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The Spartan Twins by  Lucy Finch Perkins
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THE TWINS GO TO ATHENS


[Illustration]

IN the gray dawn of the following morning Lydia stood in the doorway of her house and watched the three figures disappear down the road toward the little seaport town of Ambelaca. Melas walked ahead, carrying the lamb wrapped in his cloak, and the Twins followed, bearing between them a basket in which Lydia had carefully packed two dressed fowls, some fresh eggs, and a cheese, to be taken to the home of Pericles, besides bread and cheese for Melas and the children. The Twins were so excited they would have danced along the road instead of walking if it hadn't been for the basket, but every time Daphne got too lively, Dion said, "Remember the eggs," and every time Dion forgot and skipped, Daphne said the same thing to him.

They had gone nearly a mile in this way, when the road took them to the crest of a hill, from the top of which it seemed as if they could see the whole world. Just below them lay the little seaport town of Ambelaca, and beyond it the blue waters of the bay sparkled and danced in the morning breeze. On the farther side of the bay they could see the white buildings of the Piraeus, and beyond that in the distance was a chain of blue mountains over which the sun was just peeping. That sight was so beautiful that the children set down their basket, and Melas too stood still to gaze.

"Those blue mountains beyond the Piraeus are the hills of Athens," said Melas. "The one with the flat top is the sacred hill of the Acropolis. And right down there," he added, pointing to a white house on a near-by hill-top, overlooking the sea, "is the house of Euripides, the Poet. He has come from the noise and confusion of the city to find a quiet refuge upon Salamis."

"Does he write real poetry?" asked Daphne.

"They say he does," answered Melas, "though I never read any of it myself."

"I wish I could write," sighed Daphne, "even if it wasn't poetry! Even if it were only curses to hang around a scarecrow's neck. I'd like to write!"

"Girls don't need to know how to write," said Melas. "It doesn't make them any better housekeepers. I don't even see how Dion is going to learn. There are no schools in Salamis."

"Oh dear!" thought Daphne, "there it is again." But she said nothing and followed Melas down the hill and into the village street.

Soon they found themselves at the dock where the boat was tied. There were already passengers on board when the Twins and their Father arrived. There were two farmers with baskets of eggs and vegetables, and there was an old woman with a large bundle of bread. Next to her sat a fisherman with a basket of eels. They were all going to the market in the Piraeus to sell their produce. Melas with the lamb in his arms climbed in beside one of the farmers and sat facing the fisherman. Dion sat next to him with the basket on his knee, and Daphne had to sit beside the fisherman and the eels. The eels squirmed frightfully, and Daphne squirmed too every time she looked at them. She was afraid one might get out and wrap itself around her legs. They did look so horribly like snakes, and Daphne felt about snakes just as most girls do. However, she knew it was useless to say anything. There was no other seat for her, and so she remembered that she was a Spartan and tried not to look at them.


[Illustration]

When they were all seated, the rowers took their places on the rowing-benches, the captain gave the signal, and off they went over the blue waters toward the distant shore. For a time everything went smoothly. There was no sound but the rattling of the oarlocks, the chant of the rowers as they dipped their oars, and the rippling of the water against the sides of the boat. Up to this time the black lamb had lain quietly in Melas' arms, but now something seemed to disturb him. He lifted his head, gave a sudden bleat, and somehow flung himself out of Melas' arms directly into the basket of eels! Such a squirming as there was then! The eels squirmed, and the lamb squirmed, and if his legs had not been securely tied together he undoubtedly would have flopped right into the water, and then this story would never have been written.

The fisherman gave an angry roar. "Keep your miserable lamb out of my eel basket," he shouted.

Melas had not waited to be told. He had already seized the lamb, but it struggled hard to get away, and between the lamb and the eels there was a disturbance that threatened to upset the boat.

"Sit still," roared the captain. "Have you no sense? Do you all want to go to the bottom?"

"May Poseidon defend us!" cried the old woman with the bread. "I've no wish to be made into eel-bait."

"Nor I," said one of the farmers angrily. "You'd better kill your lambs before you take them to market," he said to Melas; "it will be safer for the rest of us."

"The lamb is not for market," Melas answered. "I would not dare kill it. It bears a portent on its brow!"

"A portent?" gasped the old woman.

"May all the Gods defend us! What portent?" Melas pointed to the horn. "It has but one horn," he said.

They all became still at once. They all looked at the lamb. They all felt of his horn. Their eyes grew big.

"There was never such a thing known," said the farmer.

"Whose is the lamb?" asked another. "Is it yours?"

"No," said Melas, "it belongs to Pericles the Archon. It was born on his farm. I am taking it to him so that he may decide what to do with it."

"A portent on the farm of Pericles?" cried the old woman. "I'll warrant it will be read as favoring him, since he already has a world at his feet. May the Gods forgive me, but it seems to me they are often more partial than just."

"Hush, woman," said one of the farmers. "Speak no ill of the Gods, not until we are safe on the land at any rate."

The woman snapped her mouth shut. The farmers and the fisherman settled themselves as far away as possible from the Twins and Melas, and nothing more was said until the boat touched the other shore, and all the passengers scrambled out upon the dock. The farmers and the fisherman and the old woman all hastened away to the marketplace, and when they reached it, they must have kept their tongues busy, for as Melas and the Twins passed through it on their way to Athens a few moments later, they were followed by a crowd of curious people who wanted to see the lamb and who had a great deal to say about what such a miracle might mean.

Melas paid little attention to them, but hastened on his way, and soon they reached the eastern edge of the town and started along the paved road which ran from the Piraeus to Athens proper. This road was nearly five miles long and ran between two high walls of stone some distance apart. The curious crowd left them at this point and the three walked on alone through olive orchards and past little vineyards, toward Athens.

"Nobody could get lost on this road," said Dion to his Father, "not even if he tried! He couldn't get over the walls."

"What are the walls for?" asked Daphne. "It seems silly to build high walls like this right out in the country."

"Not so silly when you think about it," answered Melas. "These walls were built by Pericles, so that if any enemy should make an invasion, Athens would always have a safe access to the sea. Without that she could be starved within her own walls in a very short time."

"Pericles must be almost as powerful and wise as the Gods themselves, I should think," said Daphne.

"He does all these things by the help of the Gods, without doubt," said Melas.

When they were halfway on their journey to the city, Dion suddenly let down his side of the basket with a thump.

"Remember the eggs!" cried Daphne sharply, but Dion did not seem to hear.

"Look! Look!" he cried and pointed toward the east. There against the sky, on the top of the sacred mountain, stood a gigantic figure shining in the sun.

"What is it?" cried both children at once.

"That is the bronze statue of Athena, the Goddess who gives protection to Athens," said Melas.

"Did Pericles make that too?" asked Daphne.

Melas laughed. "No," he said; "you must not think Pericles made everything you may see in Athens. Great as he is, he is not a sculptor."

"Oh, oh," cried Dion, "I want to see the Gorgon's head with snaky locks. Don't you remember the Stranger said it was on the breastplate of the statue?"

"Ugh," said Daphne, shuddering. "I don't believe I'd like it. It must look just like eels."

"Come, come," said Melas. "At this rate you won't have a chance. The day will be gone before we know it."

The Twins picked up the basket, and the three marched on toward the city, and it was not long before they had entered the gate and were passing along closely built-up streets to the home of the greatest man in Athens.

"This is the place," said Melas at last, stopping at one of the houses.

"This isn't Pericles' house, is it?" cried Daphne. "Why, I thought it would be the biggest house in Athens, and it looks just like the others."

"Pericles does not put on much style," said Melas, as he lifted the knocker on the door. "He is too great to need display. He cares more about fine public buildings for the city than about making his neighbors envious by living better than they do. Just get the idea out of your head that greatness means wealth and luxury, or you are no true Spartans, nor even good Athenians."


[Illustration]

As he said this, Melas let the knocker fall. The door was immediately opened by a porter, who looked surprised when he saw Melas and the Twins.

"What brings you in from the farm?" he said.

"I wish to see your mistress, the wife of Pericles," said Melas, with dignity. "I have business of importance."

"Come in, come in," said the porter, grinning good-naturedly; "and you, too, little boys," he added graciously to the Twins, and led the way into the house. Dion was just opening his mouth to explain that Daphne wasn't a boy, but Daphne poked him in the ribs and shook her head at him. "Let him think so," she said, jerking her chiton up shorter through her girdle.

They were ushered through a passageway into the court of the house, and there the porter left them while he went to call his mistress. The house, though little different from the other houses of well-to-do Athenians, was still much finer than anything the Twins had ever seen. The floor was of marble, and the altar of Zeus which stood in the center of the court was beautifully carved. The doorways which opened into the various rooms of the house were hung with blue curtains. A room opening into the court at the back had a hearth-fire in the middle of it, much like that in the children's own home. Soon a door in the back of the house opened, and Telesippe, the wife of Pericles, appeared. She was a large coarse-looking woman, and with her were three boys, her own two and Alcibiades, a handsome lad, who was a ward of Pericles and a member of his family.

Melas approached her and opened his cloak.

"Why, Melas, what have you there?" cried Telesippe in amazement, as she saw the little black rain.

"A portent, Madam," said Melas with solemnity. "This ram, born on your husband's farm, is a prodigy, it has but one horn. I have brought it to you, that the omen might be interpreted. I trust it may prove a favorable one."

Telesippe looked at the lamb and turned pale. She struck her hands together. The porter and another slave at once appeared.

"Go to the temple and bring Lampon, the priest," she said to the slave; and to the porter she added, "and you, the moment the priest arrives, call your master."

The slave instantly disappeared, and the porter went back to his post by the entrance. Although Telesippe was evidently disturbed and anxious about the portent, she now turned her attention to the basket, which Dion and Daphne had placed before her, and when their luncheon had been taken out, she called a slave woman and gave the fowl and the eggs and cheese into her care.

The three boys, meanwhile, crowded around Melas and the lamb and asked questions of all sorts about it and about the farm. It seemed but a short time when the porter opened the door once more and ushered in the priest. The Twins had never seen a priest, since there were none on the island, and they looked with awe upon this man who could read omens and interpret dreams. He was a tall, spare man with piercing dark eyes. He was dressed in a long white robe, and wore a wreath of laurel upon his brow, and his black hair fell over his neck in long, straggling locks.

No sooner had he entered the court and taken his place beside the altar than the blue curtains of a door at the right parted and a tall noble-looking man entered the room. Dion and Daphne knew at once that it must be Pericles. No other man, they thought, could look so majestic. Their knees shook under them, and they felt just as you would feel if you were suddenly to meet the President of the United States. Pericles was not alone. A man also tall, and wearing a long white cloak, followed him through the curtains and joined the group about the altar.

"The Stranger!" gasped Daphne to Dion in a whisper. "Don't you remember? He said he knew Pericles!"

The Stranger spoke to Melas and laid his hand playfully upon the heads of the Twins.

"These are old friends of mine," he said to Pericles. "I stayed at their house one night last spring."

Pericles had already greeted the priest. Now he smiled pleasantly at the children, and spoke to Melas.

"I hear a miracle has occurred on my farm," he said.

For answer Melas showed the lamb, which now began to jump and wriggle in his arms.

"There can be no doubt that the portent concerns the Great Archon," said the priest solemnly. "See how the ram leaps the moment he appears!"

Pericles beckoned to the Stranger. "What do you think of this, Anaxagoras?" he said, smiling.

"I am no soothsayer," answered the Stranger, smiling too. "The priest is the one to expound the riddle."


[Illustration]

Lampon now came forward, and, with an air of importance, pulled a few hairs from the lamb's fleece, and laid them upon the live coals of the altar. He watched the hair curl up as it burned and bent his ear to listen. "It burns with a crackling sound," he said; "the omen is therefore favorable to your house, O Pericles. Instead of two horns, the animal has but one! Instead of two factions in Athens, one favorable to Pericles, one opposed, there will henceforth be but one! All the city will unite under the leadership of Pericles the Olympian."

"The Gods be praised!" exclaimed Telesippe, with fervor.

The priest clapped his hands and bowed his head, and Dion saw him peer cautiously through the tangled locks which fell over his face to see how Pericles had taken this prophecy. The Great Archon was standing quietly beside Anaxagoras, and neither one gave any sign of being impressed by the oracle. The priest scowled under his wreath.

"What shall be done with the ram?" asked Telesippe, when Lampon again lifted his head.

"Let it be sent to the temple as an offering. Since it is black it must be sacrificed to the Gods of the lower world," answered the priest.

Telesippe at once called a slave. Melas gave the ram into his hands; the priest received a present of money from Pericles, and, followed by the slave with the ram, disappeared through the doorway.

"You did well to bring the ram to me at once," said Pericles to Melas when the door closed behind the priest. "Take this present for your pains," and he placed a gold-piece in Melas' hand. "And these little boys," he added, smiling pleasantly at the Twins, "they too have done their share in bringing the portent. They must have a reward as well." He gave them each a coin, and, when he had received their thanks, at once left the house, followed by Anaxagoras. The Twins and Melas then said good-bye to Telesippe and the boys and took their leave.

When they turned the corner into the next street, Melas said with a sigh, "There, that's off my mind. And I hope there will be no more miracles for a while."


[Illustration]

"If it would take us to the house of Pericles every time, I'd like them at least once a week!" cried Dion, looking longingly at the coin Pericles had given him.

"So would I," Daphne added fervently. "Even if Pericles didn't give us anything at all, I'd come to Athens just to look at him! He looks just like the Gods. I know he does."

Melas laughed. "You're just like the Athenians," he said, "They call him the Olympian because they feel the same way about him. Give me your coins," he added. "I will put them in my purse for safe-keeping."

"Anyway," said Daphne, as she and Dion gave their Father the money, "I'm glad the portent was favorable to Pericles. The old woman on the boat was right. She said it would be."


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