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Zephyrus Wafts the Sisters

Part III.

After long search made, the sisters of Psyche came unto the hill where she was set on the rock, and cried with a loud voice, in such sort that the stones answered again: And when they called their sister by her name, that their lamentable cries came unto her ears, she came forth, and said: Behold, here is she for whom you weep, I pray you torment yourselves no more, cease your weeping." And by and by she commanded Zephyrus by the appointment of her husband to bring them down: Neither did he delay, for with gentle blasts he retained them up, and laid them softly in the valley: I am not able to express the often embracing, kissing, and greeting which was between them three, all sorrows and tears were then laid apart. "Come in," quoth Psyche, "into our house, and refresh your afflicted minds with your sister." After this she showed them the storehouses of treasure, she caused them to hear the voices which served her, the bain was ready, the meats were brought in, and when they had eaten and filled themselves with divine delicacies, they conceived great envy within their hearts, and one or them being very curious, did demand what her husband was, of what state and who was the Lord of so precious a house, but Psyche, remembering the promise which she made to her husband, feigned that he was a young man of comely stature, with a flaxen beard, and had great delight in hunting in the hills and dales by. And lest by her long talk she should be found to trip or fail in her words, she filled their laps with gold, silver and jewels, and commanded Zephyrus to carry them away.

When they were brought up to the mountain, they took their ways homeward to their own houses, and murmured with envy that they bare against Psyche, saying: "Behold, cruel and contrary fortune, behold how we, born all of one parent, have divers destinies; but especially we that are the elder two, be married to strange husbands, made as handmaidens, and as it were banished from our country and friends, whereas our youngest sister has so great abundance of treasure and gotten a God to her husband, who hath no skill how to use so great plenty of riches. Saw you not, sister, what was in the house? what great store of jewels, what glittering robes, what gems, what gold we trod on? That if she have a husband according as she affirmeth, there is none that liveth this day more happy in all the world than she. And so it may come to pass, that at length for the great affection and love which he may bear unto her, he may make her a Goddess: for, by Hercules, such was her countenance, so she behaved herself, that, as a Goddess, she had voices to serve her, and the winds did obey her. But I, poor wretch, have first married a husband elder than my father, more bald than a coot, more weak than a child, and that locketh me up all day in the house."

Then said the other sister: "And in faith I am married to a husband that hath the gout, twyfold, crooked, not courageous in paying my debt; I am fain to rub and mollify his stony fingers with divers sorts of oils, and to wrap them in plasters and salves, so that I soil my white and dainty hands with the corruption of filthy clouts, not using myself like a wife, but more like a servant. And you, my sister, seem likewise to be in bondage, and servitude, wherefore I cannot abide to see our younger sister in such great felicity; saw you not, I pray, how proudly and arrogantly she handled us even now? and how in vaunting herself she uttered her presumptuous mind; how she cast a little gold into our laps, and being weary of our company, commanded that we should be borne and blown away? Verily I live not nor am a woman, but I will deprive her of all her bliss: And if you, my sister, be so far bent as I, let us consult together, and not utter our mind to any person, no nor yet to our parents, nor tell that ever we saw her. For it sufficeth that we have seen her, whom it repenteth to have seen. Neither let us declare her good fortune to our father, nor to any other, since as they seem not happy whose riches are unknown: so shall she know that she hath sisters, no abjects, but more worthier than she. But now let us go home to our husbands and poor houses, and when we are better instructed, let us return to suppress her pride." So this evil counsel pleased these two evil women, and they hid the treasure which Psyche gave them, and tore their hair, renewing their false and forged tears. When their father and mother beheld them weep and lament still, they doubled their sorrows, and griefs, but full of ire and forced with envy, they took their voyage homewards, devising the slaughter and destruction of their sister.

In the mean season the husband of Psyche did warn her again in the night with these words: "Seest thou not," quoth he, "what peril and danger evil fortune doth threaten unto thee, whereof if thou take not good heed, it will shortly come upon thee. For the unfaithful harlots do greatly endeavour to set their snares to catch thee, and their purpose is to make and persuade thee to behold my face, which if thou once fortune to see, as I have often told, thou shalt see no more. Wherefore if these naughty hags, armed with wicked minds, do chance to come again, as I think no otherwise but that they will, take heed that thou talk not with them, but simply suffer them to speak what they will. Howbeit if thou canst not restrain thyself, beware that thou have no communication of thy husband, nor answer a word if they fortune to question of me; so will we increase our stock, and this young and tender child, couched in this young and tender belly of thine, if thou conceal my secrets, shall be made an immortal god, otherwise a mortal creature." Then Psyche was very glad that she should bring forth a divine babe, and very joyful in that she should be honoured as a mother: she reckoned and numbered carefully the days and months that passed, and being never with child before, did marvel greatly that in so small a time her belly should swell so big.

But those pestilent and wicked furies, breathing out their serpentine poison, took shipping to bring their enterprise to pass. Then Psyche was warned again by her husband in this sort: "Behold the last day, the extreme case, and the enemies of thy blood, hath armed themselves against us, pitched their camps, set their host in array, and are marching towards us, for now thy two sisters have drawn their swords, and are ready to slay thee. Oh, with what force are we assailed this day! O sweet Psyche, I pray thee to take pity on thyself, of me, and deliver thy husband, and this infant within thy belly from so great a danger: and see not, neither hear these cursed women, which are not worthy to be called thy sisters, for their great hatred, and breach of sisterly amity; for they will come, like sirens, to the mountain, and yield out their piteous and lamentable cries." When Psyche had heard these words, she sighed sorrowfully, and said: "O dear husband, this long time you have had experience and trial of my faith, and doubt you not but that I will persevere in the same; wherefore command your wind Zephyrus, that be may do as he hath done before, to the intent that where you have charged me not to behold your venerable face, yet that I may comfort myself with the sight of my sisters. I pray you by these beautiful hairs, by these round cheeks delicate and tender, by your pleasant hot breast, whose shape and face I shall learn at length by the child in my belly, grant the fruit of my desire, refresh your dear spouse Psyche with joy, who is bound and linked unto you for ever. I little esteem to see your visage and figure, little do I regard the night and darkness thereof, for you are my only light." Her husband, being as it were enchanted with these words, and compelled by violence of her often embracing, wiping away her tears with his hair, did yield unto his wife. And when morning came departed as he accustomed to do.

Now her sisters arrived on land, and never rested till they came to the rock, without visiting of their father and mother, and leaped down rashly from the hill themselves: Then Zephyrus according to the divine commandment brought them down, though it were against his will, and laid them in the valley without any harm. By and by they went into the palace to their sister without leave, and when they had eftsoons embraced their prey, and thanked her with flattering words for the treasure which she gave them, they said': "O dear sister Psyche, know you that you are now no more a child, but a mother: O what great joy bear you unto us in your belly: what a comfort will it be unto all the house! how happy shall we be, that shall see this infant nourished amongst so great plenty of treasure! that if he be like his parents, as it is. necessary he should, there is no doubt but a new Cupid shall be born." By this kind of means they went about to win Psyche by. little and little; but because they were weary with travel, they. sat them down in chairs, and after that they had washed their bodies in bains, they went into a parlour, where all kind of meats were ready prepared. Psyche commanded one to play with his harp; it was. done. Then immediately others sang, others tuned their instruments, but no person was seen; by whose sweet harmony and modulation the sisters of Psyche were greatly delighted.

Howbeit the wickedness of these cursed women was nothing suppressed by the sweet noise of these instruments, but they settled themselves to work their treason against Psyche, demanding who was her husband, and of what parentage. Then she, having forgotten, by too much simplicity, that which she had spoken before of her husband, invented a new answer; and said that her husband was of a great province, a marchant, and a man of middle age, having his beard intersparsed with gray hairs, which when she had said, because she would have no further talk, she filled their laps full of gold and silver, and bid Zephyrus to bear them away.

In their return homeward they murmured with themselves saying: "How say you, sister, to so apparent a lie of Psyche's? For first she said that her husband was a young man of flourishing years, and had a flaxen beard, and now she saith that it is half gray with age; what is he that in so short space can become so old? You shall find it no otherwise, my sister, but that either this cursed queen hath invented a great lie, or else that she never saw the shape of her husband. And if it be so that. she never saw him, then verily she is married to some God, and hath a young God in her belly; but if it be a divine babe, and fortune to come to the ears of my mother (as God forbid it should) then may I go and hang myself; wherefore let us go to our parents and with forged lies let us colour the matter."

After they were thus inflamed, and had visited their parents, they returned again to the mountains and by the aid of the wind Zephyrus were carried down into;he valley, and after they had strained their eyelids to enforce themselves to weep, they. called unto Psyche in this sort: "Thou, ignorant, of so great evil, thinkest thyself sure and happy, and sittest at home nothing regarding thy peril, whereas we go about thy affairs, and are careful lest any harm should happen unto thee: for we are credibly that there is a great serpent full of deadly poison, with a ravenous and gaping throat, that lieth with thee every night. Remember the oracle of Apollo, who pronounced that thou shouldest be married to a dire and fierce serpent; and many of the inhabitants hereby, and such as hunt about in the country, affirm that they saw him yester-night returning from pasture and swimming over the river, whereby they do undoubtedly say that he will not pamper thee long with delicate meats, but when the time of delivery shall approach, he will devour both thee and thy child. Wherefore advise thyself, whether thou wilt agree unto us that are careful for thy safety, and so avoid the peril of death, and be contented to live with thy sisters, or whether thou wilt remain with the serpent, and in the end to be swallowed into the gulf of his body. And if it be so, that thy solitary life, thy conversation with voices, this servile and dangerous pleasure, and the love of the serpent do more delight thee: say not but that we have played the parts of natural sisters in warning thee." Then the poor simple miser Psyche was moved with the fear of so dreadful words, and being amazed in her mind, did clean forget the admonitions of her husband and her own promises made unto him; and throwing herself headlong into extreme misery, with a wan and sallow countenance, scantly uttering a third word, at length gan say in this sort:

"O my most dear sisters, I heartily thank you for your great kindness towards me, and I am now verily persuaded' that they which you hear of, have informed you of nothing but truth: for I never saw the shape of my husband, neither know I from whence he came, only I hear his voice in the night; insomuch that I have an uncertain husband, and one that loveth not the light of the day, which causeth me to suspect that he is a beast, as you affirm. Moreover I do greatly fear to see him, for he doth menace and threaten great evil unto me, if I should go about to spy and behold his shape. Wherefore, my loving sisters, if you have any wholesome remedy for your sister in danger, give it now presently." Then they opening the gates of their subtile minds, did put away all privy guile, and egged her forward in her fearful thoughts, persuading her to do as they would have her; whereupon one of them began and said: " Because that we little esteem any peril or danger to save your life, we intend to show you the best way and mean as we may possibly do. Take a sharp razor and put it under the pillow of your bed, and see that you have ready a privy burning lamp with oil, hid under some part of the hanging of the chamber; and, finely dissimulating the matter~ when, according to his custom, he cometh to bed and sleepeth soundly, arise you secretly, and with your bare feet go and take your lamp, with the razor in your right hand, and with valiant force cut off the head of the poisonous serpent, wherein we will aid and assist you: and when by the death of him, you shall be made salve, we will marry you to some comely man." After they had thus inflamed the heart of their sister, fearing lest some danger might happen unto them by reason of their evil counsel, they were carried by the wind Zephyrus to the top of the mountain, and so they ran away, and took shipping.

When Psyche was left alone (saving that she seemed not to be alone, being stirred by so many furies) she was in a tossing mind, like the waves of the sea; and although her will was obstinate, and resisted to put in execution the counsel of her sisters, yet she was in doubtful and divers opinions touching her calamity. Sometime she would, sometime sh would not, sometime she is bold, sometime she feareth, sometime she mistrusteth, sometime she is moved, sometime she hateth the beast, sometime she loveth her husband: but at length the night came, whenas she made preparation for her wicked intent.

Soon after her husband came, and when he had kissed and embraced her, he fell asleep. Then Psyche (somewhat feeble in body and mind, yet moved by cruelty of fate) received boldness, and brought forth the lamp, and took the razor, so by her audacity she changed her kind. But when she took the lamp, and came to the bedside, she saw 'the most meek and sweetest beast of all beasts, even fair Cupid couched fairly, at whose sight the very lamp increased his light for joy, and the razor turned his edge. But when Psyche saw so glorious a body, she greatly feared, and, amazed in mind, with a pale countenance, all trembling, fell on her knees, and thought to hide the razor, yea verily in her own heart; which she had undoubtedly done, had it not through fear of so great an enterprise fallen out of her hand. And when she saw and beheld the beauty of his divine visage she was well recreated in her mind. She saw his hairs of gold, that yielded out a sweet savour: his neck more white than milk: his purple cheeks, his hair hanging comely behind and before, the brightness whereof did darken the light of the lamp: his tender plume-feathers dispersed upon his shoulders like shining flowers, and trembling hither and thither; and his other parts of his body so smooth and soft that it did not repent Venus to bear such a child. At the bed's feet lay his bow, quiver, and arrows, that be 'the weapons of so great a God; which when Psyche did curiously behold, and marvelling at the weapons of her husband, took one of the arrows out of the quiver, and pricked herself withal, wherewith she was so grievously wounded that the blood followed, and thereby of her own accord she added love upon love; then more and more broiling in the love of Cupid, she embraced him and kissed him a thousand times fearing the measure of his sleep. But alas while she was in this great joy, whether it were for envy, or for desire to touch this amiable body likewise, there fell out a drop of burning oil from the lamp upon the right shoulder of the God. O rash and bold lamp, the vile ministry of love, how darest thou be so bold as to burn the God of all fire when he invented thee, to the intent that all lovers might with more joy pass the nights in pleasure?

Next: Part IV