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CHAPTER XX. ULYSSES IS DISCOVERED BY HIS NURSE

And when the suitors had departed, Ulysses spake to Telemachus, saying: “Come now, let us hide away the arms that are in the hall. And if any of the suitors ask concerning them, thou shalt say, 'I have put them away out of the smoke, for they are not such as they were when Ulysses departed, for the breath of fire hath marred them. And for this cause also have I put them away, lest ye should quarrel and wound one another when ye are heated with wine; for the sight of iron tempteth a man to strike.' So shalt thou speak to the suitors.”

Then said Telemachus to Eurycleia, the nurse, “Shut up the women in their chambers, till I have put away in the armoury the weapons of my father, for the smoke in the hall hath made them dim.”

The nurse made answer: “I wish, my child, that thou wouldest ever have such care for thy father's possessions! But say, who shall bear the light, if thou wilt not have any of the women to go before thee?”

Then said Telemachus, “This stranger shall do it, for I will not have any man eat my bread in idleness.”

So the nurse shut up the women in their chambers, and Ulysses and his son set themselves to carry the shields and the helmets and the spears, from the hall into the armoury. And Athene went ever before them, holding a lamp of gold, that shed a very fair light. Thereupon said Telemachus: “Surely, my father, this is a great wonder that I behold! See the walls, and the beams, and the pillars are bright, as it were with flames of fire. This must be the doing of a god.”

But Ulysses made answer: “Hold thy peace; keep the matter in thine heart, and inquire not concerning it. And now lie down and sleep, for I would talk with thy mother.”

So Telemachus went to his chamber, and slept, and Ulysses was left alone in the hall, devising in his heart how he might slay the suitors.

And now Penelope came down, and sat by the fire, on a chair cunningly wrought of silver and ivory, with a footstool that was part of the chair. And soon the maidens came in, and took away the fragments of food that were left, and the cups from which the suitors drank, and piled fresh logs on the fire.

Then Penelope called to the nurse, saying, “Nurse, bring me now a settle with a fleece upon it, that the stranger may sit and tell me his story.”

So the nurse brought the settle and the fleece, and Ulysses sat him down; and Penelope spake, saying: “Stranger, I will ask thee first who art thou? Whence didst thou come? What is thy city and thy father's name?”

Ulysses made answer: “Ask me now other things as thou wilt; but ask me not of my name, or my race, or my native country, lest I weep as I think thereon, for I am a man of many sorrows; and it is not fitting to mourn and weep in the house of another.”

To him Penelope made reply: “Stranger, I am sore beset with troubles. For the princes of the islands round about, yea and of Ithaca itself, woo me against my will, and devour my house. Vainly have I sought to escape their wooing. For Athene put this into my heart that I should say to them: 'Noble youths that would wed me, now that Ulysses is dead, abide patiently, though ye be eager to hasten the marriage, till I shall have finished this winding-sheet for Laertes; for it were a shame, if he, having had great wealth, should lie in his grave without a winding-sheet.' So I spake, and they gave consent. Three years did I deceive them, weaving the web by day, and by night unravelling it; but in the fourth year my handmaids betrayed me. And now I have no escape from marriage, for my parents urge me, and my son is vexed because these men devour his substance, and he is now of an age to manage his own house. But come, tell me of what race thou art; thou art not born of an oak tree or a rock, as the old fables have it.”

Then said Ulysses: “If thou wilt still ask me of my race, then will I tell thee; but thou wilt so bring sorrow upon me beyond that to which I am bound; for it is grief to a man who hath wandered far and suffered much to speak of the matter.”

So Ulysses told his tale. False it was, but it seemed to be true. And Penelope wept to hear it. As the snow melts upon the hills when the southeast wind bloweth, and the streams run full, so did Penelope weep for her lord. And Ulysses had compassion on his wife, when he saw her weep; but his own eyes he kept as if they had been horn or iron.

But Penelope said: “Friend, suffer me to make trial of thee, whether this was indeed my husband Ulysses. Tell me now with what raiment he was clothed, and what manner of man he was, and what his company.”

Then Ulysses made answer: “I remember that he had a mantle, twofold, woollen, of sea-purple, clasped with a brooch of gold, whereon was a dog that held a fawn by the throat; marvellously wrought was the dog and the fawn. Also he had a tunic, white and smooth, even as the skin of an onion when it is dry, which the women much admired to see. But whether some one had given him these things I know not, for, indeed, many gave him gifts, and I also, even a sword and a tunic. Also he had a herald with him, one Eurybates [Footnote: Eu-ryb'-a-tes.], older than he, dark-skinned, round in the shoulders, with curly hair.”

When Penelope heard this she wept yet more, for she knew by these tokens that this man was indeed her lord. “This is true,” she said, “O stranger, for I myself gave him these garments, and I folded them myself, and I also gave him the jewel. And now, alas! I shall see him no more.”

But Ulysses made answer: “Nay, wife of Ulysses, say not so. Cease from thy mourning, for Ulysses is yet alive. Near at hand is he, in the land of the Thesprotians, and is bringing many gifts with him. So the king of the land told me, and showed me the gifts which he had gathered; many they were and great, and will enrich his house to the tenth generation. But Ulysses himself, when I was there, had gone to Dodona [Footnote: Do-do'-na.], to inquire of Zeus—for there is the oracle of the god in the midst of an oak tree—whether he shall return to his home openly or by stealth. Be sure, O lady, that in this tenth year Ulysses shall come, even when the old moon waneth and the new is born.”

Then said Penelope: “May thy words be accomplished, O stranger! Verily, thou shouldest have much kindness at my hands and many gifts. Yet I have a boding in my heart that it shall not be. But now the handmaids shall spread a bed for thee with mattress and blankets that thou mayest sleep warm till morning shall come. And they shall wash thy feet.”

But Ulysses spake, saying: “Mattress and blankets have been hateful to me since I left the land of Crete. I will lie as I have been wont to lie for many nights, sleepless and waiting for the day. And I have no delight in the bath; nor shall any of these maidens touch my feet. Yet if there be some old woman, faithful of heart, her I would suffer to touch my feet.”

Then said Penelope: “Such an one there is, even the woman who nursed my lord, and cherished him, and carried him in her arms, from the time when his mother bare him. She is now weak with age, but she will wash thy feet.”

And she spake to the nurse, saying, “Up, now, and wash this man, who is of like age with thy master.”

Then the old woman covered her face with her hands and wept, saying: “Willingly will I wash thy feet both for Penelope's sake and thine own. Many strangers, worn with travel, have come hither, but never saw I one that was so like to Ulysses in voice and in feet.”

And Ulysses made answer, “Even so have I heard before; men said ever that we were most like one to the other.”

But when she had made ready the bath, then Ulysses sat aloof from the hearth, and turned his face to the darkness, for he feared in his heart lest, when the old woman should handle his leg, she might know a great scar thereon, where he had been rent by the tusks of a wild boar.

By this scar, then, the old nurse knew that it was Ulysses himself, and said, “O Ulysses, O my child, to think that I knew thee not!”

And she looked towards the Queen, as meaning to tell the thing to her. But Ulysses laid his hand on her throat and said softly: “Mother, wouldest thou kill me? I am returned after twenty years, and none must know till I shall be ready to take vengeance.”

And the old woman held her peace. And after this Penelope talked with him again, telling him her dreams, how she had seen a flock of geese in her palace, and how that an eagle had slain them, and when she mourned for the geese, lo! a voice that said, “These geese are thy suitors, and the eagle thy husband.”

And Ulysses said that the dream was well. And then she said that on the morrow she must make her choice, for she had promised to bring forth the great bow of Ulysses, and whosoever should draw it most easily, and shoot an arrow best at a mark, he should be her husband.

And Ulysses made answer to her: “It is well, lady. Put not off this trial of the bow, for before one of them shall draw the string, the great Ulysses shall come and duly shoot at the mark that shall be set.”

After this Penelope slept.