Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix, the three sons of King Agenor, were playing near the seashore in their father’s kingdom of Phoenicia, and their little sister Europa was beside them.
They had wandered to some distance from the King’s palace and were now in a green field, on one side of which lay the sea, sparkling brightly in the sunshine, and with little waves breaking on the shore.
The three boys were very happy gathering flowers and making wreaths for their sister Europa. The little girl was almost hidden under the flowers and leaves, and her rosy face peeped merrily out among them. She was really the prettiest flower of them all.
While they were busy and happy, a beautiful butterfly came flying past, and the three boys, crying out that it was a flower with wings, set off to try to catch it.
Europa did not run after them. She was a little tired with playing all day long, so she sat still on the green grass and very soon she closed her eyes.
For a time she listened to the sea, which sounded, she thought, just like a voice saying, “Hush, hush,” and telling her to go to sleep. But if she slept at all it was only for a minute. Then she heard something tramping on the grass and, when she looked up, there was a snow-white bull quite close to her!
Where could he have come from? Europa was very frightened, and she started up from among the tulips and lilies and cried out, “Cadmus, brother Cadmus, where are you? Come and drive this bull away.” But her brother was too far off to hear her, and Europa was so frightened that her voice did not sound very loud; so there she stood with her blue eyes big with fear, and her pretty red mouth wide open, and her face as pale as the lilies that were lying on her golden hair.
As the bull did not touch her she began to peep at him, and she saw that he was a very beautiful animal; she even fancied he looked quite a kind bull. He had soft, tender, brown eyes, and horns as smooth and white as ivory: and when he breathed you could feel the scent of rosebuds and clover blossoms in the air.
The bull ran little races round Europa and allowed her to stroke his forehead with her small hands, and to hang wreaths of flowers on his horns. He was just like a pet lamb, and very soon Europa quite forgot how big and strong he really was and how frightened she had been. She pulled some grass and he ate it out of her hand and seemed quite pleased to be friends. He ran up and down the field as lightly as a bird hopping in a tree; his hoofs scarcely seemed to touch the grass, and once when he galloped a good long way Europa was afraid she would not see him again, and she called out, “Come back, you dear bull, I have got you a pink clover-blossom.” Then he came running and bowed his head before Europa as if he knew she was a King’s daughter, and knelt down at her feet, inviting her to get on his back and have a ride.
At first Europa was afraid: then she thought there could surely be no danger in having just one ride on the back of such a gentle animal, and the more she thought about it, the more she wanted to go.
What a surprise it would be to Cadmus, and Phoenix, and Cilix if they met her riding across the green field, and what fun it would be if they could all four ride round and round the field on the back of this beautiful white bull that was so tame and kind!
“I think I will do it,” she said, and she looked round the field. Cadmus and his brothers were still chasing the butterfly away at the far end. “If I got on the bull’s back I should soon be beside them,” she thought. So she moved nearer, and the gentle white creature looked so pleased, and so kind, she could not resist any longer, and with a light bound she sprang up on his back: and there she sat holding an ivory horn in each hand to keep her steady.
“Go very gently, good bull,” she said, and the animal gave a little leap in the air and came down as lightly as a feather. Then he began a race to that part of the field where the brothers were, and where they had just caught the splendid butterfly. Europa shouted with delight, and how surprised the brothers were to see their sister mounted on the back of a white bull!
They stood with their mouths wide open, not sure whether to be frightened or not. But the bull played round them as gently as a kitten, and Europa looked down all rosy and laughing, and they were quite envious. Then when he turned to take another gallop round the field, Europa waved her hand and called out “Good-by,” as if she was off for a journey, and Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix shouted “Good-by” all in one breath. They all thought it such good fun.
And then, what do you think happened? The white bull set off as quickly as before, and ran straight down to the seashore. He scampered across the sand, then he took a big leap and plunged right in among the waves. The white spray rose in a shower all over him and Europa, and the poor child screamed with fright. The brothers ran as fast as they could to the edge of the water, but it was too late.
The white bull swam very fast and was soon far away in the wide blue sea, with only his snowy head and tail showing above the water. Poor Europa was holding on with one hand to the ivory horn and stretching the other back towards her dear brothers.
And there stood Cadmus and Phoenix and Cilix looking after her and crying bitterly, until they could no longer see the white head among the waves that sparkled in the sunshine.
Nothing more could be seen of the white bull, and nothing more of their beautiful sister.
This was a sad tale for the three boys to carry back to their parents. King Agenor loved his little girl Europa more than his kingdom or anything else in the world, and when Cadmus came home crying and told how a white bull had carried off his sister, the King was very angry and full of grief.
“You shall never see my face again,” he cried, “unless you bring back my little Europa. Begone, and enter my presence no more till you come leading her by the hand;” and his eyes flashed fire and he looked so terribly angry that the poor boys did not even wait for supper, but stole out of the palace wondering where they should go first.
While they were standing at the gate, the Queen came hurrying after them. “Dear children,” she said, “I will come with you.”
“Oh no, mother,” the boys answered, “it is a dark night, and there is no knowing what troubles we may meet with; the blame is ours, and we had better go alone.”
“Alas!” said the poor Queen, weeping, “Europa is lost, and if I should lose my three sons as well, what would become of me? I must go with my children.”
The boys tried to persuade her to stay at home, but the Queen cried so bitterly that they had to let her go with them.
Just as they were about to start, their playfellow Theseus came running to join them. He loved Europa very much, and longed to search for her too. So the five set off together: the Queen, and Cadmus, and Phoenix, and Cilix, and Theseus, and the last they heard was King Agenor’s angry voice saying, “Remember this, never may you come up these steps again, till you bring back my little daughter.”
The Queen and her young companions traveled many a weary mile: the days grew to months, and the months became years, and still they found no trace of the lost Princess. Their clothes were worn and shabby, and the peasant people looked curiously at them when they asked, “Have you seen a snow-white bull with a little Princess on its back, riding as swiftly as the wind?”
And the farmers would answer, “We have many bulls in our fields, but none that would allow a little Princess to ride on its back: we have never seen such a sight.”
At last Phoenix grew weary of the search. “I do not believe Europa will ever be found, and I shall stay here,” he said one day when they came to a pleasant spot. So the others helped him to build a small hut to live in, then they said good-by and went on without him.
Then Cilix grew tired too. “It is so many years now since Europa was carried away that she would not know me if I found her. I shall wait here,” he said. So Cadmus and Theseus built a hut for him too, and then said good-by.
After many long months Theseus broke his ankle, and he too had to be left behind, and once more the Queen and Cadmus wandered on to continue the search.
The poor Queen was worn and sad, and she leaned very heavily on her son’s arm. “Cadmus,” she said one day, “I must stay and rest.”
“Why, yes, mother, of course you shall, a long, long rest you must have, and I will sit beside you and watch.”
But the Queen knew she could go no further. “Cadmus,” she said, “you must leave me here, and, go to the wise woman at Delphi and ask her what you must do next. Promise me you will go!”
And Cadmus promised. The tired Queen lay down to rest, and in the morning Cadmus found that she was dead, and he must journey on alone.
He wandered for many days till he came in sight of a high mountain which the people told him was called Parnassus, and on the steep side of this mountain was the famous city of Delphi for which he was looking. The wise woman lived far up the mountain-side, in a hut like those he had helped his brothers to build by the roadside.
When he pushed aside the branches he found himself in a low cave, with a hole in the wall through which a strong wind was blowing. He bent down and put his mouth to the hole and said, “O sacred goddess, tell me where I must look now for my dear sister Europa, who was carried off so long ago by a bull?”
At first there was no answer. Then a voice said softly, three times, “Seek her no more, seek her no more, seek her no more.”
“What shall I do, then?” said Cadmus. And the answer came, in a hoarse voice, “Follow the cow, follow the cow, follow the cow.”
“But what cow,” cried Cadmus, “and where shall I follow?”
And once more the voice came, “Where the stray cow lies down, there is your home;” and then there was silence.
“Have I been dreaming?” Cadmus thought, “or did I really hear a voice?” and he went away thinking he was very little wiser for having done as the Queen had told him.
I do not know how far he had gone when just before him he saw a brindled cow. She was lying down by the wayside, and as Cadmus came along she got up and began to move slowly along the path, stopping now and then to crop a mouthful of grass.
Cadmus wondered if this could be the cow he was to follow, and he thought he would look at her more closely, so he walked a little faster; but so did the cow. “Stop, cow,” he cried, “hey brindle, stop,” and he began to run; and much to his surprise so did the cow, and though he ran as hard as possible, he could not overtake her.
So he gave it up. “I do believe this may be the cow I was told about,” he thought. “Any way, I may as well follow her and surely she will lie down somewhere.”
On and on they went. Cadmus thought the cow would never stop, and other people who had heard the strange story began to follow too, and they were all very tired and very far away from home when at last the cow lay down. His companions were delighted and began to cut down wood to make a fire, and some ran to a stream to get water. Cadmus lay down to rest close beside the cow. He was wishing that his mother and brothers and Theseus had been with him now, when suddenly he was startled by cries and shouts and screams.
He ran towards the stream, and there he saw the head of a big serpent or dragon, with fiery eyes and with wide open jaws which showed rows and rows of horrible sharp teeth. Before Cadmus could reach it, the monster had killed all his poor companions and was busy devouring them. The stream was an enchanted one, and the dragon had been told to guard it so that no mortal might ever touch the water, and the people round about knew this, so that for a hundred years none of them had ever come near the spot.
The dragon had been asleep and was very hungry, and when he saw Cadmus he opened his huge jaws again, ready to devour him too. But Cadmus was very angry at the death of all his companions, and drawing his sword he rushed at the monster. With one big bound he leaped right into the dragon’s mouth, so far down that the two rows of terrible teeth could not close on him or do him any harm. The dragon lashed with his tail furiously, but Cadmus stabbed him again and again, and in a short time the great monster lay dead.
“What shall I do now?” he said aloud. All his companions were dead, and he was alone once more. “Cadmus,” said a voice, “pluck out the dragon’s teeth and plant them in the earth.”
Cadmus looked round and there was nobody to be seen. But he set to work and cut out the huge teeth with his sword, and then he made little holes in the ground and planted the teeth. In a few minutes the earth was covered with rows of armed men, fierce-looking soldiers with swords and helmets who stood looking at Cadmus in silence.
“Throw a stone among these men,” came the voice again, and Cadmus obeyed. At once all the men began to fight, and they cut and stabbed each other so furiously that in a short time only five remained alive out of all the hundreds that had stood before him. “Cadmus,” said the voice once more, “tell these men to stop fighting and help you to build a palace.” And as soon as Cadmus spoke, the five big men sheathed their swords, and they began to carry stones, and to carve these for Cadmus, as if they had never thought of such a thing as fighting each other!
They built a house for each of themselves, and there was a beautiful palace for Cadmus made of marble, and of fine kinds of red and green stone, and there was a high tower with a flag floating from a tall gold flag-post.
When everything was ready, Cadmus went to take possession of his new house, and, as he entered the great hall, he saw a lady coming slowly towards him. She was very lovely and she wore a royal robe which shone like sunbeams, with a crown of stars on her golden hair, and round her neck was a string of the fairest pearls.
Cadmus was full of delight. Could this be his long lost sister Europa coming to make him happy after all these weary years of searching and wandering?
How much he had to tell her about Phoenix, and Cilix, and dear Theseus and of the poor Queen’s lonely grave in the wilderness! But as he went forward to meet the beautiful lady he saw she was a stranger. He was thinking what he should say to her, when once again he heard the unknown voice speak.
“No, Cadmus,” it said, “this is not your dear sister whom you have sought so faithfully all over the wide world. This is Harmonia, a daughter of the sky, who is given to you instead of sister and brother, and friend and mother. She is your Queen, and will make happy the home which you have won by so much suffering.”
So King Cadmus lived in the palace with his beautiful Queen, and before many years passed there were rosy little children playing in the great hall, and on the marble steps of the palace, and running joyfully to meet King Cadmus as he came home from looking after his soldiers and his workmen.
And the five old soldiers that sprang from the dragon’s teeth grew very fond of these little children, and they were never tired of showing them how to play with wooden swords and to blow on a penny trumpet, and beat a drum and march like soldiers to battle.