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The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS

[286] THE decision of the committee of the judges was announced by the Archon on the morning of the fourth day. It was usual at the Games, as it is usual in similar celebrations in this country to reward the winners at the close of the festival; but in this case the Presidents determined, and for what seemed to them quite sufficient reason, to make an exception in favour of Eubulus. The pine-crown was to be put on his head just before the beginning of the contests of the day. The Archon, accordingly, stepped forward to the front of the official "box," if the term may be permitted, occupied by the judges, and spoke as follows:

"We have examined the objection made to the parentage of Eubulus, first runner in the Long Race, have taken evidence, and have come to the conclusion that he was qualified to compete. Indeed, we may say that there is no one in the whole of Hellas, who, so far as ancestry is concerned, is more fit to win and wear the [287] honours of the fleet of foot. More I will not say at present. You will soon know what I mean. That he is not a Corinthian born we regret, but we must not grudge him a distinction of race which even Corinth cannot match. That he is a Corinthian by adoption we gladly remember; the city will not fail to reckon this among its glories. But we must not forget that he has not found among us all that he might have looked for. Loyal friends he has had, and such popular favour as has seldom been surpassed,"—here there went up from the crowd a great shout of applause—"but, unless report has been strangely false, he has had bitter enemies, has been the object of violence, conspiracy, and malignant accusation. Young man," went on the magistrate, turning to Eubulus, "you have escaped these dangers; you have baffled these enemies. Much, I doubt not, you owe to your own virtues; you owe more, I am sure, to the favour of the gods, which, indeed, is not given save to those who are worthy of it in body, soul, and spirit. That you have surpassed all who have preceded you in this place I will not say; the heroes, the children of the gods, have deigned to wear the crown which you have won. But this I will say, you have achieved a singular victory under singular diffi- [288] culties, and we mark our sense of an uncommon virtue by an uncommon honour. Be worthy of it to the end; be as patient, as brave as you have shown yourself hitherto, and do not doubt—for it is not the gods that change, but men that are not equal to themselves—that you will be as fortunate."

Shouts of deafening applause rose again and again from the crowd as Eubulus stepped forward and received from the hands of the Archon first the palm branch and then the Crown of Pine.

The unprecedented departure from the order of proceedings described above brought well-merited disaster to Cleon and his associates. If they had been wise they would by this time have left Corinth far behind them. But this was practically impossible. They had not the means to do so, for they were almost penniless. The bribe to Aristagoras had swept away all that was left to them, and if they were to get away it would have to be either by begging or by working—alternatives which were equally unwelcome. The visit to the racecourse was, therefore, something like a necessity. They hoped to pick up a few trifles here and there. They had, as may be supposed, at command as many ways of accomplishing this as had any rogues in the world. Cards, it is true, had not been in- [289] vented, but there were dice, the die proper and the knuckle-bone, and dice could be loaded. But it is needless, even if it were possible, to recapitulate the devices of an old-world swindler. The evil ingenuity of mankind has doubtless added to their number, but there were plenty available to a knave even in the year 50 A.D. But their chief hope was in getting in advance some of the money due to them for bets which they had won, by offering to take a composition. None was actually payable till after the crowning of the successful candidate on the conclusion of the Games. This made it safe for them to appear, and it also gave them a chance of getting a few pounds into their possession. They would say to a debtor, "If you can pay up now we will take two-thirds or three-fourths of the money," giving such reasons as might be suited to the silliness or credulity of their victims. It was not a very promising device, but it was better than nothing, and every shilling they contrived to lay hold of in this and in any other way would be so much gain. They had come with the rest of the crowd to hear the decision of the judges, and they saw, of course, that the immediate coronation of Eubulus was a fatal blow. They turned to fly—flight with or without means was [290] now a necessity—but it was too late. The Corsican, with Rufus, still his constant associate, had dogged their steps, and stood between them and escape.

"Not so fast, my fine fellows," he cried; "there are a good many friends here who would like to have a word with you before you go."

Retribution was at hand for the scoundrels, and was likely to be as complete as the sternest lover of justice could desire. The "welsher"—it may be explained that the word means a low-class better who cannot pay his bets—was wont to meet with as little mercy on the racecourse of antiquity as he meets with at Epsom or Doncaster. And the three were more than "welshers." Their misdeeds were not fully known to the crowd that rapidly gathered round the Corsican and his captives, but some were sure and many more suspected that they had practised against the life of Eubulus, the most popular candidate that Corinth had known within the memory of man. And here they were. What was to be done with them?

The Corsican apprehended the situation in a moment. Leave these fellows to the vengeance of the mob, and by the time one had counted a hundred, there would not be one of them left alive. This was [291] not a result which he desired. He had not a grain of compassion for the villains; whatever they might suffer would be less than their deserts. But still it would be better that they should not be killed. Death, even the death of such worthless creatures as these, would cast a gloomy shadow over what was a day of triumph and joy. He saw his way in a moment. "Let them run the gauntlet!" he cried, and the suggestion was taken up with a tumult of applause, and so the stadium was put to a use for which it certainly was not intended. The three rogues, stationed some ten yards apart—by a rude justice the eldest, as presumably the least active, had the least distance to run—were started, and had to make their way as best they could along the line of spectators. No one had any deadly weapon wherewith to strike the runners—it was forbidden to carry weapons within the precincts of the Games—but there were belts and other implements handy, and in default of anything better a sandal or a shoe. It is probable that even from this ordeal not one of the three would have escaped alive but for an interruption to the sport which the Corsican had foreseen. The keepers of the course were scandalized at the base use to which it was being put, and, as soon as they had recovered from their astonishment, [292] interfered and put an end to it. It was about time. Cleon and Ariston lay bleeding and senseless on the ground; Democles was staggering on alone. The keepers carried them off the ground and put them in safety in one of the buildings that adjoined the course. It is needless to pursue their story any further. A few days later, when they had recovered sufficiently to be able to walk, they were conducted to the frontier of the State, and summarily ordered to depart. They were given to understand that if they were seen again in Corinth they would be less leniently treated.


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