Chapter 18, Part 2

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“I would dearly love to know the tale,” she said. “Will you tell it to me?”

For a moment she waited, anticipating his answer. Then, his arm went around her shoulders. She melted against him as he leaned back into the alcove. Her head came to rest upon his shoulder. She closed her eyes, listening to the soothing sound of his voice as he told her the story.

 “Apollo gave his son a lyre as a gift. Orpheus played it so well that the wild beasts, the rocks, and even the trees were charmed by his music. He fell deeply in love with nymph called Eurydice, and they married, but their wedded bliss did not last long. One day, Eurydice was wandering in the fields with other nymphs when she was seen by the shepherd Aristaeus. He was struck by her beauty and pursued her, but as she fled, she was bitten by a serpent in the grass and died from its poison.”

Evelyn gasped, lifting her head. “Oh, how sad,” she cried, looking at Simon. His expression was rather concerned, and so was his reply.

“The tragedy to come is more so. Shall I spare you the rest?”

She shook her head, answering quickly. “No, please...tell me more.”

“Very well,” he replied. She returned her head to his shoulder, and he began again.

“Orpheus was devastated by his loss. He decided to seek out his wife in the underworld, and gained an audience with Pluto and Persephone. The king and queen of the underworld, like all others, were charmed by his music and granted him permission to take Eurydice back to the land of the living with him. They summoned Eurydice, who was among the ghosts who had but newly come, and walked slowly because of her injury. Orpheus received her, but on condition that he must not look back until he had emerged from the valleys of Avernus, or else the gift he had been given would be taken from him.”

She tensed, preparing herself for the worst. He paused, as if to gauge her reaction, but went on.

 “Up the sloping path, through the mute silence they made their way, up the steep dark track, wrapped in impenetrable gloom, until they had almost reached the surface of the earth. Here, worried that his wife's strength might be failing and eager to see her, he looked behind him, and Eurydice immediately slipped back into the depths. Orpheus stretched out his arms, straining to clasp her and be clasped, but he found only air. Eurydice, dying now a second time, uttered no complaint against her husband. What was there to complain of, that she had been loved? Giving a last farewell which hardly reached his ears, she fell back again into the same place from which she had come.”

Tears welled in her eyes. Whether from the sadness of the story, or his masterful telling of it, she was uncertain of the cause. She only knew she was deeply moved, and mesmerized.

“According to Ovid, Orpheus was so heartbroken that he rejected every woman he met from that day forward. One day, a group of Thracian women, infuriated by his rejections, hurled rocks at him. The rocks, tamed by the sound of his lyre, at first fell harmlessly at his feet, but the shrieks of the infuriated women soon drowned out the music. The women dismembered Orpheus, throwing his lyre and his head into the river Hebrus.”

He paused in his telling. Thinking he had finished it, she reached up to wipe a tear from her eye. “That is perhaps the saddest story I have ever heard.”

There was a hint of amusement in his voice. “There, you are wrong,” he replied. “You see, the Muses gathered up his limbs and buried them, and Orpheus went to the underworld to spend eternity with Eurydice. And Jupiter himself cast the bard's lyre into the sky.”

A deep sigh escaped her. “How very beautiful and romantic.”

He matched her sigh with his own, and his words took on a tender nuance. “Love defies all things, so say the ancients.”

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