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Alfred J. Church

At Last

T HE nurse went to the queen's bed-room with the good news. She ran with all the speed that she could, even stumbling in her haste. She found the queen asleep, for she had been awake for a long time, and was weary. And now the nurse stood by her head, and said: "Awake, dear child, and see what you have longed to see for so many years. Ulysses has come back, and has slain the wicked men who troubled you."

But Penelopé answered: "Surely, dear nurse, the gods have taken away your senses. Why do you mock me, waking me out of the sweetest sleep that I have ever had since the day when Ulysses sailed away to Troy? Go to the other women, and leave me. If one of them had done this to me, I would have punished her, but you I cannot harm."

The nurse answered: "I do not mock you, dear child. It is indeed true that Ulysses is here. The stranger with whom you talked is he. Your son knew it, but hid the matter that the Suitors should be taken unawares."

Then Penelopé was glad, and fell upon the old woman's neck, saying: "Tell me now the truth. Has he indeed come back? And how did he, being but one, contrive to slay so many?"

"That," said the nurse, "I do not know. We women sat together amazed, hearing the groaning of men that were being slain. Then some one fetched us, and I found Ulysses standing among the dead, and these lay piled one on the other. Truly you would have rejoiced to see him, so like was he to a lion, stained as he was with blood and the labour of the fight. And now the women here are washing the hall, and cleansing it with sulphur. But come; now is the end of all your grief, for the husband whom you so longed to see has come back."

But Penelopé began again to doubt. "Dear nurse," she said, "be not too sure. Great, indeed, would be my joy if I could see him. But this cannot be he; it is some god who has taken the shape of a man that he may punish the Suitors for the wrong that they have done."

Then said the nurse: "What is this that you say? That your husband cannot have come back, when he is already in the house? Truly you are slow to believe. Now hear this proof, a thing that I saw with my own eyes. It is the scar of the wound that a wild boar gave him, when he was yet a lad. I saw it when I washed his feet, and I would have told it to you, but he put his hand on my mouth and would not suffer me to speak, for so he thought it best."

Penelopé said: "I am in great doubt. Nevertheless, I will go into the hall and see the dead Suitors, and the man, whoever he be, that has slain them."

So she dressed herself and went down, and sat in a dark part of the hall, while Ulysses stood by the pillar, waiting till his wife should speak to him. But she was in great doubt. Sometimes she seemed to know him, and sometimes not, for he was still in his rags, not having suffered the women to give him new clothes.

Telemăchus said: "Mother, you are indeed an evil mother, for you sit away from my father, and will not speak to him. Surely your heart must be harder than a stone."

Ulysses answered: "Let be, Telemăchus; your mother will know the truth in good time. But now let us hide this slaughter for a while, lest the friends of these dead men come against us. Let there be music and dancing in the hall. Men will say, 'This is for the wedding of the queen.' "

So the minstrel played and the women danced. Then Ulysses went to the bath, and washed himself, and put on new clothes, and came back to the hall; also Athené made him fairer and younger, such as he was when he left his home to go to Troy. And he stood by his wife, and said: "Surely, O lady, the gods have made you harder of heart than all other women. Would any other wife have kept away from her husband, when he came back after twenty years?"

But Penelopé still doubted. Then Ulysses said: "Hear now, Penelopé, and know that it is indeed your husband whom you see. I will tell you a thing that you will remember. There was an olive there in the inner court of this house, which had a trunk of about the bigness of a pillar. Round this I built a room, and I roofed it over, and put doors upon it. Then I lopped all the boughs of the olive, and made the tree into a bedpost. And I joined the bedstead on to this post, and adorned it with gold, and silver, and ivory. Also I fastened it together with a band of leather which had been dyed with purple: whether the bedstead is still in its place, or whether some one has moved it—but it was not an easy thing to move—I do not know, but this was as it used to be in old time."


The Meeting of Ulysses and Penelopé

Then Penelopé knew that he was indeed her husband; and she ran to him, and kissed him, saying: "Pardon me, my lord, that I was so slow to know you; I was afraid, for men have many ways of deceiving, lest some one should come, saying falsely that he was my husband. But now I know that in truth you are he and not another."

So they wept over each other, and kissed each other. Thus did Ulysses come home at last after twenty years.