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The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church

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A SECRET

[153] IT had been arranged that Eumenes, the tradesman whose business Aquila had purchased, should devote a few hours daily to instructing his successor in various details of manufacture and commercial arrangement which it would be to his advantage to know. Eumenes belonged to the sufficiently numerous class who may be described as excellent servants and indifferent masters. He knew all that there was to know about his business, and yet had not been able to manage it with success. So lucid were his explanations, so full of common sense his suggestions, that Aquila could not but feel that he should miss him very much, and began to consider whether he would not offer him the post of manager. The experiment was not, however, to be tried. After a fortnight or so, Eumenes asked for an interview, and informed him that a very desirable post had been offered him at Mantinea, a considerable town in Arcadia.

[154] "I am really sorry to go," he said. "I have never been so comfortable here as I have been since you took the place over. I shall always be grateful to you. You have been very generous in your dealings with me, though I do hope and trust that you will make a good thing of it in the end. And now, sir, I am going to ask you to do me a favour. It does not concern me so much as it does my son Eubulus. There, again, you and your good wife have been kindness itself, and so I make bold to ask you. I call him my son; every one thinks that he is; he thinks so himself; but he is not. When he was a baby he was put in charge of my dear wife, who has been dead these three years. We lived in those days at Sicyon, and when we removed to this city, and he came with us—he was then a year old—we spoke of him as if he were a child of our own. If you ask me whose son he is, I tell you quite truly that I don't know, although I could know if I thought right. Let me explain. When the child was given into my wife's charge there was sent with him a purse containing a hundred pieces of gold—I bought this business with the money—a document drawn up by a notary, and a casket. The casket and the document I have brought with me to-day. The casket was locked, as it has been locked ever since it came into my [155] possession. When you read the paper you will see why."

Eumenes took this paper from the case in which it was kept, unrolled it and handed it to Aquila. It ran thus:

"For reasons which I beg Eunice and Eumenes to take on trust as sufficient, I give my son into their charge to be brought up as their own child. I am convinced that it will be for his greater happiness that this should be his lot in life. But I do not hide from myself the possibility that I may be wrong, or that circumstances may arise which will make it necessary that what I would fain conceal should be made known. In the casket that accompanies this paper are the proofs of his parentage. I charge Eunice and Eumenes to leave them undisturbed until the necessity shall arise of using them. Nothing, I am sure, could be more to my son's advantage than that he should live and die in ignorance of his parentage; if, however, the necessity should arise, let the casket be opened and the instructions therein contained acted upon."

Eumenes went on: "I do not conceive that the necessity has arisen; but it seems to me that it may not improbably arise within a short time. It may be that if Eubulus wins the race for which he is in training, he may be accepted without [156] challenge as my son; it is possible on the other hand, that he may be required to prove himself of pure Greek descent—no one, as you probably know, is permitted to compete in these games unless he can bring forward such proof. If that should happen, the casket must be opened. It only remains to show you how this is to be done. The lock is a letter lock, and the secret of opening it is the lad's name, Eubulus. Bring the letters into this order and the thing is done."

Aquila would fain have declined the responsibility, though he did not like to meet the request with a direct refusal. He did, indeed, suggest that some more influential person should be asked to assume the charge. He mentioned Archias.

Eumenes expressed unfeigned respect for the chief magistrate, but thought that there were serious objections.

"The archon," he said, "is overwhelmed with business, especially in this year with its special celebration of the Games. He is compelled to do much through others. Any specially confidential matter—and this is certainly of that character—would be better bestowed, if possible, elsewhere. I am sure, my dear sir, that there is no one available who could be better suited for it than you."

[157] Aquila could not but yield to these arguments, and had to content himself with the hope that he should not be called upon to act. That the transference of the guardianship was not in itself a sufficient cause for opening the casket he willingly allowed. After all, he thought to himself, of this Eumenes must be the judge; if Eumenes is content, he had no call to object.

Eumenes left Corinth for Mantinea the next day.


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