king of the seas, began to rear their heads, and as night fell, a black curtain, blotting out every landmark, and all home-like things, the East Wind rushed across the AEgean Sea, smiting the sea-horses into madness, seizing the sails with cruel grasp and casting them in tatters before it, snapping the mast as though it were but a dry reed by the river. Before so mighty a tempest no oars could be of any avail, and for a little time only the winds and waves gambolled like a half-sated wolf-pack over their helpless prey. With hungry roar the great weight of black water stove in the deck and swept the sailors out of the ship to choke them in its icy depths; and ever it would lift the wounded thing high up on its foaming white crests, as though to toss it to the dark sky, and ever again would suck it down into the blackness, while the shrieking winds drove it onward with howling taunts and mocking laughter. While life stayed in him, Ceyx thought only of Halcyone. He had no fear, only the fear of the grief his death must bring to her who loved him as he loved her, his peerless queen, his Halcyone. His prayers to the gods were prayers for her. For himself he asked one thing only–that the waves might bear his body to her sight, so that her gentle hands might lay him in his tomb. With shout of triumph that they had slain a king, winds and waves seized him even as he prayed, and the Day Star that was hidden behind the black pall of the sky knew that his son, a brave king and a faithful lover, had gone down to the Shades.