“O Father Peneus, save me!”
[Illustration: “She turned and fled like A frightened deer.”]
Then it seemed as though the river rose up to meet her. The air was filled with a blinding mist. For a moment Apollo lost sight of the fleeing maiden. Then he saw her close by the river’s bank, and so near to him that her long hair, streaming behind her, brushed his cheek. He thought that she was about to leap into the rushing, roaring waters, and he reached out his hands to save her. But it was not the fair, timid Daphne that he caught in his arms; it was the trunk of a laurel tree, its green leaves trembling in the breeze.
“O Daphne! Daphne!” he cried, “is this the way in which the river saves you? Does Father Peneus turn you into a tree to keep you from me?”
Whether Daphne had really been turned into a tree, I know not; nor does it matter now—it was so long ago. But Apollo believed that it was so, and hence he made a wreath of the laurel leaves and set it on his head like a crown, and said that he would wear it always in memory of the lovely maiden. And ever after that, the laurel was Apollo’s favorite tree, and, even to this day, poets and musicians are crowned with its leaves.
Apollo did not care to live much of the time with his mighty kinsfolk on the mountain top. He liked better to go about from place to place and from land to land, seeing people at their work and making their lives happy. When men first saw his fair boyish face and his soft white hands, they sneered and said he was only an idle, good-for-nothing fellow. But when they heard him speak, they were so charmed that they stood, spellbound, to listen; and ever after that they made his words their law. They wondered how it was that he was so wise; for it seemed to them that he did nothing but stroll about, playing on his wonderful lyre and looking at the trees and blossoms and birds and bees. But when any of them were sick they came to him, and he told them what to find in plants or stones or brooks that would heal them and make them strong again. They noticed that he did not grow old, as others did, but that he was always young and fair; and, even after he had gone away,—they knew not how, nor whither,—it seemed as though the earth were a brighter and sweeter place to live in than it had been before his coming.
In a mountain village beyond the Vale of Tempe, there lived a beautiful lady named Coronis. When Apollo saw her, he loved her and made her his wife; and for a long time the two lived together, and were happy. By and by a babe was born to them,—a boy with the most wonderful eyes that anybody ever saw,—and they named him AEsculapius. Then the mountains and the woods were filled with the music of Apollo’s lyre, and even the Mighty Folk on the mountain top were glad.