THE STORY OF ATALANTA
I. The bear on the mountain.
In a sunny land in Greece called Arcadia there lived a king and a queen who had no children. They wanted very much to have a son who might live to rule over Arcadia when the king was dead, and so, as the years went by, they prayed to great Jupiter on the mountain top that he would send them a son. After a while a child was born to them, but it was a little girl. The father was in a great rage with Jupiter and everybody else.
“What is a girl good for?” he said. “She can never do anything but sing, and spin, and spend money. If the child had been a boy, he might have learned to do many things,—to ride, and to hunt, and to fight in the wars,—and by and by he would have been king of Arcadia. But this girl can never be a king.”
Then he called to one of his men and bade him take the babe out to a mountain where there was nothing but rocks and thick woods, and leave it there to be eaten up by the wild bears that lived in the caves and thickets. It would be the easiest way, he said, to get rid of the useless little creature.
The man carried the child far up on the mountain side and laid it down on a bed of moss in the shadow of a great rock. The child stretched out its baby hands towards him and smiled, but he turned away and left it there, for he did not dare to disobey the king.
For a whole night and a whole day the babe lay on its bed of moss, wailing for its mother; but only the birds among the trees heard its pitiful cries. At last it grew so weak for want of food that it could only moan and move its head a little from side to side. It would have died before another day if nobody had cared for it.
Just before dark on the second evening, a she-bear came strolling down the mountain side from her den. She was out looking for her cubs, for some hunters had stolen them that very day while she was away from home. She heard the moans of the little babe, and wondered if it was not one of her lost cubs; and when she saw it lying so helpless on the moss she went to it and looked at it kindly. Was it possible that a little bear could be changed into a pretty babe with fat white hands and with a beautiful gold chain around its neck? The old bear did not know; and as the child looked at her with its bright black eyes, she growled softly and licked its face with her warm tongue and then lay down beside it, just as she would have done with her own little cubs. The babe was too young to feel afraid, and it cuddled close to the old bear and felt that it had found a friend. After a while it fell asleep; but the bear guarded it until morning and then went down the mountain side to look for food.