A VICTOR OF SALAMIS
The MM Co.
A VICTOR OF SALAMIS
A TALE OF THE DAYS OF XERXES, LEONIDAS AND THEMISTOCLES
WILLIAM STEARNS DAVIS
AUTHOR OF "A FRIEND OF CAESAR," "GOD WILLS IT," "BELSHAZZAR," ETC.
"... On the AEgean shore a city stands, Built nobly, pure the air and light the soil, Athens, the eye of Greece."
*New York* THE MACMILLAN COMPANY LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD. 1907 All rights reserved
COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1907.
*Norwood Press* J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
The invasion of Greece by Xerxes, with its battles of Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea, forms one of the most dramatic events in history. Had Athens and Sparta succumbed to this attack of Oriental superstition and despotism, the Parthenon, the Attic Theatre, the Dialogues of Plato, would have been almost as impossible as if Phidias, Sophocles, and the philosophers had never lived. Because this contest and its heroes—Leonidas and Themistocles—cast their abiding shadows across our world of to-day, I have attempted this piece of historical fiction.
Many of the scenes were conceived on the fields of action themselves during a recent visit to Greece, and I have tried to give some glimpse of the natural beauty of "The Land of the Hellene,"—a beauty that will remain when Themistocles and his peers fade away still further into the backgrounds of history.
W. S. D.
PROLOGUE THE ISTHMIAN GAMES NEAR CORINTH
CHAPTER PAGE I. GLAUCON THE BEAUTIFUL 3 II. THE ATHLETE 10 III. THE HAND OF PERSIA 21 IV. THE PENTATHLON 31
BOOK I THE SHADOW OF THE PERSIAN
V. HERMIONE OF ELEUSIS 51 VI. ATHENS 62 VII. DEMOCRATES AND THE TEMPTER 74 VIII. ON THE ACROPOLIS 84 IX. THE CYPRIAN TRIUMPHS 95 X. DEMOCRATES RESOLVES 106 XI. THE PANATHENAEA 116 XII. A TRAITOR TO HELLAS 128 XIII. THE DISLOYALTY OF PHORMIO 141 XIV. MARDONIUS THE PERSIAN 152
BOOK II THE COMING OF THE PERSIAN
XV. THE LOTUS-EATING AT SARDIS 165 XVI. THE COMING OF XERXES THE GOD-KING 174 XVII. THE CHARMING BY ROXANA 186 XVIII. DEMOCRATES'S TROUBLES RETURN 197 XIX. THE COMMANDMENT OF XERXES 209 XX. THERMOPYLAE 219 XXI. THE THREE HUNDRED—AND ONE 230 XXII. MARDONIUS GIVES A PROMISE 243 XXIII. THE DARKEST HOUR 253 XXIV. THE EVACUATION OF ATHENS 264 XXV. THE ACROPOLIS FLAMES 268 XXVI. THEMISTOCLES IS THINKING 279 XXVII. THE CRAFT OF ODYSSEUS 287 XXVIII. BEFORE THE DEATH GRAPPLE 300 XXIX. SALAMIS 311 XXX. THEMISTOCLES GIVES A PROMISE 329
BOOK III THE PASSING OF THE PERSIAN
XXXI. DEMOCRATES SURRENDERS 333 XXXII. THE STRANGER IN TROEZENE 343 XXXIII. WHAT BEFELL ON THE HILLSIDE 350 XXXIV. THE LOYALTY OF LAMPAXO 360 XXXV. MOLOCH BETRAYS THE PHOENICIAN 372 XXXVI. THE READING OF THE RIDDLE 388 XXXVII. THE RACE TO SAVE HELLAS 399 XXXVIII. THE COUNCIL OF MARDONIUS 418 XXXIX. THE AVENGING OF LEONIDAS 426 XL. THE SONG OF THE FURIES 438 XLI. THE BRIGHTNESS OF HELIOS 445
THE ISTHMIAN GAMES NEAR CORINTH
A VICTOR OF SALAMIS
GLAUCON THE BEAUTIFUL
The crier paused for the fifth time. The crowd—knotty Spartans, keen Athenians, perfumed Sicilians—pressed his pulpit closer, elbowing for the place of vantage. Amid a lull in their clamour the crier recommenced.
"And now, men of Hellas, another time hearken. The sixth contestant in the pentathlon, most honourable of the games held at the Isthmus, is Glaucon, son of Conon the Athenian; his grandfather—" a jangling shout drowned him.
"The most beautiful man in Hellas!" "But an effeminate puppy!" "Of the noble house of Alcmaeon!" "The family's accursed!" "A great god helps him—even Eros." "Ay—the fool married for mere love. He needs help. His father disinherited him."
"Peace, peace," urged the crier; "I'll tell all about him, as I have of the others. Know then, my masters, that he loved, and won in marriage, Hermione, daughter of Hermippus of Eleusis. Now Hermippus is Conon's mortal enemy; therefore in great wrath Conon disinherited his son,—but now, consenting to forgive him if he wins the parsley crown in the pentathlon—"
"A safe promise," interrupted a Spartan in broadest Doric; "the pretty boy has no chance against Lycon, our Laconian giant."
"Boaster!" retorted an Athenian. "Did not Glaucon bend open a horseshoe yesterday?"
"Our Moerocles did that," called a Mantinean; whereupon the crier, foregoing his long speech on Glaucon's noble ancestry, began to urge the Athenians to show their confidence by their wagers.
"How much is staked that Glaucon can beat Ctesias of Epidaurus?"
"We don't match our lion against mice!" roared the noisiest Athenian.
"Or Amyntas of Thebes?"
"Not Amyntas! Give us Lycon of Sparta."
"Lycon let it be,—how much is staked and by whom, that Glaucon of Athens, contending for the first time in the great games, defeats Lycon of Sparta, twice victor at Nemea, once at Delphi, and once at Olympia?"
The second rush and outcry put the crier nearly at his wits' end to record the wagers that pelted him, and which testified how much confidence the numerous Athenians had in their unproved champion. The brawl of voices drew newcomers from far and near. The chariot race had just ended in the adjoining hippodrome; and the idle crowd, intent on a new excitement, came surging up like waves. In such a whirlpool of tossing arms and shoving elbows, he who was small of stature and short of breath stood a scanty chance of getting close enough to the crier's stand to have his wager recorded. Such, at least, was the fate of a gray but dignified little man, who struggled vainly—even with risk to his long linen chiton—to reach the front.
"Ugh! ugh! Make way, good people,—Zeus confound you, brute of a Spartan, your big sandals crush my toes again! Can I never get near enough to place my two minae on that Glaucon?"
"Keep back, graybeard," snapped the Spartan; "thank the god if you can hold your money and not lose it, when Glaucon's neck is wrung to-morrow." Whereupon he lifted his own voice with, "Thirty drachmae to place on Lycon, Master Crier! So you have it—"
"And two minae on Glaucon," piped the little man, peering up with bright, beady eyes; but the crier would never have heard him, save for a sudden ally.
"Who wants to stake on Glaucon?" burst in a hearty young Athenian who had wagered already. "You, worthy sir? Then by Athena's owls they shall hear you! Lend us your elbow, Democrates."
The latter request was to a second young Athenian close by. With his stalwart helpers thrusting at either side, the little man was soon close to the crier.
"Two minae?" quoth the latter, leaning, "two that Glaucon beats Lycon, and at even odds? But your name, sir—"
The little man straightened proudly.
"Simonides of Ceos."
The crowd drew back by magic. The most bristling Spartan grew respectful. The crier bowed as his ready stylus made the entry.
"Simonides of Ceos, Simonides the most noted poet in Hellas!" cried the first of his two rescuers; "it's a great honour to have served so famous a man. Pray let me take your hand."
"With all the joy in the world." The little poet coloured with delight at the flattery. "You have saved me, I avow, from the forge and anvil of Hephaestus. What a vulgar mob! Do stand apart; then I can try to thank you."
Aided again by his two protectors, Simonides was soon clear of the whirlpool. Under one of the graceful pines, which girded the long stadium, he recovered breath and looked at leisure upon his new acquaintances. Both were striking men, but in sharp contrast: the taller and darker showed an aquiline visage betraying a strain of non-Grecian blood. His black eyes and large mouth were very merry. He wore his green chiton with a rakishness that proved him anything but a dandy. His companion, addressed as Democrates, slighter, blonder, showed Simonides a handsome and truly Greek profile, set off by a neatly trimmed reddish beard. His purple-edged cloak fell in statuesque folds of the latest mode, his beryl signet-ring, scarlet fillet, and jewelled girdle bespoke wealth and taste. His face, too, might have seemed frank and affable, had not Simonides suddenly recalled an old proverb about mistrusting a man with eyes too close together.
"And now," said the little poet, quite as ready to pay compliments as to take them, "let me thank my noble deliverers, for I am sure two such valorous young men as you must come of the best blood of Attica."
"I am not ashamed of my father, sir," spoke the taller Athenian; "Hellas has not yet forgotten Miltiades, the victor of Marathon."
"Then I clasp the hand of Cimon, the son of the saviour of Hellas." The little poet's eyes danced. "Oh! the pity I was in Thessaly so long, and let you grow up in my absence. A noble son of a noble father! And your friend—did you name him Democrates?"
"I did so."
"Fortunate old rascal I am! For I meet Cimon the son of Miltiades, and Democrates, that young lieutenant of Themistocles who all the world knows is gaining fame already as Nestor and Odysseus, both in one, among the orators of Athens."
"Your compliments exceed all truth," exclaimed the second Athenian, not at all angered by the praise. But Simonides, whose tongue was brisk, ran on with a torrent of flattery and of polite insinuation, until Cimon halted him, with a query.
"Yet why, dear Cean, since, as you say, you only arrived this afternoon at the Isthmus, were you so anxious to stake that money on Glaucon?"
"Why? Because I, like all Greece outside of Sparta, seem to be turning Glaucon-mad. All the way from Thessaly—in Boeotia, in Attica, in Megara—men talked of him, his beauty, his prowess, his quarrel with his father, his marriage with Hermione, the divinest maiden in Athens, and how he has gone to the games to win both the crown and crusty Conon's forgiveness. I tell you, every mule-driver along the way seemed to have staked his obol on him. They praise him as 'fair as Delian Apollo,' 'graceful as young Hermes,' and—here I wonder most,—'modest as an unwedded girl.' " Simonides drew breath, then faced the others earnestly, "You are Athenians; do you know him?"
"Know him?" Cimon laughed heartily; "have we not left him at the wrestling ground? Was not Democrates his schoolfellow once, his second self to-day? And touching his beauty, his valour, his modesty," the young man's eyes shone with loyal enthusiasm, "do not say 'over-praised' till you have seen him."
Simonides swelled with delight.
"Oh, lucky genius that cast me with you! Take me to him this moment."
"He is so beset with admirers, his trainers are angry already; besides, he is still at the wrestling ground."
"But soon returns to his tents," added Democrates, instantly; "and Simonides—is Simonides. If Themistocles and Leonidas can see Glaucon, so must the first poet of Hellas."
"O dearest orator," cried the little man, with an arm around his neck, "I begin to love you already. Away this moment, that I may worship your new divinity."
"Come, then," commanded Cimon, leading off with strides so long the bard could hardly follow; "his tent is not distant: you shall see him, though the trainers change to Gorgons."
The "Precinct of Poseidon," the great walled enclosure where were the temples, porticos, and the stadium of the Isthmus, was quickly behind them. They walked eastward along the sea-shore. The scene about was brisk enough, had they heeded. A dozen chariots passed. Under every tall pine along the way stood merchants' booths, each with a goodly crowd. Now a herd of brown goats came, the offering of a pious Phocian; now a band of Aphrodite's priestesses from Corinth whirled by in no overdecorous dance, to a deafening noise of citharas and castanets. A soft breeze was sending the brown-sailed fisher boats across the heaving bay. Straight before the three spread the white stuccoed houses of Cenchraea, the eastern haven of Corinth; far ahead in smooth semicircle rose the green crests of the Argive mountains, while to their right upreared the steep lonely pyramid of brown rock, Acro-Corinthus, the commanding citadel of the thriving city. But above, beyond these, fairer than them all, spread the clear, sun-shot azure of Hellas, the like whereof is not over any other land, save as that land is girt by the crisp foam of the blue AEgean Sea.
So much for the picture, but Simonides, having seen it often, saw it not at all, but plied the others with questions.
"So this Hermione of his is beautiful?"
"Like Aphrodite rising from the sea foam." The answer came from Democrates, who seemed to look away, avoiding the poet's keen glance.
"And yet her father gave her to the son of his bitter enemy?"
"Hermippus of Eleusis is sensible. It is a fine thing to have the handsomest man in Hellas for son-in-law."
"And now to the great marvel—did Glaucon truly seek her not for dowry, nor rank, but for sheer love?"
"Marriages for love are in fashion to-day," said Democrates, with a side glance at Cimon, whose sister Elpinice had just made a love match with Callias the Rich, to the scandal of all the prudes in Athens.
"Then I meet marvels even in my old age. Another Odysseus and his Penelope! And he is handsome, valiant, high-minded, with a wife his peer? You raise my hopes too high. They will be dashed."
"They will not," protested Democrates, with every sign of loyalty; "turn here: this lane in the pines leads to his tent. If we have praised too much, doom us to the labours of Tantalus."
But here their progress was stopped. A great knot of people were swarming about a statue under a pine tree, and shrill, angry voices proclaimed not trafficking, but a brawl.
There was ceaseless coming and going outside the Precinct of Poseidon. Following much the same path just taken by Simonides and his new friends, two other men were walking, so deep in talk that they hardly heeded how many made respectful way for them, or how many greeted them. The taller and younger man, to be sure, returned every salute with a graceful flourish of his hands, but in a mechanical way, and with eye fixed on his companion.
The pair were markedly contrasted. The younger was in his early prime, strong, well developed, and daintily dressed. His gestures were quick and eloquent. His brown beard and hair were trimmed short to reveal a clear olive face—hardly regular, but expressive and tinged with an extreme subtilty. When he laughed, in a strange, silent way, it was to reveal fine teeth, while his musical tongue ran on, never waiting for answer.
His comrade, however, answered little. He barely rose to the other's shoulder, but he had the chest and sinews of an ox. Graces there were none. His face was a scarred ravine, half covered by scanty stubble. The forehead was low. The eyes, gray and wise, twinkled from tufted eyebrows. The long gray hair was tied about his forehead in a braid and held by a golden circlet. The "chlamys" around his hips was purple but dirty. To his companion's glib Attic he returned only Doric monosyllables.
"Thus I have explained: if my plans prosper; if Corcyra and Syracuse send aid; if Xerxes has trouble in provisioning his army, not merely can we resist Persia, but conquer with ease. Am I too sanguine, Leonidas?"
"We shall see."
"No doubt Xerxes will find his fleet untrustworthy. The Egyptian sailors hate the Phoenicians. Therefore we can risk a sea fight."
"No rashness, Themistocles."
"Yes—it is dicing against the Fates, and the stake is the freedom of Hellas. Still a battle must be risked. If we quit ourselves bravely, our names shall be remembered as long as Agamemnon's."
"Or Priam's?—his Troy was sacked."
"And you, my dear king of Sparta, will of course move heaven and earth to have your Ephors and Council somewhat more forward than of late in preparing for war? We all count on you."
"I will try."
"Who can ask more? But now make an end to statecraft. We were speaking about the pentathlon and the chances of—"
Here the same brawling voices that had arrested Simonides broke upon Themistocles and Leonidas also. The cry "A fight!" was producing its inevitable result. Scores of men, and those not the most aristocratic, were running pell-mell whither so many had thronged already. In the confusion scant reverence was paid the king of Sparta and the first statesman of Athens, who were thrust unceremoniously aside and were barely witnesses of what followed.
The outcry was begun, after-report had it, by a Sicyonian bronze-dealer finding a small but valuable lamp missing from the table whereon he showed his wares. Among the dozen odd persons pressing about the booth his eye singled out a slight, handsome boy in Oriental dress; and since Syrian serving-lads were proverbially light-fingered, the Sicyonian jumped quickly at his conclusion.
"Seize the Barbarian thief!" had been his shout as he leaped and snatched the alleged culprit's mantle. The boy escaped easily by the frailness of his dress, which tore in the merchant's hands; but a score of bystanders seized the fugitive and dragged him back to the Sicyonian, whose order to "search!" would have been promptly obeyed; but at this instant he stumbled over the missing lamp on the ground before the table, whence probably it had fallen. The bronze-dealer was now mollified, and would willingly have released the lad, but a Spartan bystander was more zealous.
"Here's a Barbarian thief and spy!" he began bellowing; "he dropped the lamp when he was detected! Have him to the temple and to the wardens of the games!"
The magic word "spy" let loose the tongues and passions of every man within hearing. The unfortunate lad was seized again and jostled rudely, while questions rattled over him like hailstones.
"Whose slave are you? Why here? Where's your master? Where did you get that outlandish dress and gold-laced turban? Confess, confess,—or it'll be whipped out of you! What villany are you up to?"
If the prisoner had understood Greek,—which was doubtful,—he could scarce have comprehended this babel. He struggled vainly; tears started to his eyes. Then he committed a blunder. Not attempting a protest, he thrust a small hand into his crimson belt and drew forth a handful of gold as bribe for release.
"A slave with ten darics!" bawled the officious Spartan, never relaxing his grip. "Hark you, friends, it's plain as day. Dexippus of Corinth has a Syrian lad like this. The young scoundrel's robbed his master and is running away."
"That's it! A runaway! To the temple with him!" chimed a dozen. The prisoner's outcries were drowned. He would have been swept off in ungentle custody had not a strong hand intervened in his favor.
"A moment, good citizens," called a voice in clear Attic. "Release this lad. I know Dexippus's slave; he's no such fellow."
The others, low-browed Spartans mostly, turned, ill-pleased at the interruption of an Athenian, but shrank a step as a name went among them.
"Castor and Pollux—it's Glaucon the Beautiful!"
With two thrusts of impetuous elbows, the young man was at the assailed lad's side. The newcomer was indeed a sight for gods. Beauty and power seemed wholly met in a figure of perfect symmetry and strength. A face of fine regularity, a chiselled profile, smooth cheeks, deep blue eyes, a crown of closely cropped auburn hair, a chin neither weak nor stern, a skin burnt brown by the sun of the wrestling schools—these were parts of the picture, and the whole was how much fairer than any part! Aroused now, he stood with head cast back and a scarlet cloak shaking gracefully from his shoulders.
"Unhand the lad!" he repeated.
For a moment, compelled by his beauty, the Spartans yielded. The Oriental pressed against his protector; but the affair was not to end so easily.
"Hark you, Sir Athenian," rejoined the Spartan leader, "don't presume on your good looks. Our Lycon will mar them all to-morrow. Here's Dexippus's slave or else a Barbarian spy: in either case to the temple with him, and don't you hinder."
He plucked at the boy's girdle; but the athlete extended one slim hand, seized the Spartan's arm, and with lightning dexterity laid the busybody flat on Mother Earth. He staggered upward, raging and calling on his fellows.
"Sparta insulted by Athens! Vengeance, men of Lacedaemon! Fists! Fists!"
The fate of the Oriental was forgotten in the storm of patriotic fury that followed. Fortunately no one had a weapon. Half a dozen burly Laconians precipitated themselves without concert or order upon the athlete. He was hidden a moment in the rush of flapping gowns and tossing arms. Then like a rock out of the angry sea shone his golden head, as he shook off the attack. Two men were on their backs, howling. The others stood at respectful distance, cursing and meditating another rush. An Athenian pottery merchant from a neighbouring booth began trumpeting through his hands.
"Men of Athens, this way!"
His numerous countrymen came scampering from far and wide. Men snatched up stones and commenced snapping off pine boughs for clubs. The athlete, centre of all this din, stood smiling, with his glorious head held high, his eyes alight with the mere joy of battle. He held out his arms. Both pose and face spoke as clearly as words,—"Prove me!"
"Sparta is insulted. Away with the braggart!" the Laconians were clamouring. The Athenians answered in kind. Already a dark sailor was drawing a dirk. Everything promised broken heads, and perhaps blood, when Leonidas and his friend,—by laying about them with their staves,—won their way to the front. The king dashed his staff upon the shoulder of a strapping Laconian who was just hurling himself on Glaucon.
"Fools! Hold!" roared Leonidas, and the moment the throng saw what newcomers they faced, Athenian and Spartan let their arms drop and stood sheepish and silent. Themistocles instantly stepped forward and held up his hand. His voice, trumpet-clear, rang out among the pines. In three sentences he dissolved the tumult.
"Fellow-Hellenes, do not let Dame Discord make sport of you. I saw all that befell. It is only an unlucky misunderstanding. You are quite satisfied, I am sure, Master Bronze-Dealer?"
The Sicyonian, who saw in a riot the ruin of his evening's trade, nodded gladly.
"He says there was no thieving, and he is entirely satisfied. He thanks you for your friendly zeal. The Oriental was not Dexippus's slave, and Xerxes does not need such boys for spies. I am certain Glaucon would not insult Sparta. So let us part without bad blood, and await the judgment of the god in the contest to-morrow."
Not a voice answered him. The crash of music from the sacrificial embassy of Syracuse diverted everybody's attention; most of the company streamed away to follow the flower-decked chariots and cattle back to the temple. Themistocles and Leonidas were left almost alone to approach the athlete.
"You are ever Glaucon the Fortunate," laughed Themistocles; "had we not chanced this way, what would not have befallen?"
"Ah, it was delightful," rejoined the athlete, his eyes still kindled; "the shock, the striving, the putting one's own strength and will against many and feeling 'I am the stronger.' "
"Delightful, no doubt" replied the statesman, "though Zeus spare me fighting one against ten! But what god possessed you to meddle in this brawl, and imperil all chances for to-morrow?"
"I was returning from practice at the palaestra. I saw the lad beset and knew he was not Dexippus's slave. I ran to help him. I thought no more about it."
"And risked everything for a sly-eyed Oriental. Where is the rascal?"
But the lad—author of the commotion—had disappeared completely.
"Behold his fair gratitude to his rescuer," cried Themistocles, sourly, and then he turned to Leonidas. "Well, very noble king of Sparta, you were asking to see Glaucon and judge his chances in the pentathlon. Your Laconians have just proved him; are you satisfied?"
But the king, without a word of greeting, ran his eyes over the athlete from head to heel, then blurted out his verdict:
Glaucon blushed like a maid. Themistocles threw up his hands in deprecation.
"But were not Achilles and many another hero beautiful as brave? Does not Homer call them so many times 'godlike'?"
"Poetry doesn't win the pentathlon," retorted the king; then suddenly he seized the athlete's right arm near the shoulder. The muscles cracked. Glaucon did not wince. The king dropped the arm with a "Euge!" then extended his own hand, the fingers half closed, and ordered, "Open."
One long minute, just as Simonides and his companions approached, Athenian and Spartan stood face to face, hand locked in hand, while Glaucon's forehead grew redder, not with blushing. Then blood rushed to the king's brow also. His fingers were crimson. They had been forced open.
"Euge!" cried the king, again; then, to Themistocles, "He will do."
Whereupon, as if satisfied in his object and averse to further dalliance, he gave Cimon and his companions the stiffest of nods and deliberately turned on his heel. Speech was too precious coin for him to be wasted on mere adieus. Only over his shoulder he cast at Glaucon a curt mandate.
"I hate Lycon. Grind his bones."
Themistocles, however, lingered a moment to greet Simonides. The little poet was delighted, despite overweening hopes, at the manly beauty yet modesty of the athlete, and being a man who kept his thoughts always near his tongue, made Glaucon blush more manfully than ever.
"Master Simonides is overkind," had ventured the athlete; "but I am sure his praise is only polite compliment."
"What misunderstanding!" ran on the poet. "How you pain me! I truly desired to ask a question. Is it not a great delight to know that so many people are gladdened just by looking on you?"
"How dare I answer? If 'no,' I contradict you—very rude. If 'yes,' I praise myself—far ruder."
"Cleverly turned. The face of Paris, the strength of Achilles, the wit of Periander, all met in one body;" but seeing the athlete's confusion more profound than ever, the Cean cut short. "Heracles! if my tongue wounds you, lo! it's clapped back in its sheath; I'll be revenged in an ode of fifty iambs on your victory. For that you will conquer, neither I nor any sane man in Hellas has the least doubt. Are you not confident, dear Athenian?"
"I am confident in the justice of the gods, noble Simonides," said the athlete, half childishly, half in deep seriousness.
"Well you may be. The gods are usually 'just' to such as you. It's we graybeards that Tyche, 'Lady Fortune,' grows tired of helping."
"Perhaps!" Glaucon passed his hand across his eyes with a dreamy gesture. "Yet sometimes I almost say, 'Welcome a misfortune, if not too terrible,' just to ward off the god's jealousy of too great prosperity. In all things, save my father's anger, I have prospered. To-morrow I can appease that, too. Yet you know Solon's saying, 'Call no man fortunate till he is dead.' "
Simonides was charmed at this frank confession on first acquaintance. "Yes, but even one of the Seven Sages can err."
"I do not know. I only hope—"
"Hush, Glaucon," admonished Democrates. "There's no worse dinner before a contest than one of flighty thoughts. When safe in Athens—"
"In Eleusis you mean," corrected the athlete.
"Pest take you," cried Cimon; "you say Eleusis because there is Hermione. But make this day-dreaming end ere you come to grips with Lycon."
"He will awaken," smiled Themistocles. Then, with another gracious nod to Simonides, the statesman hastened after Leonidas, leaving the three young men and the poet to go to Glaucon's tent in the pine grove.
"And why should Leonidas wish Glaucon to grind the bones of the champion of Sparta?" asked Cimon, curiously.
"Quickly answered," replied Simonides, who knew half the persons of the nobility in Hellas; "first, Lycon is of the rival kingly house at Sparta; second, he's suspected of 'Medizing,' of favouring Persia."
"I've heard that story of 'Medizing,' " interrupted Democrates, promptly; "I can assure you it is not true."
"Enough if he's suspected," cried the uncompromising son of Miltiades; "honest Hellenes should not even be blown upon in times like this. Another reason then for hating him—"
"Peace!" ordered Glaucon, as if starting from a long revery, and with a sweep of his wonderful hands; "let the Medes, the Persians, and their war wait. For me the only war is the pentathlon,—and then by Zeus's favour the victory, the glory, the return to Eleusis! Ah—wish me joy!"
"Verily, the man is mad," reflected the poet; "he lives in his own bright world, sufficient to himself. May Zeus never send storms to darken it! For to bear disaster his soul seems never made."
* * * * * * *
At the tent Manes, the athlete's body-servant, came running to his master, with a small box firmly bound.
"A strange dark man brought this only a moment since. It is for Master Glaucon."
On opening there was revealed a bracelet of Egyptian turquoise; the price thereof Simonides wisely set at two minae. Nothing betrayed the identity of the giver save a slip of papyrus written in Greek, but in very uncertain hand. "To the Beautiful Champion of Athens: from one he has greatly served."
Cimon held the bracelet on high, admiring its perfect lustre.
"Themistocles was wrong," he remarked; "the Oriental was not ungrateful. But what 'slave' or 'lad' was this that Glaucon succoured?"
"Perhaps," insinuated Simonides, "Themistocles was wrong yet again. Who knows if a stranger giving such gifts be not sent forth by Xerxes?"
"Don't chatter foolishness," commanded Democrates, almost peevishly; but Glaucon replaced the bracelet in the casket.
"Since the god sends this, I will rejoice in it," he declared lightly. "A fair omen for to-morrow, and it will shine rarely on Hermione's arm." The mention of that lady called forth new protests from Cimon, but he in turn was interrupted, for a half-grown boy had entered the tent and stood beckoning to Democrates.
THE HAND OF PERSIA
The lad who sidled up to Democrates was all but a hunchback. His bare arms were grotesquely tattooed, clear sign that he was a Thracian. His eyes twinkled keenly, uneasily, as in token of an almost sinister intelligence. What he whispered to Democrates escaped the rest, but the latter began girding up his cloak.
"You leave us, philotate?" cried Glaucon. "Would I not have all my friends with me to-night, to fill me with fair thoughts for the morrow? Bid your ugly Bias keep away!"
"A greater friend than even Glaucon the Alcmaeonid commands me hence," said the orator, smiling.
"Declare his name."
"Declare her name," cried Simonides, viciously.
"Noble Cean, then I say I serve a most beautiful, high-born dame. Her name is Athens."
"Curses on your public business," lamented Glaucon. "But off with you, since your love is the love of us all."
Democrates kissed the athlete on both cheeks. "I leave you to faithful guardians. Last night I dreamed of a garland of lilies, sure presage of a victory. So take courage."
"Chaire! chaire!"(1) called the rest; and Democrates left the tent to follow the slave-boy.
Evening was falling: the sea, rocks, fields, pine groves, were touched by the red glow dying behind Acro-Corinthus. Torches gleamed amid the trees where the multitudes were buying, selling, wagering, making merry. All Greece seemed to have sent its wares to be disposed of at the Isthmia. Democrates idled along, now glancing at the huckster who displayed his painted clay dolls and urged the sightseers to remember the little ones at home. A wine-seller thrust a sample cup of a choice vintage under the Athenian's nose, and vainly adjured him to buy. Thessalian easy-chairs, pottery, slaves kidnapped from the Black Sea, occupied one booth after another. On a pulpit before a bellowing crowd a pair of marionettes were rolling their eyes and gesticulating, as a woman pulled the strings.
But there were more exalted entertainments. A rhapsodist stood on a pine stump chanting in excellent voice Alcaeus's hymn to Apollo. And more willingly the orator stopped on the edge of a throng of the better sort, which listened to a man of noble aspect reading in clear voice from his scroll.
"AEschylus of Athens," whispered a bystander. "He reads choruses of certain tragedies he says he will perfect and produce much later."
Democrates knew the great dramatist well, but what he read was new—a "Song of the Furies" calling a terrific curse upon the betrayer of friendship. "Some of his happiest lines," meditated Democrates, walking away, to be held a moment by the crowd around Lamprus the master-harpist. But now, feeling that he had dallied long enough, the orator turned his back on the two female acrobats who were swinging on a trapeze and struck down a long, straight road which led toward the distant cone of Acro-Corinthus. First, however, he turned on Bias, who all the time had been accompanying, dog-fashion.
"You say he is waiting at Hegias's inn?"
"Yes, master. It's by the temple of Bellerophon, just as you begin to enter the city."
"Good! I don't want to ask the way. Now catch this obol and be off."
The boy snatched the flying coin and glided into the crowd.
Democrates walked briskly out of the glare of the torches, then halted to slip the hood of his cloak up about his face.
"The road is dark, but the wise man shuns accidents," was his reflection, as he strode in the direction pointed by Bias.
The way was dark. No moon; and even the brilliant starlight of summer in Hellas is an uncertain guide. Democrates knew he was traversing a long avenue lined by spreading cypresses, with a shimmer of white from some tall, sepulchral monument. Then through the dimness loomed the high columns of a temple, and close beside it pale light spread out upon the road as from an inn.
"Hegias's inn," grumbled the Athenian. "Zeus grant it have no more fleas than most inns of Corinth!"
At sound of his footsteps the door opened promptly, without knocking. A squalid scene revealed itself,—a white-washed room, an earthen floor, two clay lamps on a low table, a few stools,—but a tall, lean man in Oriental dress greeted the Athenian with a salaam which showed his own gold earrings, swarthy skin, and black mustache.
"Fair greetings, Hiram," spoke the orator, no wise amazed, "and where is your master?"
"At service," came a deep voice from a corner, so dark that Democrates had not seen the couch where lolled an ungainly figure that now rose clumsily.
Hand joined in hand; then Lycon ordered the Oriental to "fetch the noble Athenian some good Thasian wine."
"You will join me?" urged the orator.
"Alas! no. I am still in training. Nothing but cheese and porridge till after the victory to-morrow; but then, by Castor, I'll enjoy 'the gentleman's disease'—a jolly drunkenness."
"Then you are sure of victory to-morrow?"
"Good Democrates, what god has tricked you into believing your fine Athenian has a chance?"
"I have seven minae staked on Glaucon."
"Seven staked in the presence of your friends; how many in their absence?"
Democrates reddened. He was glad the room was dark. "I am not here to quarrel about the pentathlon," he said emphatically.
"Oh, very well. Leave your dear sparrow to my gentle hands." The Spartan's huge paws closed significantly: "Here's the wine. Sit and drink. And you, Hiram, get to your corner."
The Oriental silently squatted in the gloom, the gleam of his beady eyes just visible. Lycon sat on a stool beside his guest, his Cyclops-like limbs sprawling down upon the floor. Scarred and brutish, indeed, was his face, one ear missing, the other beaten flat by boxing gloves; but Democrates had a distinct feeling that under his battered visage and wiry black hair lurked greater penetration of human motive and more ability to play therewith than the chance observer might allow. The Athenian deliberately waited his host's first move.
"The wine is good, Democrates?" began Lycon.
"I presume you have arranged your wagers to-morrow with your usual prudence."
"How do you know about them?"
"Oh, my invaluable Hiram, who arranged this interview for us through Bias, has made himself a brother to all the betting masters. I understand you have arranged it so that whether Glaucon wins or loses you will be none the poorer."
The Athenian set down his cup.
"Because I would not let my dear friend's sanguine expectations blind all my judgment is no reason why you should seek this interview, Lycon," he rejoined tartly. "If this is the object of your summons, I'm better back in my own tent."
Lycon tilted back against the table. His speech was nothing curt or "Laconic"; it was even drawling. "On the contrary, dear Democrates, I was only commending your excellent foresight, something that I see characterizes all you do. You are the friend of Glaucon. Since Aristeides has been banished, only Themistocles exceeds you in influence over the Athenians. Therefore, as a loyal Athenian you must support your champion. Likewise, as a man of judgment you must see that I—though this pentathlon is only a by-play, not my business—will probably break your Glaucon's back to-morrow. It is precisely this good judgment on your part which makes me sure I do well to ask an interview—for something else."
"Then quickly to business."
"A few questions. I presume Themistocles to-day conferred with Leonidas?"
"I wasn't present with them."
"But in due time Themistocles will tell you everything?"
Democrates chewed his beard, not answering.
"Pheu! you don't pretend Themistocles distrusts you?" cried the Spartan.
"I don't like your questions, Lycon."
"I am very sorry. I'll cease them. I only wished to-night to call to your mind the advantage of two such men as you and I becoming friends. I may be king of Lacedaemon before long."
"I knew that before, but where's your chariot driving?"
"Dear Athenian, the Persian chariot is now driving toward Hellas. We cannot halt it. Then let us be so wise that it does not pass over us."
"Hush!" Democrates spilled the cup as he started. "No 'Medizing' talk before me. Am I not Themistocles's friend?"
"Themistocles and Leonidas will seem valiant fools after Xerxes comes. Men of foresight—"
"Are never traitors."
"Beloved Democrates," sneered the Spartan, "in one year the most patriotic Hellene will be he who has made the Persian yoke the most endurable. Don't blink at destiny."
"Don't be overcertain."
"Don't grow deaf and blind. Xerxes has been collecting troops these four years. Every wind across the AEgean tells how the Great King assembles millions of soldiers, thousands of ships: Median cavalry, Assyrian archers, Egyptian battle-axemen—the best troops in the world. All the East will be marching on our poor Hellas. And when has Persia failed to conquer?"
"A drop of rain before the tempest! If Datis, the Persian general, had only been more prudent!"
"Clearly, noblest Lycon," said Democrates, with a satirical smile, "for a taciturn Laconian to become thus eloquent for tyranny must have taken a bribe of ten thousand gold darics."
"But answer my arguments."
"Well—the old oracle is proved: 'Base love of gain and naught else shall bear sore destruction to Sparta.' "
"That doesn't halt Xerxes's advance."
"An end to your croakings,"—Democrates was becoming angry,—"I know the Persian's power well enough. Now why have you summoned me?"
Lycon looked on his visitor long and hard. He reminded the Athenian disagreeably of a huge cat just considering whether a mouse were near enough to risk a spring.
"I sent for you because I wished you to give a pledge."
"I'm in no mood to give it."
"You need not refuse. Giving or withholding the fate of Hellas will not be altered, save as you wish to make it so."
"What must I promise?"
"That you will not reveal the presence in Greece of a man I intend to set before you." Another silence. Democrates knew even then, if vaguely, that he was making a decision on which might hinge half his future. In the after days he looked back on this instant with unspeakable regret. But the Laconian sat before him, smiling, sneering, commanding by his more dominant will. The Athenian answered, it seemed, despite himself:—
"If it is not to betray Hellas."
"It is not."
"Then I promise."
"Swear it then by your native Athena."
And Democrates—perhaps the wine was strong—lifted his right hand and swore by Athena Polias of Athens he would betray no secret.
Lycon arose with what was part bellow, part laugh. Even then the orator was moved to call back the pledge, but the Spartan acted too swiftly. The short moments which followed stamped themselves on Democrates's memory. The flickering lamps, the squalid room, the long, dense shadows, the ungainly movements of the Spartan, who was opening a door,—all this passed after the manner of a vision. And as in a vision Democrates saw a stranger stepping through the inner portal, as at Lycon's summons—a man of no huge stature, but masterful in eye and mien. Another Oriental, but not as the obsequious Hiram. Here was a lord to command and be obeyed. Gems flashed from the scarlet turban, the green jacket was embroidered with pearls—and was not half the wealth of Corinth in the jewels studding the sword hilt? Tight trousers and high shoes of tanned leather set off a form supple and powerful as a panther's. Unlike most Orientals the stranger was fair. A blond beard swept his breast. His eyes were sharp, steel-blue. Never a word spoke he; but Democrates looked on him with wide eyes, then turned almost in awe to the Spartan.
"This is a prince—" he began.
"His Highness Prince Abairah of Cyprus," completed Lycon, rapidly, "now come to visit the Isthmian Games, and later your Athens. It is for this I have brought you face to face—that he may be welcome in your city."
The Athenian cast at the stranger a glance of keenest scrutiny. He knew by every instinct in his being that Lycon was telling a barefaced lie. Why he did not cry out as much that instant he hardly himself knew. But the gaze of the "Cyprian" pierced through him, fascinating, magnetizing, and Lycon's great hand was on his victim's shoulder. The "Cyprian's" own hand went out seeking Democrates's.
"I shall be very glad to see the noble Athenian in his own city. His fame for eloquence and prudence is already in Tyre and Babylon," spoke the stranger, never taking his steel-blue eyes from the orator's face. The accent was Oriental, but the Greek was fluent. The prince—for prince he was, whatever his nation—pressed his hand closer. Almost involuntarily Democrates's hand responded. They clasped tightly; then, as if Lycon feared a word too much, the unknown released his hold, bowed with inimitable though silent courtesy, and was gone behind the door whence he had come.
It had taken less time than men use to count a hundred. The latch clicked. Democrates gazed blankly on the door, then turned on Lycon with a start.
"Your wine was strong. You have bewitched me. What have I done? By Zeus of Olympus—I have given my hand in pledge to a Persian spy."
" 'A prince of Cyprus'—did you not hear me?"
"Cerberus eat me if that man has seen Cyprus. No Cyprian is so blond. The man is Xerxes's brother."
"We shall see, friend; we shall see: 'Day by day we grow old, and day by day we grow wiser.' So your own Solon puts it, I think."
Democrates drew himself up angrily. "I know my duty; I'll denounce you to Leonidas."
"You gave a pledge and oath."
"It were a greater crime to keep than to break it."
Lycon shrugged his huge shoulders. "Eu! I hardly trusted to that. But I do trust to Hiram's pretty story about your bets, and still more to a tale that's told about where and how you've borrowed money."
Democrates's voice shook either with rage or with fear when he made shift to answer.
"I see I've come to be incriminated and insulted. So be it. If I keep my pledge, at least suffer me to wish you and your 'Cyprian' a very good night."
Lycon good-humouredly lighted him to the door. "Why so hot? I'll do you a service to-morrow. If Glaucon wrestles with me, I shall kill him."
"Shall I thank the murderer of my friend?"
"Even when that friend has wronged you?"
"Silence! What do you mean?"
Even in the flickering lamplight Democrates could see the Spartan's evil smile.
"Silence, by the infernal gods! Who are you, Cyclops, for her name to cross your teeth?"
"I'm not angry. Yet you will thank me to-morrow. The pentathlon will be merely a pleasant flute-playing before the great war-drama. You will see more of the 'Cyprian' at Athens—"
Democrates heard no more. Forth from that wine-house he ran into the sheltering night, till safe under the shadow of the black cypresses. His head glowed. His heart throbbed. He had been partner in foulest treason. Duty to friend, duty to country,—oath or no oath,—should have sent him to Leonidas. What evil god had tricked him into that interview? Yet he did not denounce the traitor. Not his oath held him back, but benumbing fear,—and what sting lay back of Lycon's hints and threats the orator knew best. And how if Lycon made good his boast and killed Glaucon on the morrow?
In a tent at the lower end of the long stadium stood Glaucon awaiting the final summons to his ordeal. His friends had just cried farewell for the last time: Cimon had kissed him; Themistocles had gripped his hand; Democrates had called "Zeus prosper you!" Simonides had vowed that he was already hunting for the metres of a triumphal ode. The roar from without told how the stadium was filled with its chattering thousands. The athlete's trainers were bestowing their last officious advice.
"The Spartan will surely win the quoit-throw. Do not be troubled. In everything else you can crush him."
"Beware of Moerocles of Mantinea. He's a knavish fellow; his backers are recalling their bets. But he hopes to win on a trick; beware, lest he trip you in the foot-race."
"Aim low when you hurl the javelin. Your dart always rises."
Glaucon received this and much more admonition with his customary smile. There was no flush on the forehead, no flutter of the heart. A few hours later he would be crowned with all the glory which victory in the great games could throw about a Hellene, or be buried in the disgrace to which his ungenerous people consigned the vanquished. But, in the words of his day, "he knew himself" and his own powers. From the day he quitted boyhood he had never met the giant he could not master; the Hermes he could not outrun. He anticipated victory as a matter of course, even victory wrested from Lycon, and his thoughts seemed wandering far from the tawny track where he must face his foes.
"Athens,—my father,—my wife! I will win glory for them all!" was the drift of his revery.
The younger rubber grunted under breath at his athlete's vacant eye, but Pytheas, the older of the pair, whispered confidently that "when he had known Master Glaucon longer, he would know that victories came his way, just by reaching out his hands."
"Athena grant it," muttered the other. "I've got my half mina staked on him, too." Then from the tents at either side began the ominous call of the heralds:—
"Amyntas of Thebes, come you forth."
"Ctesias of Epidaurus, come you forth."
"Lycon of Sparta, come you forth."
Glaucon held out his hands. Each trainer seized one.
"Wish me joy and honour, good friends!" cried the athlete.
"Poseidon and Athena aid you!" And Pytheas's honest voice was husky. This was the greatest ordeal of his favourite pupil, and the trainer's soul would go with him into the combat.
"Glaucon of Athens, come you forth."
The curtains of the tent swept aside. An intense sunlight sprang to meet the Athenian. He passed into the arena clad only in his coat of glistering oil. Scolus of Thasos and Moerocles of Mantinea joined the other four athletes; then, escorted each by a herald swinging his myrtle wand, the six went down the stadium to the stand of the judges.
Before the fierce light of a morning in Hellas beating down on him, Glaucon the Alcmaeonid was for an instant blinded, and walked on passively, following his guide. Then, as from a dissolving mist, the huge stadium began to reveal itself: line above line, thousand above thousand of bright-robed spectators, a sea of faces, tossing arms, waving garments. A thunderous shout rose as the athletes came to view,—jangling, incoherent; each city cheered its champion and tried to cry down all the rest: applause, advice, derision. Glaucon heard the derisive hootings, "pretty girl," "pretty pullet," from the serried host of the Laconians along the left side of the stadium; but an answering salvo, "Dog of Cerberus!" bawled by the Athenian crowds opposite, and winged at Lycon, returned the taunts with usury. As the champions approached the judges' stand a procession of full twenty pipers, attended by as many fair boys in flowing white, marched from the farther end of the stadium to meet them. The boys bore cymbals and tambours; the pipers struck up a brisk marching note in the rugged Dorian mode. The boys' lithe bodies swayed in enchanting rhythm. The roaring multitude quieted, admiring their grace. The champions and the pipers thus came to the pulpit in the midst of the long arena. The president of the judges, a handsome Corinthian in purple and a golden fillet, swept his ivory wand from right to left. The marching note ceased. The whole company leaped as one man to its feet. The pipes, the cymbals were drowned, whilst twenty thousand voices—Doric, Boeotian, Attic—chorused together the hymn which all Greece knew: the hymn to Poseidon of the Isthmus, august guardian of the games.
Louder it grew; the multitude found one voice, as if it would cry, "We are Hellenes all; though of many a city, the same fatherland, the same gods, the same hope against the Barbarian."
"Praise we Poseidon the mighty, the monarch, Shaker of earth and the harvestless sea; King of wide AEgae and Helicon gladsome Twain are the honours high Zeus sheds on thee! Thine to be lord of the mettlesome chargers, Thine to be lord of swift ships as they wing! Guard thou and guide us, dread prince of the billows, Safe to their homeland, thy suppliants bring; Faring by land or by clamorous waters Be thou their way-god to shield, to defend, Then shall the smoke of a thousand glad altars, To thee in reverent gladness ascend!"
Thus in part. And in the hush thereafter the president poured a libation from a golden cup, praying, as the wine fell on the brazier beside him, to the "Earth Shaker," seeking his blessing upon the contestants, the multitude, and upon broad Hellas. Next the master-herald announced that now, on the third day of the games, came the final and most honoured contest: the pentathlon, the fivefold struggle, with the crown to him who conquered thrice. He proclaimed the names of the six rivals, their cities, their ancestry, and how they had complied with the required training. The president took up his tale, and turning to the champions, urged them to strive their best, for the eyes of all Hellas were on them. But he warned any man with blood-guiltiness upon his soul not to anger the gods by continuing in the games.
"But since," the brief speech concluded, "these men have chosen to contend, and have made oath that they are purified or innocent, let them join, and Poseidon shed fair glory upon the best!"
More shouting; the pipers paraded the arena, blowing shriller than ever. Some of the athletes shifted uneasily. Scolus the Thasian—youngest of the six—was pale, and cast nervous glances at the towering bulk of Lycon. The Spartan gave him no heed, but threw a loud whisper at Glaucon, who stood silently beside him:—
"By Castor, son of Conon, you are extremely handsome. If fine looks won the battle, I might grow afraid."
The Athenian, whose roving eye had just caught Cimon and Democrates in the audience, seemed never to hear him.
"And you are passing stalwart. Still, be advised. I wouldn't harm you, so drop out early."
Still no answer from Glaucon, whose clear eye seemed now to be wandering over the bare hills of Megara beyond.
"No answer?" persisted the giant. "Eu! don't complain that you've lacked warning, when you sit to-night in Charon's ferry-boat."
The least shadow of a smile flitted across the Athenian's face; there was a slight deepening of the light in his eye. He turned his head a bit toward Lycon:—
"The games are not ended, dear Spartan," he observed quietly.
The giant scowled. "I don't like you silent, smiling men! You're warned. I'll do my worst—"
"Let the leaping begin!" rang the voice of the president,—a call that changed all the uproar to a silence in which one might hear the wind moving in the firs outside, while every athlete felt his muscles tighten.
The heralds ran down the soft sands to a narrow mound of hardened earth, and beckoned to the athletes to follow. In the hands of each contestant were set a pair of bronze dumb-bells. The six were arrayed upon the mound with a clear reach of sand before. The master-herald proclaimed the order of the leaping: that each contestant should spring twice, and he whose leaps were the poorest should drop from the other contests.
Glaucon stood, his golden head thrown back, his eyes wandering idly toward his friends in the stadium. He could see Cimon restless on his seat, and Simonides holding his cloak and doubtless muttering wise counsel. The champion was as calm as his friends were nervous. The stadium had grown oppressively still; then broke into along "ah!" Twenty thousand sprang up together as Scolus the Thasian leaped. His partisans cheered, while he rose from a sand-cloud; but ceased quickly. His leap had been poor. A herald with a pick marked a line where he had landed. The pipers began a rollicking catch to which the athletes involuntarily kept time with their dumb-bells.
Glaucon leaped second. Even the hostile Laconians shouted with pleasure at sight of his beautiful body poised, then flung out upon the sands far beyond the Thasian. He rose, shook off the dust, and returned to the mound, with a graceful gesture to the cheer that greeted him; but wise heads knew the contest was just beginning.
Ctesias and Amyntas leaped beyond the Thasian's mark, short of the Athenian's. Lycon was fifth. His admirers' hopes were high. He did not blast them. Huge was his bulk, yet his strength matched it. A cloud of dust hid him from view. When it settled, every Laconian was roaring with delight. He had passed beyond Glaucon. Moerocles of Mantinea sprang last and badly. The second round was almost as the first; although Glaucon slightly surpassed his former effort. Lycon did as well as before. The others hardly bettered their early trial. It was long before the Laconians grew quiet enough to listen to the call of the herald.
"Lycon of Sparta wins the leaping. Glaucon of Athens is second. Scolus of Thasos leaps the shortest and drops from the pentathlon."
Again cheers and clamour. The inexperienced Thasian marched disconsolately to his tent, pursued by ungenerous jeers.
"The quoit-hurling follows," once more the herald; "each contestant throws three quoits. He who throws poorest drops from the games."
Cimon had risen now. In a momentary lull he trumpeted through his hands across the arena.
"Wake, Glaucon; quit your golden thoughts of Eleusis; Lycon is filching the crown."
Themistocles, seated near Cimon's side, was staring hard, elbows on knees and head on hands. Democrates, next him, was gazing at Glaucon, as if the athlete were made of gold; but the object of their fears and hopes gave back neither word nor sign.
The attendants were arraying the five remaining champions at the foot of a little rise in the sand, near the judges' pulpit. To each was brought a bronze quoit, the discus. The pipers resumed their medley. The second contest was begun.
First, Amyntas of Thebes. He took his stand, measured the distance with his eye, then with a run flew up the rising, and at its summit his body bent double, while the heavy quoit flew away. A noble cast! and twice excelled. For a moment every Theban in the stadium was transported. Strangers sitting together fell on one another's necks in sheer joy. But the rapture ended quickly. Lycon flung second. His vast strength could now tell to the uttermost. He was proud to display it. Thrice he hurled. Thrice his discus sped out as far as ever man had seen a quoit fly in Hellas. Not even Glaucon's best wishers were disappointed when he failed to come within three cubits of the Spartan. Ctesias and Moerocles realized their task was hopeless, and strove half heartedly. The friends of the huge Laconian were almost beside themselves with joy; while the herald called desperately that:—
"Lycon of Sparta wins with the discus. Glaucon of Athens is second. Ctesias of Epidaurus throws poorest and drops from the games."
"Wake, Glaucon!" trumpeted Cimon, again his white face shining out amid the thousands of gazers now. "Wake, or Lycon wins again and all is lost!"
Glaucon was almost beyond earshot; to the frantic entreaty he answered by no sign. As he and the Spartan stood once more together, the giant leered on him civilly:—
"You grow wise, Athenian. It's honour enough and to spare to be second, with Lycon first. Eu!—and here's the last contest."
"I say again, good friend,"—there was a slight closing of the Athenian's lips, and deepening in his eyes,—"the pentathlon is not ended."
"The harpies eat you, then, if you get too bold! The herald is calling for the javelin-casting. Come,—it's time to make an end."
But in the deep hush that spread again over the thousands Glaucon turned toward the only faces that he saw out of the innumerable host: Themistocles, Democrates, Simonides, Cimon. They beheld him raise his arm and lift his glorious head yet higher. Glaucon in turn saw Cimon sink into his seat. "He wakes!" was the appeased mutter passing from the son of Miltiades and running along every tier of Athenians. And silence deeper than ever held the stadium; for now, with Lycon victor twice, the literal turning of a finger in the next event might win or lose the parsley crown.
The Spartan came first. The heralds had set a small scarlet shield at the lower end of the course. Lycon poised his light javelin thrice, and thrice the slim dart sped through the leathern thong on his fingers. But not for glory. Perchance this combat was too delicate an art for his ungainly hands. Twice the missile lodged in the rim of the shield; once it sprang beyond upon the sand. Moerocles, who followed, surpassed him. Amyntas was hardly worse. Glaucon came last, and won his victory with a dexterous grace that made all but the hottest Laconian swell the "Io! paian!" of applause. His second cast had been into the centre of the target. His third had splintered his second javelin as it hung quivering.
"Glaucon of Athens wins the javelin-casting. Moerocles of Mantinea is second. Amyntas of Thebes is poorest and drops from the games." But who heard the herald now?
By this time all save the few Mantineans who vainly clung to their champion, and the Laconians themselves, had begun to pin their hopes on the beautiful son of Conon. There was a steely glint in the Spartan athlete's eye that made the president of the games beckon to the master-herald.
"Lycon is dangerous. See that he does not do Glaucon a mischief, or transgress the rules."
"I can, till they come to the wrestling."
"In that the god must aid the Athenian. But now let us have the foot-race."
In the little respite following the trainers entered and rubbed down the three remaining contestants with oil until their bodies shone again like tinted ivory. Then the heralds conducted the trio to the southern end farthest from the tents. The two junior presidents left their pulpit and took post at either end of a line marked on the sand. Each held the end of a taut rope. The contestants drew lots from an urn for the place nearest the lower turning goal,—no trifling advantage. A favouring god gave Moerocles the first; Lycon was second; Glaucon only third. As the three crouched before the rope with hands dug into the sand, waiting the fateful signal, Glaucon was conscious that a strange blond man of noble mien and Oriental dress was sitting close by the starting line and watching him intently.
It was one of those moments of strain, when even trifles can turn the overwrought attention. Glaucon knew that the stranger was looking from him to Lycon, from Lycon back to himself, measuring each with shrewd eye. Then the gaze settled on the Athenian. The Oriental called to him:—
"Swift, godlike runner, swift;"—they were so close they could catch the Eastern accent—"the Most High give you His wings!"
Glaucon saw Lycon turn on the shouter with a scowl that was answered by a composed smile. To the highly strung imagination of the Athenian the wish became an omen of good. For some unknown cause the incident of the Oriental lad he rescued and the mysterious gift of the bracelet flashed back to him. Why should a stranger of the East cast him fair wishes? Would the riddle ever be revealed?
A trumpet blast. The Oriental, his wish, all else save the tawny track, flashed from Glaucon's mind. The rope fell. The three shot away as one.
Over the sand they flew, moving by quick leaps, their shining arms flashing to and fro in fair rhythm. Twice around the stadium led the race, so no one strained at first. For a while the three clung together, until near the lower goal the Mantinean heedlessly risked a dash. His foot slipped on the sands. He recovered; but like arrows his rivals passed him. At the goal the inevitable happened. Lycon, with the shorter turn, swung quickest. He went up the homeward track ahead, the Athenian an elbow's length behind. The stadium seemed dissolving in a tumult. Men rose; threw garments in the air; stretched out their arms; besought the gods; screamed to the runners.
"Speed, son of Conon, speed!"
"Glory to Castor; Sparta is prevailing!"
"Strive, Mantinean,—still a chance!"
"Win the turn, dear Athenian, the turn, and leave that Cyclops behind!"
But at the upper turn Lycon still held advantage, and down the other track went the twain, even as Odysseus ran behind Ajax, "who trod in Ajax' footsteps ere ever the dust had settled, while on his head fell the breath of him behind." Again at the lower goal the Mantinean was panting wearily in the rear. Again Lycon led, again rose the tempest of voices. Six hundred feet away the presidents were stretching the line, where victory and the plaudits of Hellas waited Lycon of Lacedaemon.
Then men ceased shouting, and prayed under breath. They saw Glaucon's shoulders bend lower and his neck strain back, while the sunlight sprang all over his red-gold hair. The stadium leaped to their feet, as the Athenian landed by a bound at his rival's side. Quick as the bound the great arm of the Spartan flew out with its knotted fist. A deadly stroke, and shunned by a hair's-breadth; but it was shunned. The senior president called angrily to the herald; but none heard his words in the rending din. The twain shot up the track elbow to elbow, and into the rope. It fell amid a blinding cloud of dust. All the heralds and presidents ran together into it. Then was a long, agonizing moment, while the stadium roared, shook, and raged, before the dust settled and the master-herald stood forth beckoning for silence.
"Glaucon of Athens wins the foot-race. Lycon of Sparta is second. Moerocles of Mantinea drops from the contest. Glaucon and Lycon, each winning twice, shall wrestle for the final victory."
And now the stadium grew exceeding still. Men lifted their hands to their favourite gods, and made reckless, if silent, vows,—geese, pigs, tripods, even oxen,—if only the deity would strengthen their favourite's arm. For the first time attention was centred on the tall "time pointer," by the judges' stand, and how the short shadow cast by the staff told of the end of the morning. The last wagers were recorded on the tablets by nervous styluses. The readiest tongues ceased to chatter. Thousands of wistful eyes turned from the elegant form of the Athenian to the burly form of the Spartan. Every outward chance, so many an anxious heart told itself, favoured the oft-victorious giant; but then,—and here came reason for a true Hellene,—"the gods could not suffer so fair a man to meet defeat." The noonday sun beat down fiercely. The tense stillness was now and then broken by the bawling of a swarthy hawker thrusting himself amid the spectators with cups and a jar of sour wine. There was a long rest. The trainers came forward again and dusted the two remaining champions with sand that they might grip fairly. Pytheas looked keenly in his pupil's face.
" 'Well begun is half done,' my lad; but the hottest battle is still before," said he, trying to cover his own consuming dread.
"Faint heart never won a city," smiled Glaucon, as if never more at ease; and Pytheas drew back happier, seeing the calm light in the athlete's eyes.
"Ay," he muttered to his fellow-trainer, "all is well. The boy has wakened."
But now the heralds marched the champions again to the judges. The president proclaimed the rules of the wrestling,—two casts out of three gave victory. In lower tone he addressed the scowling Spartan:—
"Lycon, I warn you: earn the crown only fairly, if you would earn it. Had that blow in the foot-race struck home, I would have refused you victory, though you finished all alone."
A surly nod was the sole answer.
The heralds led the twain a little way from the judges' stand, and set them ten paces asunder and in sight of all the thousands. The heralds stood, crossing their myrtle wands between. The president rose on his pulpit, and called through the absolute hush:—
"Then Poseidon shed glory on the best!"
His uplifted wand fell. A clear shrill trumpet pealed. The heralds bounded back in a twinkling. In that twinkling the combatants leaped into each other's arms. A short grapple; again a sand cloud; and both were rising from the ground. They had fallen together. Heated by conflict, they were locked again ere the heralds could proclaim a tie. Cimon saw the great arms of the Spartan twine around the Athenian's chest in fair grapple, but even as Lycon strove with all his bull-like might to lift and throw, Glaucon's slim hand glided down beneath his opponent's thigh. Twice the Spartan put forth all his powers. Those nearest watched the veins of the athletes swell and heard their hard muscles crack. The stadium was in succession hushed and tumultuous. Then, at the third trial, even as Lycon seemed to have won his end, the Athenian smote out with one foot. The sands were slippery. The huge Laconian lunged forward, and as he lunged, his opponent by a masterly effort tore himself loose. The Spartan fell heavily,—vanquished by a trick, though fairly used.
The stadium thundered its applause. More vows, prayers, exhortations. Glaucon stood and received all the homage in silence. A little flush was on his forehead. His arms and shoulders were very red. Lycon rose slowly. All could hear his rage and curses. The heralds ordered him to contain himself.
"Now, fox of Athens," rang his shout, "I will kill you!"
Pytheas, beholding his fury, tore out a handful of hair in his mingled hope and dread. No man knew better than the trainer that no trick would conquer Lycon this second time; and Glaucon the Fair might be nearer the fields of Asphodel than the pleasant hills by Athens. More than one man had died in the last ordeal of the pentathlon.
The silence was perfect. Even the breeze had hushed while Glaucon and Lycon faced again. The twenty thousand sat still as in their sepulchres, each saying in his heart one word—"Now!" If in the first wrestling the attack had been impetuous, it was now painfully deliberate. When the heralds' wands fell, the two crept like mighty cats across the narrow sands, frames bent, hands outstretched, watching from the corners of their eyes a fair chance to rush in and grapple. Then Lycon, whose raging spirit had the least control, charged. Another dust cloud. When it cleared, the two were locked together as by iron.
For an instant they swayed, whilst the Spartan tried again his brute power. It failed him. Glaucon drew strength from the earth like Antaeus. The hushed stadium could hear the pants of the athletes as they locked closer, closer. Strength failing, the Spartan snatched at his enemy's throat; but the Athenian had his wrist gripped fast before the clasp could tighten, and in the melee Glaucon's other hand passed beneath Lycon's thigh. The two seemed deadlocked. For a moment they grinned face to face, almost close enough to bite each other's lips. But breath was too precious for curses. The Spartan flung his ponderous weight downward. A slip in the gliding sand would have ruined the Athenian instantly; but Poseidon or Apollo was with him. His feet dug deep, and found footing. Lycon drew back baffled, though the clutches of their hands were tightening like vices of steel. Then again face to face, swaying to and fro, panting, muttering, while the veins in the bare backs swelled still more.
"He cannot endure it. He cannot! Ah! Athena Polias, pity him! Lycon is wearing him down," moaned Pytheas, beside himself with fear, almost running to Glaucon's aid.
The stadium resumed its roaring. A thousand conflicting prayers, hopes, counsels, went forth to the combatants. The gods of Olympus and Hades; all demigods, heroes, satyrs, were invoked for them. They were besought to conquer in the name of parents, friends, and native land. Athenians and Laconians, sitting side by side, took up the combat, grappling fiercely. And all this time the two strove face to face.
How long had it lasted? Who knew? Least of all that pair who wrestled perchance for life and for death. Twice again the Spartan strove with his weight to crush his opponent down. Twice vainly. He could not close his grip around the Athenian's throat. He had looked to see Glaucon sink exhausted; but his foe still looked on him with steadfast, unweakening eyes. The president was just bidding the heralds, "Pluck them asunder and declare a tie!" when the stadium gave a shrill long shout. Lycon had turned to his final resource. Reckless of his own hurt, he dashed his iron forehead against the Athenian's, as bull charges bull. Twice and three times, and the blood leaped out over Glaucon's fair skin. Again—the rush of blood was almost blinding. Again—Pytheas screamed with agony—the Athenian's clutch seemed weakening. Again—flesh and blood could not stand such battering long. If Lycon could endure this, there was only one end to the pentathlon.
"Help thou me, Athena of the Gray Eyes! For the glory of Athens, my father, my wife!"
The cry of Glaucon—half prayer, half battle-shout—pealed above the bellowing stadium. Even as he cried it, all saw his form draw upward as might Prometheus's unchained. They saw the fingers of the Spartan unclasp. They saw his bloody face upturned and torn with helpless agony. They saw his great form totter, topple, fall. The last dust cloud, and into it the multitude seemed rushing together....
... They caught Glaucon just as he fell himself. Themistocles was the first to kiss him. Little Simonides wept. Cimon, trying to embrace the victor, hugged in the confusion a dirty Plataean. Democrates seemed lost in the whirlpool, and came with greetings later. Perhaps he had stopped to watch that Oriental who had given Glaucon good wishes in the foot-race. The fairest praise, however, was from a burly man, who merely held out his hand and muttered, "Good!" But this was from Leonidas.
* * * * * * *
Very late a runner crowned with pink oleanders panted up to the Athenian watch by Mount Icarus at the custom-house on the Megarian frontier.
The man fell breathless; but in a moment a clear beacon blazed upon the height. From a peak in Salamis another answered. In Eleusis, Hermippus the Noble was running to his daughter. In Peiraeus, the harbour-town, the sailor folk were dancing about the market-place. In Athens, archons, generals, and elders were accompanying Conon to the Acropolis to give thanks to Athena. Conon had forgotten how he had disowned his son. Another beacon glittered from the Acropolis. Another flashed from the lordly crest of Pentelicus, telling the news to all Attica. There was singing in the fishers' boats far out upon the bay. In the goat-herds' huts on dark Hymethus the pan-pipes blew right merrily. Athens spent the night in almost drunken joy. One name was everywhere:—
"Glaucon the Beautiful who honours us all! Glaucon the Fortunate whom the High Gods love!"
THE SHADOW OF THE PERSIAN
HERMIONE OF ELEUSIS
A cluster of white stuccoed houses with a craggy hill behind, and before them a blue bay girt in by the rocky isle of Salamis—that is Eleusis-by-the-Sea. Eastward and westward spreads the teeming Thrasian plain, richest in Attica. Behind the plain the encircling mountain wall fades away into a purple haze. One can look southward toward Salamis; then to the left rises the rounded slope of brown Poecilon sundering Eleusis from its greater neighbour, Athens. Look behind: there is a glimpse of the long violet crests of Cithaeron and Parnes, the barrier mountains against Boeotia. Look to right: beyond the summits of Megara lifts a noble cone. It is an old friend, Acro-Corinthus. The plain within the hills is sprinkled with thriving farmsteads, green vineyards, darker olive groves. The stony hill-slopes are painted red by countless poppies. One hears the tinkling of the bells of roving goats. Thus the more distant view; while at the very foot of the hill of vision rises a temple with proud columns and pediments,—the fane of Demeter the "Earth Mother" and the seat of her Mysteries, renowned through Hellas.
The house of Hermippus the Eumolpid, first citizen of Eleusis, stood to the east of the temple. On three sides gnarled trunks and sombre leaves of the sacred olives almost hid the white low walls of the rambling buildings. On the fourth side, facing the sea, the dusty road wound east toward Megara. Here, by the gate, were gathered a rustic company: brown-faced village lads and lasses, toothless graybeards, cackling old wives. Above the barred gate swung a festoon of ivy, whilst from within the court came the squeaking of pipes, the tuning of citharas, and shouted orders—signs of a mighty bustling. Then even while the company grew, a half-stripped courier flew up the road and into the gate.
"They come," ran the wiseacre's comment; but their buzzing ceased, as again the gate swung back to suffer two ladies to peer forth. Ladies, in the truth, for the twain had little in common with the ogling village maids, and whispers were soon busy with them.
"Look—his wife and her mother! How would you, Praxinoe, like to marry an Isthmionices?"
"Excellently well, but your Hermas won't so honour you."
"Eu! see, she lifts her pretty blue veil; I'm glad she's handsome. Some beautiful men wed regular hags."
The two ladies were clearly mother and daughter, of the same noble height, and dressed alike in white. Both faces were framed in a flutter of Amorgos gauze: the mother's was saffron, crowned with a wreath of golden wheat-ears; the daughter's blue with a circlet of violets. And now as they stood with arms entwined the younger brushed aside her veil. The gossips were right. The robe and the crown hid all but the face and tress of the lustrous brown hair,—but that face! Had not King Hephaestos wrought every line of clear Phoenician glass, then touched them with snow and rose, and shot through all the ichor of life? Perhaps there was a fitful fire in the dark eyes that awaited the husband's coming, or a slight twitching of the impatient lips. But nothing disturbed the high-born repose of face and figure. Hermione was indeed the worthy daughter of a noble house, and happy the man who was faring homeward to Eleusis!
Another messenger. Louder bustle in the court, and the voice of Hermippus arraying his musicians. Now a sharp-faced man, who hid his bald pate under a crown of lilies, joined the ladies,—Conon, father of the victor. He had ended his life-feud with Hermippus the night the message flashed from Corinth. Then a third runner; this time in his hand a triumphant palm branch, and his one word—"Here!" A crash of music answered from the court, while Hermippus, a stately nobleman, his fine head just sprinkled with gray, led out his unmartial army.
Single pipes and double pipes, tinkling lyres and many-stringed citharas, not to forget herdsmen's reed flutes, cymbals, and tambours, all made melody and noise together. An imposing procession that must have crammed the courtyard wound out into the Corinth road.
Here was the demarch(2) of Eleusis, a pompous worthy, who could hardly hold his head erect, thanks to an exceeding heavy myrtle wreath. After him, two by two, the snowy-robed, long-bearded priests of Demeter; behind these the noisy corps of musicians, and then a host of young men and women,—bright of eye, graceful of movement,—twirling long chains of ivy, laurel, and myrtle in time to the music. Palm branches were everywhere. The procession moved down the road; but even as it left the court a crash of cymbals through the olive groves answered its uproar. Deep now and sonorous sounded manly voices as in some triumphal chant. Hermione, as she stood by the gate, drew closer to her mother. Inflexible Attic custom seemed to hold her fast. No noblewoman might thrust herself boldly under the public eye—save at a sacred festival—no, not when the centre of the gladness was her husband.
"He comes!" So she cried to her mother; so cried every one. Around the turn in the olive groves swung a car in which Cimon stood proudly erect, and at his side another. Marching before the chariot were Themistocles, Democrates, Simonides; behind followed every Athenian who had visited the Isthmia. The necks of the four horses were wreathed with flowers; flowers hid the reins and bridles, the chariot, and even its wheels. The victor stood aloft, his scarlet cloak flung back, displaying his godlike form. An unhealed scar marred his forehead—Lycon's handiwork; but who thought of that, when above the scar pressed the wreath of wild parsley? As the two processions met, a cheer went up that shook the red rock of Eleusis. The champion answered with his frankest smile; only his eyes seemed questioning, seeking some one who was not there.
"Io! Glaucon!" The Eleusinian youths broke from their ranks and fell upon the chariot. The horses were loosed in a twinkling. Fifty arms dragged the car onward. The pipers swelled their cheeks, each trying to outblow his fellow. Then after them sped the maidens. They ringed the chariot round with a maze of flowers chains. As the car moved, they accompanied it with a dance of unspeakable ease, modesty, grace. A local poet—not Simonides, not Pindar, but some humbler bard—had invoked his muse for the grand occasion. Youths and maidens burst forth into singing.
"Io! Io, paean! the parsley-wreathed victor hail! Io! Io, paean! sing it out on each breeze, each gale! He has triumphed, our own, our beloved, Before all the myriad's ken. He has met the swift, has proved swifter! The strong, has proved stronger again! Now glory to him, to his kinfolk, To Athens, and all Athens' men! Meet, run to meet him, The nimblest are not too fleet. Greet him, with raptures greet him, With songs and with twinkling feet. He approaches,—throw flowers before him. Throw poppy and lily and rose; Blow faster, gay pipers, faster, Till your mad music throbs and flows, For his glory and ours flies through Hellas, Wherever the Sun-King goes.
Io! Io, paean! crown with laurel and myrtle and pine, Io, paean! haste to crown him with olive, Athena's dark vine. He is with us, he shines in his beauty; Oh, joy of his face the first sight; He has shed on us all his bright honour, Let High Zeus shed on him his light, And thou, Pallas, our gray-eyed protectress, Keep his name and his fame ever bright!"
Matching action to the song, they threw over the victor crowns and chains beyond number, till the parsley wreath was hidden from sight. Near the gate of Hermippus the jubilant company halted. The demarch bawled long for silence, won it at last, and approached the chariot. He, good man, had been a long day meditating on his speech of formal congratulation and enjoyed his opportunity. Glaucon's eyes still roved and questioned, yet the demarch rolled out his windy sentences. But there was something unexpected. Even as the magistrate took breath after reciting the victor's noble ancestry, there was a cry, a parting of the crowd, and Glaucon the Alcmaeonid leaped from the chariot as never on the sands at Corinth. The veil and the violet wreath fell from the head of Hermione when her face went up to her husband's. The blossoms that had covered the athlete shook over her like a cloud as his face met hers. Then even the honest demarch cut short his eloquence to swell the salvo.
"The beautiful to the beautiful! The gods reward well. Here is the fairest crown!"
For all Eleusis loved Hermione, and would have forgiven far greater things from her than this.
* * * * * * *
Hermippus feasted the whole company,—the crowd at long tables in the court, the chosen guests in a more private chamber. "Nothing to excess" was the truly Hellenic maxim of the refined Eleusinian; and he obeyed it. His banquet was elegant without gluttony. The Syracusan cook had prepared a lordly turbot. The wine was choice old Chian but well diluted. There was no vulgar gorging with meat, after the Boeotian manner; but the great Copaic eel, "such as Poseidon might have sent up to Olympus," made every gourmand clap his hands. The aromatic honey was the choicest from Mt. Hymettus.
Since the smaller company was well selected, convention was waived, and ladies were present. Hermione sat on a wide chair beside Lysistra, her comely mother; her younger brothers on stools at either hand. Directly across the narrow table Glaucon and Democrates reclined on the same couch. The eyes of husband and wife seldom left each other; their tongues flew fast; they never saw how Democrates hardly took his gaze from the face of Hermione. Simonides, who reclined beside Themistocles,—having struck a firm friendship with that statesman on very brief acquaintance,—was overrunning with humour and anecdote. The great man beside him was hardly his second in the fence of wit and wisdom. After the fish had given way to the wine, Simonides regaled the company with a gravely related story of how the Dioscuri had personally appeared to him during his last stay in Thessaly and saved him from certain death in a falling building.
"You swear this is a true tale, Simonides?" began Themistocles, with one eye in his head.
"It's impiety to doubt. As penalty, rise at once and sing a song in honour of Glaucon's victory."
"I am no singer or harpist," returned the statesman, with a self-complacency he never concealed. "I only know how to make Athens powerful."
"Ah! you son of Miltiades," urged the poet, "at least you will not refuse so churlishly."
Cimon, with due excuses, arose, called for a harp, and began tuning it; but not all the company were destined to hear him. A slave-boy touched Themistocles on the shoulder, and the latter started to go.
"The Dioscuri will save you?" demanded Simonides, laughing.
"Quite other gods," rejoined the statesman; "your pardon, Cimon, I return in a moment. An agent of mine is back from Asia, surely with news of weight, if he must seek me at once in Eleusis."
But Themistocles lingered outside; an instant more brought a summons to Democrates, who found Themistocles in an antechamber, deep in talk with Sicinnus,—nominally the tutor of his sons, actually a trusted spy. The first glance at the Asiatic's keen face and eyes was disturbing. An inward omen—not from the entrails of birds, nor a sign in the heavens—told Democrates the fellow brought no happy tidings.
With incisive questions Themistocles had been bringing out everything.
"So it is absolutely certain that Xerxes begins his invasion next spring?"
"As certain as that Helios will rise to-morrow."
"Forewarned is forearmed. Now where have you been since I sent you off in the winter to visit Asia?"
The man, who knew his master loved to do the lion's share of the talking, answered instantly:—
"Sardis, Emesa, Babylon, Susa, Persepolis, Ecbatana."
"Eu! Your commission is well executed. Are all the rumours we hear from the East well founded? Is Xerxes assembling an innumerable host?"
"Rumour does not tell half the truth. Not one tribe in Asia but is required to send its fighting men. Two bridges of boats are being built across the Hellespont. The king will have twelve hundred war triremes, besides countless transports. The cavalry are being numbered by hundreds of thousands, the infantry by millions. Such an army was never assembled since Zeus conquered the Giants."
"A merry array!" Themistocles whistled an instant through his teeth; but, never confounded, urged on his questions. "So be it. But is Xerxes the man to command this host? He is no master of war like Darius his father."
"He is a creature for eunuchs and women; nevertheless his army will not suffer."
"Because Prince Mardonius, son of Gobryas, and brother-in-law of the king, has the wisdom and valour of Cyrus and Darius together. Name him, and you name the arch-foe of Hellas. He, not Xerxes, will be the true leader of the host."
"You saw him, of course?"
"I did not. A Magian in Ecbatana told me a strange story. 'The Prince,' said he, 'hates the details of camps; leaving the preparation to others, he has gone to Greece to spy out the land he is to conquer.' "
"Impossible, you are dreaming!" The exclamation came not from Themistocles but Democrates.
"I am not dreaming, worthy sir," returned Sicinnus, tartly; "the Magian may have lied, but I sought the Prince in every city I visited; they always told me, 'He is in another.' He was not at the king's court. He may have gone to Egypt, to India, or to Arabia;—he may likewise have gone to Greece."
"These are serious tidings, Democrates," remarked Themistocles, with an anxiety his voice seldom betrayed. "Sicinnus is right; the presence of such a man as Mardonius in Hellas explains many things."
"I do not understand."
"Why, the lukewarmness of so many friends we had counted on, the bickerings which arose among the Confederates when we met just now at the Isthmus, the slackness of all Spartans save Leonidas in preparing for war, the hesitancy of Corcyra in joining us. Thebes is Medizing, Crete is Medizing, so is Argos. Thessaly is wavering. I can almost name the princes and great nobles over Hellas who are clutching at Persian money. O Father Zeus," wound up the Athenian, "if there is not some master-spirit directing all this villany, there is no wisdom in Themistocles, son of Neocles."