“Some day,” said Theseus, “I will be your king, but not now; for there are other deeds for me to do.” And with that he donned his sword and his sandals and his princely cloak, and threw his great iron club upon his shoulder, and went out of Eleusis; and all the people ran after him for quite a little way, shouting, “May good fortune be with you, O king, and may Athena bless and guide you!”
V. PROCRUSTES THE PITILESS.
Athens was now not more than twenty miles away, but the road thither led through the Parnes Mountains, and was only a narrow path winding among the rocks and up and down many a lonely wooded glen. Theseus had seen worse and far more dangerous roads than this, and so he strode bravely onward, happy in the thought that he was so near the end of his long journey. But it was very slow traveling among the mountains, and he was not always sure that he was following the right path. The sun was almost down when he came to a broad green valley where the trees had been cleared away. A little river flowed through the middle of this valley, and on either side were grassy meadows where cattle were grazing; and on a hillside close by, half hidden among the trees, there was a great stone house with vines running over its walls and roof.
While Theseus was wondering who it could be that lived in this pretty but lonely place, a man came out of the house and hurried down to the road to meet him. He was a well-dressed man, and his face was wreathed with smiles; and he bowed low to Theseus and invited him kindly to come up to the house and be his guest that night.
“This is a lonely place,” he said, “and it is not often that travelers pass this way. But there is nothing that gives me so much joy as to find strangers and feast them at my table and hear them tell of the things they have seen and heard. Come up, and sup with me, and lodge under my roof; and you shall sleep on a wonderful bed which I have—a bed which fits every guest and cures him of every ill.”
Theseus was pleased with the man’s ways, and as he was both hungry and tired, he went up with him and sat down under the vines by the door; and the man said:
“Now I will go in and make the bed ready for you, and you can lie down upon it and rest; and later, when you feel refreshed, you shall sit at my table and sup with me, and I will listen to the pleasant tales which I know you will tell.”
When he had gone into the house, Theseus looked around him to see what sort of a place it was. He was filled with surprise at the richness of it—at the gold and silver and beautiful things with which every room seemed to be adorned—for it was indeed a place fit for a prince. While he was looking and wondering, the vines before him were parted and the fair face of a young girl peeped out.
“Noble stranger,” she whispered, “do not lie down on my master’s bed, for those who do so never rise again. Fly down the glen and hide yourself in the deep woods ere he returns, or else there will be no escape for you.”