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Chapter 1
from Sabrina, The Class Goddess of Amherst College by Max Shoop 1910

There is a gentle nymph not far from hence,
That with moist curb, ways the smooth Severn stream;
Sabrina is her name, a virgin fair.
---Comus.

VERY people has had its guardian deity, for it is man's nature to worship.  The ancient Greeks looked to Athena or Aphrodite for protection and inspiration.  These dwellers upon Olympus have come and gone and their day in the affections of men passed long, long ago.  But man's affections remain, and seek some object of worship.  Myriads of deities have from time to time blessed men with their presence.  It has been reserved to certain chosen men of Amherst College, in Massachusetts, to cherish still as their patron Goddess, and the guardian of their college life, the beautiful and chaste Sabrina, the Athena of the Saxon race.

The gods of the Greeks belonged to all alike.  Sabrina, though formerly Goddess of the Britons, wearied with watching the ordinary run of men, has turned all her protection and devotion to the chosen few of the little college on the hill at Amherst.  She signifies everything to her followers, and they never grow tired of singing her praises and glorious name, especially to those unfortunate ones who have only been allowed to gaze at her from afar and have tried hard to conceal the envy which rises strong within them because they too may not know the calm and peace of her protecting care.

Whenever Sabrina men stand in her majestic presence, there rushes over them as a mighty flood the memory of how her influence has enriched their college life; and once more they recall the old but fascinating story of all her thrilling experiences since the time she was born long, long ago in the darkness of a prison to a life of captivity, before she became the River Goddess of the Britons.

---

It was about three thousand years ago that Hymyr, the Hun, descended with his savage violence, and laid waste the beautiful country along the banks of the river Albis in Germany.  As part of his booty, Hymyr carried off the beautiful daughter of the German king to be his slave.  The wild Hun continued his destruction along the coast of Frigia until he reached the rich island of Albion, newly named Briton from its king Brutus.  He sailed up the coast to the province called Albany, and landing there with his fierce sea-robbers easily defeated Albanactus, the King, and drove him from his realm.  Hymyr and his men then revelled in the halls of Albanactus in heedless security.  It was a joyous place, this land of the Britons, and the Huns had no thought of care for the morrow.

Meanwhile the defeated Albanactus had secured the aid of his brother, King Locrinus of Loegria.  The two brothers and their armies fell upon the Huns in the midst of their revels, and, killing Hymyr, took his followers captive.  Then all the treasure from Hymyr's ships was laid before the two kings.  There were costly garments, precious vessels, bronze, gold, and armour, --- spoils of many palaces.  And as the two brothers admired, lo, one brought the fair captive, Princess Esyllt, daughter of the German King.  "When the eyes of Locrinus lighted on her, albeit her look was bent on the ground, and her long hair almost hid her features, love suddenly flooded his soul, and he stood like one smitten by the powerful wand of a magician."  To his brother Albanactus, he gladly gave all the gold and riches, satisfied to have but Esyllt for his own.  He wooed her for his wife, and took her back with him to his kingdom.  It seems, however, that this Locrinus had previously promised Corineus, the giant king of the Welch, to take to wife his daughter Guendolen.

But Locrinus did not love this daughter of the Welch king.  Nevertheless, when Corineus heard of Locrinus' marriage to Esyllt, he was exceeding wroth and prepared to march against Locrinus, and punish him for the insult he had offered him and his daughter.

King Locrinus, hearing of his coming, and boding ill of the issue, privily hid his wife Esyllt in a shepherd's hut, and caused a rumor to be spread throughout his kingdom that the Queen had suddenly died.  These tidings met Corineus on the way, and somewhat slaked his fury.  He proceeded, however, and forced Locrinus, on pain of death, to fulfill his pledge and marry his daughter.  The king, with a heavy heart, assented and formed an unhappy marriage with the haughty Guendolen.

The Queen Esyllt meanwhile tarried sadly in the shepherd's hut, wearying for the coming of her lord.  She bore the time patiently, yet longed for his return.  She had heard the shepherd tell of the terrible happenings at the palace, and she lay awake the nights, weeping and praying the gods to protect her lord and restore him to her in the fullness of his love.

Fearing the jealous eye of Guendolen, Locrinus fitted up a secret chamber which had been curiously contrived years before by his father Brutus, for the deposit of treasure.  Thither one night he brought his beautiful Esyllt.  She had not been many days in this dark chamber when a daughter was born to her.  The little Sabrina, as the Queen Esyllt named her, pined not for what she knew not of.  The pale light of the lamp which burnt night and day in the dark chamber could not ripen the color in her cheeks or waken the laughter on her lips, as the goodly sun does.  She became a child of captivity, yet not unhappy even in her darkened life.  For seven long years she dwelt in this secret chamber.  Only through the words of her guarding mother did she learn aught of the outer world.  Sabrina grew most beautiful, with a beauty of surpassing sweetness, unknown in sunkissed mortals.

At the end of seven years the mighty king Corineus died, and straightway Locrinus put away the haughty Guendolen, with whom life had become unbearable, and he took back to him on his throne the beautiful Queen Esyllt for whom he had waited so long.  Again joy filled the halls the palace.

The beauty of the little Sabrina won praise from all the court; but the glory of the upper world was well nigh too much for the child.  She hid herself from the light and sounds of the palace and the attention of the courtiers.  She languished for the still chamber which had so long been her home.  Her nature craved the sunless life, --- the life of captivity.  She was most gentle of speech, and a sweet smile played continually over her face, like moonlight on the waters.

When Sabrina had grown to woman's estate, tidings came that the haughty Guendolen had returned to her father's kingdom, and now with a large army was marching eastward, vowing to slay Locrinus, and take Esyllt and Sabrina captive.  The King hurriedly marshalled his army, and taking Esyllt and the Princess with him, marched boldly to meet the army of Guendolen on his frontier.  A fierce battle ensued, in which Locrinus was struck down by an arrow, and in the subsequent rout of his army Sabrina and her mother were captured.  The haughty daughter of Corineus gloried in her victory, heaping insults on the dead king and reviling the two women who stood trembling before her.  As they answered not her charges, Guendolen ordered them without more ado to be flung into the river that was flowing hard by.  As six fierce warriors sprang forward to seize them, Sabrina gazed pleadingly into the face of her mother, who thereupon lifting her head looked straight into the eyes of her captor, this daughter of Corineus, and spake thus, --- "Princess, If I have wronged thee, the gods have richly avenged thee, seeing that I did it unwillingly, yea, even unwittingly.  The fate thou adjudgest to me and to this child is indeed a merciful one; I seek not to change it --- it is far, far better to fall thus into the hands of the gods; but add to it yet this boon, --- let not the hands of thy warriors come upon the maiden, seeing that she is a Princess and a daughter of the noble Locrinus.  Behold, we go whither thou bidst us, and may the merciful gods receive us!"

Thus speaking she walked down the green meadow to the amber stream, Sabrina walking lightly by her side.  And as they came to the brink and the murmuring waters kissed their feet, the two women turned their faces to the setting sun which was touching the purple hills with radiant splendor.  Sabrina silently saluted it --- before long she would be there.  As in a dream she saw herself a queen there in the land of the setting sun, and at her feet many followers, of a different race than these whom she was now leaving forever.  Esyllt bowed her head joyfully, for she could see Locrinus beckoning, and a vision of future happiness blotted out the terror of the moment.  After mother and child had silently embraced each other, hand in hand they bravely plunged into the cold bosom of the stream, --- sank, --- and no one saw them more.  But the name of the beautiful princess clung ever to the stream, and men as they wander by the glassy Severn in Old England dream, even yet, of the gentle Sabrina, who became a Goddess of the river and of the Britons.

Sabrina remained for a time in those halls of the River Gods, harkening ever to the cry of the innocent, and lending her help to the honest and virtuous  But one thing the Britons did not know, that in the course of time, tiring of the society of the other Gods of the river, Sabrina roamed to the land of the setting sun, the land toward which she had looked so longingly as she stepped into the cold waters of the Severn.  Meanwhile --- for long ages had elapsed --- this land had become America, and was peopled with men who had need of her gracious presence.  And thus it happened that among these purple hills of New England she appeared to a few men of Amherst College, and in a vision spake to them, "I am the Goddess Sabrina, the Goddess of Truth and Loyalty  The old statue which once graced your Campus and now lies hidden in an old barn, I have chosen for my abode.  Henceforth, that statue shall be more than a mere bronze form.  I shall breathe into it my spirit, and if you will but cherish the statue and do it honor, I shall be your Goddess forever."  With those words Sabrina vanished, the dream was dispelled, and when morning came the men were not unmindful of the vision.

 

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Page last updated: 21 March 2000
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