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The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church

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A YOUNG CHAMPION

[129] THE financial business between Aquila and Archias was very speedily settled. Aquila was permitted to inspect the books of the two custom-houses, and found, as he expected, that the receipts were fully equal to what had been represented. He had provided himself, on his part, with bills of exchange, drawn by houses in Rome on bankers in Corinth. In the course of twenty-four hours the money was actually handed over. Much of it had been already expended, for time pressed, the preparations for the great Festival could not wait, and the Archon had taken upon himself the responsibility of ordering the necessary works. The risk, as a matter of fact, was of the very smallest; so wealthy a city as Corinth would not have to go begging for a loan; capitalists, instead of hanging back, would compete for the privilege of accommodating her. Still it was a relief to Archias, as the responsible person, to have the matter defi- [130] nitely settled, and he was proportionately grateful. When he expressed his thanks, he naturally asked whether there was any matter of business in which he could be of service. Aquila, in reply, mentioned his wish to set up in Corinth the manufacture which he had been compelled to discontinue in Rome, and said that he should be thankful for any information or introduction that the Chief Magistrate could give. Archias could not conceal his surprise at the request.

"My dear sir," he exclaimed, "you will excuse me if I say that this sounds to me very strange. You have just made a very considerable loan to the city, and this, I imagine, is not your only investment—excuse me if I seem to show an indiscreet curiosity as to your affairs—so that you obviously have a sufficient income at your command, and yet you are anxious to take up a not very interesting handicraft. What does it all mean, if I may be bold enough to ask the question?"

"I am following," replied Aquila, "what is, I may say, the universal custom amongst us. There is no Jew, however rich or nobly born, but is set to learn in his boyhood some trade or craft. Perhaps I ought to except our priestly caste. With them it is not an obligation, though as a matter of fact it is often done even by them, but every one else, however assured his position, however remote the [131] chance of his having to use it as a means of livelihood, is taught some craft. It is as regular a part of his training and education as are his books."

"Well," said Archias, "you surprise me. What would Plato have said to such a notion? He was against allowing the handicraftsman any share in the government of his ideal city. You have read the Republic?"

"Yes," replied Aquila, "I have read it with the greatest admiration, though I should not care to live in a state so modelled—nor, I fancy, would any one else."

"Possibly," said the magistrate, "but you will remember what he says:—The really good State does not make the artisan a citizen. What do you say to that?"

"Well," replied the Jew, "I shall not presume to argue the question with the greatest of the philosphers on first principles. It is not difficult, however, to make you see our Jewish standpoint. We Jews have always felt that our position was very precarious. We were a small people in a scrap of territory which might be set down and fairly lost in the enormous empires on either side. We might be torn away any day from our place and our belongings. What could be more reasonable than that every man should be provided with [132] the means of earning his bread in any extremity to which he might be reduced. Your Plato, you will remember, acknowledges that a state cannot exist without the activities which these same artisans practise. This is our justification. Let us take care, we say, to provide ourselves with something which will make us useful or even necessary wherever we go. We may have house, land, money taken from us; but the manual skill will still be left to us, and with it, whatever the circumstances, the means of making a livelihood. The practice was always popular with us, but it became a fixed rule after the terrible experience of the Great Captivity. And let me ask you a question. What is your experience as a magistrate? Whom do you find the best citizen, the most useful, the most law-abiding, the most amenable to discipline, the soldiers whom Plato would have made dominant in his State, or the artisans?"

The Archon smiled, but did not think it necessary to answer the question.

"To return to the business immediately in hand," he went on after a short pause for consideration, "I think that I see my way to helping you to what you want. There is a very respectable man who has a business of the kind you speak of, who is obliged to come to an arrangement with his [133] creditors. It is not through any fault of his; his health has failed him, and he will have to realize as best he can. His case came before me two or three days ago, and will be coming on again to-morrow."

A satisfactory arrangement was made. The tradesman in question was able, by Aquila's liberality, to make an unexpectedly satisfactory arrangement of his affairs. The business was handed over, and thanks to the capital and energy of the new chief, rapidly developed into a prosperous concern.

In one member of the family with which Aquila was brought into contact, he and his wife were more than usually interested. This was the eldest son, Eubulus by name, a remarkably handsome young man of twenty or thereabouts. Eubulus had been entered for the long foot race at the approaching Games, and was first favourite among those who were best qualified to judge of the merits of the candidates. Athletics could not be cultivated in those days without considerable cost, any more than they can now. The training demanded the candidate's whole time, and his usual occupation had to be suspended, even if he earned his livelihood by it. It was necessary to employ a trainer, and trainers who were necessarily more or less of experts made their fees heavy, [134] after the manner of their kind. Then the actual food, which had to be of the very best, was a serious matter, at least to persons of narrow income. The ordinary Greek lived mainly on bread and vegetables. What we call "meat," as being the chief article of diet, was expressed by a word which really meant "relish." But on this the athlete had to live, and it at least tripled the cost of his daily fare. As long as Eubulus's father could keep his business going, these expenses were somehow met, though with a constantly increasing difficulty. When what may be called his bankruptcy happened all this came to an end. The state of affairs which had been as far as possible concealed from the young man was now a matter of common knowledge, and he was the first to see that his hopes must be given up. It was then that Aquila, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Priscilla, came to the rescue. His private resources were more or less crippled by the events of the last few weeks; hers had not been seriously affected by them. It was her doing therefore, that Eubulus was enabled to persevere in his candidature. He might if he pleased consider the outlay as a debt; anyhow it was mere prudence to allow it to be made. What could be more wasteful than to let the expenditure already incurred be wholly lost? The young man could not refuse [135] an offer so graciously made, and applied himself with redoubled energy to his preparations.

It must be allowed that Aquila was visited by certain misgivings when he found himself indirectly concerned in the matter; nor were these misgivings diminished by the fact that he could not help feeling a certain interest in the young man's success. All his traditions and prepossessions as a Jew were adverse to the Games which figured so largely in Greek life. As a patriot, he could not help remembering that it was the introduction of this very thing into the Holy City itself that had marked the very lowest point of degradation to which his people had descended. Even when the armies of the Chaldeans "had made Jerusalem a heap of stones" the same depth of ignominy had not been reached. That was to be seen in the days when the High Priest of the time had changed the most heroic of Hebrew names for one of the least creditable of the Greek legendary heroes, had been content to be a Jason instead of a Joshua; when a gymnasium had been built after a Greek pattern within the walls of the city, when sons of Aaron had actually demeaned themselves by running, stripped in the shameless Greek fashion, on a racecourse marked out almost within the precincts of the Temple. The disgrace had indeed been averted; men had died [136] rather than submit to the ignominy, and the reaction of patriotism and faith had brought about the glorious epoch of the Maccabees. Such thoughts troubled Aquila not a little. We shall see how he found a certain relief from them.


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