And now all the company started back to the city. Some carried the boar’s huge head, and some the different parts of his body, while others had made biers of the green branches, and bore upon them the dead bodies of those who had been slain. It was indeed a strange procession.
A young man who did not like Meleager, had run on in front and had reached the city before the rest of the company had fairly started. Queen Althea was standing at the door of the palace, and when she saw him she asked what had happened in the forest He told her at once that Meleager had killed her brothers, for he knew that, with all their faults, she loved them very dearly. It was terrible to see her grief. She shrieked, and tore her hair, and rushed wildly about from room to room. Her senses left her, and she did not know what she was doing.
It was the custom at that time for people to avenge the death of their kindred, and her only thought was how to punish the murderer of her brothers. In her madness she forgot that Meleager was her son. Then she thought of the three Fates and of the unburned firebrand which she had locked up in her chest so many years before. She ran and got the stick and threw it into the fire that was burning on the hearth.
It kindled at once, and she watched it as it blazed up brightly. Then it began to turn into ashes, and as the last spark died out, the noble Meleager, who was walking by the side of Atalanta, dropped to the ground dead.
When they carried the news to Althea she said not a word, for then she knew what she had done, and her heart was broken. She turned silently away and went to her own room. When the king came home a few minutes later, he found her dead.
So ended the hunt in the wood of Calydon.
V. THE RACE FOR A WIFE.
After the death of Meleager, Atalanta went back to her old home among the mountains of Arcadia. She was still the swift-footed huntress, and she was never so happy as when in the green woods wandering among the trees or chasing the wild deer. All the world had heard about her, however; and the young heroes in the lands nearest to Arcadia did nothing else but talk about her beauty and her grace and her swiftness of foot and her courage. Of course every one of these young fellows wanted her to become his wife; and she might have been a queen any day if she had only said the word, for the richest king in Greece would have been glad to marry her. But she cared nothing for any of the young men, and she liked the freedom of the green woods better than all the fine things she might have had in a palace.