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A Young Macedonian by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

MEMNON

[73] CHARIDEMUS was partially stunned by the blow. He retained, however, a dim consciousness of what followed, and found afterwards, from such information as he was able to obtain from friends and enemies, that his impressions had not deceived him. First, then, he was aware of being carried for a certain distance in the direction of the besiegers' lines; and, secondly, of this motion ceasing, not a little to his immediate relief, and of his being left, as he felt, in peace. It was a fact, we know, that his companion endeavoured to carry him off, and did succeed in doing so for a few yards; we know also how he was compelled to abandon his burden. The Macedonian's next impression was of being carried exactly the opposite way. He had even an indistinct remembrance of having passed through a gateway, and of a debate being held over him and about him, a debate which he guessed but with a very languid interest indeed—so spent were all his forces of mind and body—might be to settle [74] the question of his life or death. After this, he was conscious of being carried up a steep incline, not without joltings which caused him acute pain; sometimes so overpowering as to make him, as he was afterwards told, lose consciousness altogether. Finally came a feeling of rest, uneasy indeed, but still most welcome after the almost agonizing sensations which had preceded it. This condition lasted, as he subsequently learnt, for nearly three days and nights, causing by its persistence, unbroken as it was by any hopeful symptoms, no small fears for his life. Relief was given by the skill of a local physician, possibly the Diopeithes whose name and praise still survive among the monuments of Halicarnassëan worthies which time has spared and modern research disinterred.

This experienced observer discovered that a minute splinter of bone was pressing on the brain, and removed it by a dexterous operation. The patient was instantaneously restored to the full possession of his senses. Diopeithes (so we will call him) thought it best, however, to administer a sleeping draught, and it was late in the morning of the following day before the young man could satisfy his curiosity as to the events which had befallen him.

One thing indeed became evident to him at almost [75] the very moment of his waking. He knew that he must be in one of the two citadels of the town, for he could see from his bed, and that in a way which showed it to be slightly below him, the splendid building which, under the name of the Mausoleum, was known as one of the "Seven Wonders of the World." It was then in all the freshness of its first splendour, for little more than ten years had passed since its completion. The marble steps which rose in a pyramid of exquisite proportions shone with a dazzling whiteness. The graceful columns with their elaborately sculptured capitals, the finely proportioned figures of Carian and Greek heroes of the past, the majestic lions that seemed, after the Greek fashion, to watch the repose of the dead king, and, crowning all, Mausolus himself in his chariot reining in the "breathing bronze" of his four fiery steeds—these combined to form a marvel of richness and beauty. After nature and man had wrought their worst upon it for fifteen hundred years, a traveller of the twelfth century could still say, "It was and is a wonder." What it was as it came fresh from the hand of sculptor and architect it would be difficult to imagine.

Charidemus was busy contemplating the beauties of the great monument when a slave entered bringing with him the requisites for the toilet. After a short interval another presented himself with the materials of a meal, a piece of roast flesh, a loaf of bread, [76] cheese, a bunch of dried grapes, a small flagon of wine, and another of water, freshly drawn from the well, and deliciously cool.

By the time the prisoner had done justice to his fare, a visitor entered the apartment. In the newcomer he recognized no less important a personage than the great Memnon himself. Charidemus had seen him at the Granicus, making desperate efforts to stem the tide of defeat; and he knew him well by reputation as the one man who might be expected to hold his own in a battle against Alexander himself. Memnon was a man of about fifty, of a tall and commanding figure, with bright and penetrating eyes, and a nose that, without wholly departing from the Greek type, had something of the curve which we are accustomed to associate with the capacity of a leader of men. But he had a decided appearance of ill-health; his cheeks were pale and wasted, with a spot of hectic colour, and his frame was painfully attenuated. He acknowledged the presence of his prisoner with a very slight salutation, and after beckoning to the secretary who accompanied him to take a seat and make preparations for writing, proceeded to put some questions through an interpreter. He spoke in Greek, and the interpreter, in whom Charidemus recognized a soldier of his own company, translated what he said into the Macedonian dialect.

The first question naturally concerned his name and rank in Alexander's army. Charidemus, who [77] indeed spoke Macedonian with much less fluency than he spoke Greek, ventured to address his answer directly to the great man himself. The effect was magical. The cold and stern expression disappeared from the commander's face, and was replaced by a pleasant and genial smile.

"What!" he cried, "you are a Greek, and, if I do not mistake the accent—though, indeed, an Athenian could not speak better—you are a Dorian."

Charidemus explained that his mother was an Argive woman, and that he had spent all his early years in the Peloponnese.

"Then I was right about the Dorian," said the Memnon, in a still more friendly tone. "My heart always warms to hear the broad 'a' of our common race; for we are kinsmen. I came, as I daresay you know, from Rhodes. But come, let us have a chat together; we can do without our friends here."

He dismissed the secretary and the interpreter. When they were gone, he turned to Charidemus. "Now tell me who you are. But, first, are you quite sure that you are strong enough for a talk? Diopeithes tells me that he has found out and removed the cause of your trouble; and he knows his business as well as any man upon earth; but I should like to hear it from your own lips."

The young man assured him that he was perfectly recovered, and then proceeded to give him an [78] outline of the story with which my readers are already acquainted.

"Well," said Memnon, when the end was reached, "I have nothing to reproach you with. For the matter of that, you might, with much more reason, reproach me. Why should I, a Greek of the Greeks, for I claim descent from Hercules himself," he added, with a smile, "why should I be found fighting for the Persians, for the very people who would have turned us into bondmen if they could? Ask me that question, and I must confess that I cannot answer it. All I can say is that I have found the Great King an excellent master, a generous man who can listen to the truth, and take good advice, which is more, by the way, than I can say for some of his lieutenants. And then his subjects are tolerably well off; I don't think that they improve their condition by coming under the rule of Spartan warriors or Athenian generals, so far as I have had an opportunity of seeing anything of these gentlemen. What your Alexander may do for them, if he gets the chance, is more than I can say. But I am quite sure that if he manages to climb into the throne of the Great King, he will not find it a comfortable seat."

After a short pause, during which he seemed buried in thought, the commander began again. "I won't ask you any questions which you might think it inconsistent with your duty to your master [79] to answer. In fact, there is no need for me to do so. I fancy that I know pretty nearly everything that you could tell me. Thanks to my spies I can reckon to a few hundreds how many men your king can bring into the field; I have a shrewd idea of how much money he has in his military chest, and of how much he owes—the first, I am quite sure, is a very small sum, and the second a very big one. As for his plans, I wish that I knew more about them; but then you could not help me, if you would. But that he has great plans, I am sure; and it will take all that we can do, and more too, unless I am much mistaken, to baffle them."

He paused, and walked half-a-dozen times up and down the room, meditating deeply, and sometimes talking in a low voice to himself.

"Perhaps you may wonder," he began again, "why, if I don't expect to get any information out of you, I don't let you go. To tell you the plain truth, I cannot afford it. You are worth something to me, and we are not so well off that I can make any present to my adversaries. Macedonian or Greek, you are a person of importance, and I shall have to make use of you—always," the speaker went on, laying his hand affectionately on the young man's shoulder, "always in as agreeable and advantageous a way to yourself as I can possibly manage. Perhaps I may be able to exchange you; but for the present you must be content to be my [80] guest, if you will allow me to call myself your host. I only wish I could entertain you better. I can't recommend a walk, for your friends outside keep the place a little too lively with their catapults. Books, I fear, are somewhat scarce. Halicarnassus, you know, was never a literary place. It produced one great writer, and appreciated him so little as positively to drive him away. As for myself, I have not had the opportunity or the taste for collecting books. Still there are a few rolls, Homer and our Aristophanes among them, I know, with which you may while away a few hours; there is a slave-boy who can play a very good game of draughts, if you choose to send for him; and you can go over the Mausoleum there, which is certainly worth looking at. And now farewell for the present! We shall meet at dinner. I, as you may suppose, have got not a few things to look after."

With this farewell Memnon left the room, but came back in a few moments. "I am half-ashamed," he said, in an apologetic tone, "to mention the matter to a gentleman like yourself; still it is a matter of business, and you will excuse it. I took it for granted that you give me your word not to escape."

Charidemus gave the required promise, and his host then left him, but not till he had repeated in [81] the most friendly fashion his invitation to dinner. "We dine at sunset," he said, "but a slave will give you warning when the time approaches."

Charidemus found the literary resources of his quarters more extensive than he had been led to expect. By the help of these, and of a long and careful inspection of the Mausoleum, he found no difficulty in passing the day.


[Illustration]

BARSINÉ

Dinner was a very cheerful meal. The party consisted of four—the two to whom my readers have not yet been introduced being Barsiné, a lady of singular beauty, and as accomplished as she was fair; and Nicon, an Athenian of middle age, who was acting as tutor to Memnon's son. Nicon was a brilliant talker. He had lived many years in Athens, and had heard all the great orators, whose manner he could imitate with extraordinary skill. Plato, too, he had known well; indeed, he had been his disciple, one of the twenty-eight who had constituted the inner circle, all of them duly fortified with the knowledge of geometry, to whom the philosopher imparted his most intimate instructions. Aristotle, not to mention less distinguished names, had been one of his class-fellows. But if Nicon's conversation was extraordinarily varied and interesting, it was not more than a match for Barsiné's. [82] Charidemus listened with amazement to the wit and learning which she betrayed in her talk—betrayed rather than displayed—for she had no kind of ostentation or vanity about her. Her intelligence and knowledge was all the more amazing because she was a Persian by birth, had the somewhat languid beauty characteristic of her race, and spoke Greek with an accent, delicate indeed, but noticeably Persian. Memnon seemed glad to play the part of listener rather than a talker; though he would now and then interpose a shrewd observation which showed that he was thoroughly competent to appreciate the conversation. As for the young Macedonian, he would have been perfectly content to spend the whole evening in silent attention to such talk as he had never heard before; but Nicon skilfully drew him out, and as he was a clever and well-informed young man, he acquitted himself sufficiently well.


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