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The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

CLEONICÉ

[171] IT is not to be supposed that Eubulus should have grown to manhood without having had his heart touched by the charms of some Corinthian maiden. As a matter of fact, he was deeply in love, and unfortunately the girl whom he loved was considerably above himself in social standing, for she was the only child of the Archon himself. There was also another difficulty in the way, were the social difficulty to be overcome. Her father's sister was priestess of one of the most famous shrines of the city, the temple of Athené of the Bridle, a local title which was given to the goddess because she was believed, according to the local legend, to have bridled the winged horse, Pegasus, and handed him over ready for use, to her favourite hero Bellerophon. Cleonicé then, for this was the maiden's name, was the priestess's nearest kinswoman, and her aunt was extremely anxious that she should succeed her in the priesthood, an office which was as lucrative as it was honour- [172] able. Failing her it would pass to a distant branch of the Bacchiad house. Cleonicé's family was divided in the matter. Her father favoured the scheme. The dignity of the position held for generations by the family to which he belonged, appealed to him strongly. Her mother was adverse. The priestess of Athené, the maiden goddess, was necessarily restrained from marriage, and the mother, whose own union had been singularly happy, was unwilling to shut out her child from wedded happiness. Cleonicé herself did not as yet feel strongly either way. On the whole perhaps she was favourable to her aunt's scheme; but it was probable that a little access of feeling might make her change her mind. At present she was perfectly heart-whole. She had seen Eubulus at a festival when the choirs of three temples had met, had even noticed his handsome person, and admired the penetrating sweetness of his tenor voice, but he had by this time entirely passed from her memory. He, on the contrary, had kept the image of the beautiful girl whom he had at once singled out from her companions in the shrine of his heart, and had continued to worship it secretly. The prospect was about as hopeless as it well could be, but he believed with the happy optimism of youth, that all things were possible in love, [173] and he was content, at least for the present, to possess his soul in patience.

It may easily be imagined that the young man's secret did not long remain his own. Priscilla, who may be said to have made a love match for herself, and had found it a more than usually happy experience, was keenly interested in affairs of the kind, all the more keenly, perhaps, because she had no children to occupy her thoughts. It had struck her for some time that the young man was a little more absent-minded than one quite heart-whole might be expected to be. She found him more than once intently studying a little volume which, although she had no opportunity of inspecting it, she suspected might be, and which indeed was, a collection of love poems. He was a well educated lad, but not specially fond of reading. She had more positive proof when she picked up a fragment of parchment which he had covered with some attempts, not very felicitous, it must be owned, at love verses of his own. These strong suspicions were turned into certainty by a chance meeting between the two. It came about one evening on what was the fashionable promenade of Corinth, the road that led from the city to the Isthmian Race-course. Priscilla and Eubulus were on foot; Cleonicé and her mother were in their chariot, and they [174] stopped to speak to the Roman lady. She was well known to be wealthy and high-born, and though she kept as much aloof from Corinthian society as courtesy permitted, she had some acquaintances in it. Eubulus naturally passed on when the carriage stopped, but not till he had betrayed himself to the keen eyes of his companion. There was no mistaking the significance of the fiery flush that mounted to his face, nor the eager look which he cast on the girl as she sat by her mother's side.

When Priscilla came to review the situation she felt not a little perplexed. She knew the secret of Eubulus' birth, or rather, she was aware of the fact that there was such a secret, for Aquila had naturally made her acquainted with it. Her interest in the young man was so direct and so strong that it was but right that she should know it. "Was the time come," she thought to herself, "when we ought to make ourselves acquainted with the secret? Perhaps the happiness of his whole life may depend upon it." This, however, did not commend itself to her more delicate judgment. It could scarcely be called a necessary cause. But it made both husband and wife see that the trust which they had undertaken might suggest very embarrassing questions.

[175] Chance, however, gave Eubulus an opportunity of commending himself to the young lady far more favourable than he could have contrived for himself or his friends could have contrived for him. It was customary to hold an aquatic festival, something like what we call a regatta. There were rowing and sailing competitions, and various sports that were practised on water. The affair was a very popular one, as might be expected in "Corinth of the Two Seas," a city which owed its wealth, and even, it may be said, its existence to the business of which these amusements were the less serious side. The festival was held in the Gulf, the waters of which were, as has been said, almost invariably calm. A vast crowd of vessels of all kinds covered the surface of the sea. The members of the Corinthian municipality attended in state on their barge, which was supposed to represent in shape and equipment the earliest of Greek ships, the world famous Argo. The wealthy citizens had yachts and pinnaces of their own; for the sightseers generally, and these may be said to have included [176] nearly the whole population, everything that could float was requisitioned.

The festival was in full swing when one of the accidents which no foresight can wholly guard against occurred. The Isthmus on which Corinth stood was a generally level surface, interrupted, however, towards the southern side by a very remarkable rock, called the Acro Corinthus and serving as the citadel of the town. This rose almost abruptly from the plain to a height of nearly two thousand feet, and it occasionally caused a disturbance in the weather. A gust of east wind would sometimes be caught, so to speak, by the huge bulk of the rock, and come down with increased violence on the surface of the Gulf below.


[Illustration]

THE RESCUE OF CLEONICE

This was what happened now. Hitherto there had been almost a dead calm, and the sailing vessels had set all their canvas to catch such fitful airs as from time to time ruffled the surface. Then there suddenly descended from the height an unexpected blast. It made for itself a way of some few yards wide, curiously distinguished from the surrounding calm by a dark and ruffled surface. Right in this line which it followed [177] was a yacht with a great expanse of canvas. This it caught sidewise; the rudder was wrenched by the sudden shock from the hand of the steersman—he was intent upon the fortunes of a race, and the vessel became unmanageable. The next moment she came into violent collision with a rowing boat. Happily the blow was delivered close to the bow, which was not occupied by any passengers; even the man at the bow-oar escaped unhurt, but both rowers and passengers were precipitated into the water. The passengers were Cleonicé and her mother, for whom the municipal yacht was not available. The yacht, on the other hand, had been chartered by the trainer, who mindful of the wise maxim which forbids the bowman to keep his bow always bent, was giving his pupils a holiday. They were allowed a day off from regular training and exercises. To have permitted them to follow their own devices and spend the day as they chose would have been highly imprudent. A single excess might easily undo the good of weeks of discipline and temperance; accordingly the trainer, who was well paid for his work and could afford to do things on a liberal scale, did not cease to shepherd his flock, and keep them under his own eye. Eubulus had thrown off his upper garment the moment he saw that a collision was imminent, and [178] stood clad in a tight fitting tunic ready for a plunge. At an earlier period of the day he had caught sight of the row boat, and with a lover's keenness of vision, had distinguished its occupants. He now recognized them again, and in a moment he was in the water, making with the rapid and vigorous stroke of a practised swimmer for the girl, who was fortunately kept from immediately sinking by her garments. The actual rescue was easy enough. She had the presence of mind not to embarrass her deliverer by a struggle; and he was so much at home in the water, that he had no difficulty in supporting her. Help too was speedily rendered by some of the boats in the neighbourhood. The incident happily ended without any disaster. The trainer's yacht escaped without capsizing, thanks to the fact that the breaking of the mast relieved it from the pressure of the sails. Cleonicé's mother had a narrow escape, but rather from the shock than from the actual danger of drowning. She was conscious enough, however, to ask the name of the rescuer, and she suffered nothing worse in the end than a few days' confinement to her bed. Certainly Eubulus had to thank his fortunes for a rare opportunity.


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