PART I. A Sublime Elopement
IT WAS clearly a runaway match—never indeed was such a sublime elopement. The four horses were coal-black, with blood-red manes and tails; and they were shod with rubies. They were harnessed to a basaltic car by a single rein of flame. Waving his double-pronged trident in the air, the god struck the blue breast of Cyane, and the waters instantly parted. In rushed the wild chariot, the pale and insensible Proserpine clinging to the breast of her grim lover.
Through the depths of the hitherto unfathomed lake the infernal steeds held their breathless course. The car jolted against its bed. 'Save me!' exclaimed the future Queen of Hades, and she clung with renewed energy to the bosom of the dark bridegroom. The earth opened; they entered the kingdom of the gnomes. Here Pluto was popular. The lurid populace gave him a loud shout. The chariot whirled along through shadowy cities and by dim highways, swarming with a busy race of shades.
'Ye flowery meads of Enna!' exclaimed the terrified Proserpine, 'shall I never view you again? What an execrable climate!'
'Here, however, in-door nature is charming,' responded Pluto. 'Tis a great nation of manufacturers. You are better, I hope, my Proserpine. The passage of the water is never very agreeable, especially to ladies.'
'And which is our next stage?' inquired Proserpine.
'The centre of Earth,' replied Pluto. 'Travelling is so much improved that at this rate we shall reach Hades before night.'
'Alas!' exclaimed Proserpine, 'is not this night?'
'You are not unhappy, my Proserpine?'
'Beloved of my heart, I have given up everything for you! I do not repent, but I am thinking of my mother.'
'Time will pacify the Lady Ceres. What is done cannot be undone. In the winter, when a residence among us is even desirable, I should not be surprised were she to pay us a visit.'
'Her prejudices are so strong,' murmured the bride. 'Oh my Pluto! I hope your family will be kind to me.'
'Who could be unkind to Proserpine? Ours is a very domestic circle. I can assure you that everything is so well ordered among us that I have no recollection of a domestic broil.'
'But marriage is such a revolution in a bachelor's establishment,' replied Proserpine, despondingly. 'To tell the truth, too, I am half frightened at the thought of the Furies. I have heard that their tempers are so violent.'
'They mean well; their feelings are strong, but their hearts are in the right place. I flatter myself you will like my nieces, the Parcæ. They are accomplished, and favourites among the men.'
'Oh! quite irresistible.'
'My heart misgives me. I wish you had at least paid them the compliment of apprising them of our marriage.'
'Cheer up. For myself, I have none but pleasant anticipations. I long to be at home once more by my own fireside, and patting my faithful Cerberus.'
'I think I shall like Cerberus; I am fond of dogs.'
'I am sure you will. He is the most faithful creature in the world.'
'Is he very fierce?'
'Not if he takes a fancy to you; and who can help taking a fancy to Proserpine?'