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CHAPTER XXIII. THE END OF THE WANDERING

Eurycleia went to the chamber of her mistress, bearing the glad tidings. She made haste in her great joy, and her feet stumbled one over the other. And she stood by the head of Penelope, and spake, saying: “Awake, dear child, and see with thine eyes that which thou hast desired so long. For, indeed, Ulysses hath come back, and hath slain the men that devoured his substance.”

But Penelope made answer: “Surely, dear nurse, the gods have bereft thee of thy sense; and verily, they can make the wisdom of the wise to be foolishness, and they can give wisdom to the simple. Why dost thou mock me, rousing me out of my sleep, the sweetest that hath ever come to my eyes since the day when Ulysses sailed for Troy, most hateful of cities? Go, get thee to the chamber of the women! Had another of the maids roused me in this fashion, I had sent her back with a sharp rebuke, But thine old age protects thee.”

Then said the nurse: “I mock thee not, dear child. In very truth Ulysses is here. He is the stranger to whom such dishonour was done. But Telemachus knew long since who he was, and hid the matter, that they might take vengeance on the suitors.”

Then was Penelope glad, and she leapt from bed, and fell upon the neck of the old woman, weeping, and saying, “Tell me now the truth, whether, indeed, he hath come home, and hath slain the suitors, he being but one man, and they many.”

The nurse made answer: “How it was done I know not; only I heard the groaning of men that were slain. Amazed did we women sit in our chamber till thy son called me. Then I found Ulysses standing among the dead, who lay one upon another. Verily, thou hadst been glad at heart to see him, so like to a lion was he, all stained with blood and the labour of the fight. And now the suitors lie in a heap, and he is purifying his house with brimstone. But come, that ye may have an end of all the sorrow that ye have endured, for thy desire is fulfilled. Thy husband hath come back, and hath avenged him to the full on these evil men.”

But Penelope said: “Dear nurse, be not too bold in thy joy. Thou knowest how gladly I would see him. But this is not he; it is one of the gods that hath slain the suitors, being wroth at their insolence and wrong-doing. But Ulysses himself hath perished.”

Then the nurse spake, saying: “What is that thou sayest? That thy husband will return no more, when he is even now in his own house? Nay, thou art, indeed, slow to believe. Hear now this manifest token that I espied with mine eyes,—the scar of the wound that long since a wild boar dealt him with his tusk. I saw it when I washed his feet, and would fain have told thee, but he laid his hand upon my mouth, and in his wisdom suffered me not to speak.”

To her Penelope made answer: “It is hard for thee to know the purposes of the gods. Nevertheless, I will go to my son, that I may see the suitors dead, and the man that slew them.”

So she went and sat in the twilight by the other wall, and Ulysses sat by a pillar, with eyes cast down, waiting till his wife should speak to him. But she was sore perplexed; for now she seemed to know him, and now she knew him not, for he had not suffered that the women should put new robes upon him.

And Telemachus said: “Mother, evil mother, sittest thou apart from my father, and speakest not to him? Surely thy heart is harder than a stone.”

But Ulysses said: “Let be, Telemachus. Thy mother will know that which is true in good time. But now let us hide this slaughter for awhile, lest the friends of these men seek vengeance against us. Wherefore, let there be music and dancing in the hall, so that men shall say, 'This is the wedding of the Queen, and there is joy in the palace,' and know not of the truth.”

So the minstrel played and the women danced. And meanwhile Ulysses went to the bath, and clothed himself in bright apparel, and came back to the hall, and Athene made him fair and young to see. Then he sat him down as before, over against his wife, and said:—

“Surely, O lady, the gods have made thee harder of heart than all other women. Would another wife have kept away from her husband, coming back now after twenty years?”

And when she doubted yet, he spake again: “Hear thou this, Penelope, and know that it is I indeed. I will tell thee of the fashion of my bed. There grew an olive in the inner court, with a stem of the bigness of a pillar. Round this did I build the chamber, and I roofed it over, and put doors upon it. Then I lopped off the boughs of the olive, and made it into the bedpost. Afterwards, beginning from this, I wrought the bedstead till I had finished it, inlaying the work with gold and silver and ivory. And within I fastened a band of ox-hide that had been dyed with purple. Whether the bedstead be now fast in its place, or whether some one hath moved it—and verily, it was no light thing to move —I know not. But this was its fashion of old.”

Then Penelope knew him, that he was her husband indeed, and ran to him, and threw her arms about him and kissed him, saying: “Pardon me, my lord, if I was slow to know thee; for ever I feared that some one should deceive me, saying that he was my husband. But now I know this, that thou art he and not another.”

And they wept over each other and kissed each other. So did Ulysses come back to his home after twenty years.