So he journeyed on and on, still making the same inquiry
, until, at last, he came to the brink
of a river where some beautiful young women sat twining wreaths of flowers.
"Can you tell me, pretty maidens," asked the stranger
, "whether this is the right
way to the garden of the Hesperides?"
The young women had been having a fine time together, weaving the flowers into wreaths, and crowning one another's heads. And there seemed to be a kind of magic in the touch of their fingers, that made the flowers more fresh
and dewy, and of brighter lines, and sweeter fragrance
, while they played with them, than even when they had been growing on their native
stems. But, on hearing the stranger
's question, they dropped all their flowers on the grass, and gazed at him with astonishment
"The garden of the Hesperides!" cried one. "We thought
mortals had been weary
of seeking it, after so many disappointments. And pray
traveler, what do you want there?"
king, who is my cousin," replied he, "has ordered me to get him three of the golden apples."
"Most of the young men who go in quest
of these apples," observed another of the damsels, "desire
them for themselves, or to present them to some fair maiden
whom they love. Do you, then, love this king, your cousin, so very much?"
"And do you know," asked the damsel
who had first spoken, "that a terrible dragon, with a hundred heads, keeps watch under the golden apple-tree?"
"I know it well," answered the stranger
, calmly. "But, from my cradle
upwards, it has been my business, and almost my pastime
, to deal with serpents and dragons."
The young women looked at his massive
club, and at the shaggy
lion's skin which he wore, and likewise at his heroic
limbs and figure
; and they whispered to each other that the stranger
appeared to be one who might
reasonably expect to perform
deeds far beyond the might
of other men. But, then, the dragon with a hundred heads! What mortal
, even if he possessed a hundred lives, could hope to escape
the fangs of such a monster
? So kind-hearted were the maidens, that they could not bear to see this brave
what was so very dangerous
, and devote
himself, most probably
, to become a meal for the dragon's hundred ravenous
"Go back," cried they all,—"go back to your own home! Your mother, beholding you safe and sound
, will shed
tears of joy; and what can she do more, should you win ever so great a victory
? No matter
for the golden apples! No matter
for the king, your cruel
cousin! We do not wish the dragon with the hundred heads to eat you up!"
seemed to grow impatient
at these remonstrances. He carelessly lifted his mighty
club, and let it fall upon a rock that lay half buried in the earth
, near by. With the force
of that idle
blow, the great rock was shattered all to pieces. It cost the stranger
no more effort
of a giant's strength
than for one of the young maidens to touch her sister's rosy
cheek with a flower.
"Do you not believe," said he, looking at the damsels with a smile, "that such a blow would have crushed one of the dragon's hundred heads?"