Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

A Council

The house of Hippocles was on a smaller scale than might have seemed suitable to his vast wealth. The fact was that both he and his daughter had simple tastes. They had a special dislike to the enormous establishments of slaves which it was the fashion for rich Athenians, whether of native or of foreign birth, to maintain. In each division of the house—for, it was divided after the usual Greek fashion, into two "apartments," to use that word in its proper sense, belonging respectively to the men and the women —there were but three or four inmates besides the master and mistress. Hippocles had his house steward and his personal attendant, both older than himself, long since emancipated, who had accompanied him from his Italian home, and a lad of seventeen, who was still a slave, but who, if he conducted himself well, would certainly earn his freedom by the time that he had reached the age of thirty. Hermione's establishment, on the other hand, consisted of a lady who had just exchanged the post of governess, now no longer necessary, for that of companion or duenna, a housekeeper, and two domestics who may be described by the modern terms of lady's-maid and house-maid. Stephanion, the companion, was of pure Athenian descent. She belonged to one of the many families which had been reduced to poverty by the war, and she had been glad to take employment in the house of the wealthy alien. She had more education than was commonly given to Athenian ladies, but this is not to say much, and Hermione would have fared but ill for teaching, according at least to our standard if her father had not always found time even in his busiest days, to supplement her education.. The housekeeper was a Laconian woman. She, too, had found her way into the family through circumstances connected with the war. She had been nurse in a wealthy Athenian household. Before the war it had been the fashion, my readers should know, for the upper classes at Athens to get their nurses from Sparta. A true Spartan, a daughter that is, of the military aristocracy that ruled Laconia and its dependencies, it was, of course, impossible to obtain, but girls from the farmer class that cultivated the lands of their soldier masters often sought situations in other countries. This was the case with Melanion, who as the youngest of the five daughters of a Laconian farmer, had been delighted to find a place with an Athenian lady, Melissa, wife of Demochares, at a salary which almost equalled her father's income. This was just before the commencement of the long war. She had been nurse to Melissa's five children when the disastrous expedition to Sicily brought irretrievable ruin upon her employer's family. Demochares was one of the army that surrendered with Nicias, was thrown with his comrades into that most dreadful of prisons, the stone-quarries of Syracuse, and died of a fever before the end of the year. His property had consisted, for the most part, of farms in the island of Chios, and when Chios revolted from Athens, the widow and her children were reduced to something very like poverty. Nothing was left to them but a small farm at Marathon, and as it so happened, the rent, of the house which Hippocles unable, as has been said, to own real property in Attica, had been accustomed to hire. The establishment had to be broken up, the slaves being sold and the free persons looking for employment elsewhere. Melanion was about to return, much against her will, to Laconia, where her long residence at Athens would have rendered her an object of suspicion and dislike, when an opening suddenly presented itself in the family of Hippocles. Pontia's long illness had come to a fatal end, and the widower was looking for an experienced woman to take charge of the young Hermione. Melanion, seemed to him exactly the person that he wanted, and she, on the other hand, was delighted to come to him. As her charge grew older, her duties as nurse gradually changed into the duties of a housekeeper. She had come to her new situation accompanied by a middle-aged woman, a Marian by birth, Manto by name, whom Hippocles had bought, at her suggestion, at the sale of Demochares' slaves. Manto had steadily refused the emancipation which her master had several times offered to her.

"No, sir," she said, "I thank you very much, but I am better as I am. I desire nothing more than to live in your house, and, when my time comes, to die in it."

"What if I should die first," suggested the merchant.

"The gods know, my master, the gods know," cried the poor woman in an agony. "But it is impossible; the gods would not do anything so cruel, so unjust. But, if you wish, you may put what you please into your will. As long as you live you are my master, and I am your slave." So matters stood when my story opens. Perhaps it may be added that Manto's condition did not prevent her tongue from being truthful; but affectionate, faithful, and honest she allowed herself and was allowed—no unusual circumstance, yet she was under a system of slavery—a liberty of speech which in one free born would certainly have been impossible. Finally, to complete my account of the household, Hermione had for her maid a girl, about a year older than herself. She too had come into the family along with Melanion and Manto. Demochares had bought her at the sale of the prisoners taken by the Athenians when a little Sicilian town was captured. She was then a singularly pretty child about seven years old, and Demochares had meant her to be a playfellow or plaything, as the case might be, of a daughter of his own of about the same age. She was of mixed race; her mother was a Sicanian, that is, one of the so-called aboriginal inhabitants of Sicily, her father a Carthaginian trader. She was now grown up into a handsome maiden, who with her raven-black hair, dark piercing eyes, and deep brunette complexion, made a remarkable contrast to the fair beauty of her mistress.

When Callias reached the house the hour was late, later than etiquette allowed for a visit, except from an intimate friend, or on a matter of urgent business. His business, however, was urgent, and he did not hesitate to knock, that is to strike the door sharply with a brass ring which was attached to it by a staple. The day-porter had gone home for the night, and the door was opened by the young slave mentioned above. He explained that his master was just about to sit down to his evening meal. "Take him my name," said Callias, "and say that I come from the magistrates on an important matter of business." The lad invited him to enter, and to take a seat in a small chamber which looked upon the central court of the andronitis, a grass plot, bordered on all sides by myrtle and orange. In a few minutes he returned, and invited the visitor to follow him. Callias crossed the court and passed through the door which led into the women's apartment. Hippocles, it should be said, was accustomed to see visitors on business in the front or men's portion of the dwelling, but spent his leisure time in the rooms assigned to his daughter. The two had just taken their places at the table, Hippocles reclining on a couch, Hermione sitting on a chair by his right hand, so that his face was turned towards her. The steward had placed the first dish on the table, and was standing in front, with Hippocles' personal attendant behind him. The latter at a sign from his master, prepared a place for the newcomer.

Hippocles saluted his guest in a most friendly fashion, and Hermione gave him her hand with a charming smile, though the moment afterwards tears gathered in her eyes, when she remembered the last occasion on which they had met.

"If the business will wait for half an hour," said the host, "postpone it for so long. I have had a long day's work, and shall be scarcely myself till I have eaten. And you—doubtless you have dined before this; but you will take a cup with us."

As a matter of fact Callias had not dined, though in the excitement of the day's business he had almost forgotten food. A hasty meal snatched on board the trireme which had brought him to Athens had been his only refreshment since the morning.

"Nay, sir, but I have not dined; unless you call some five or six dried anchovies and a hunk of barley bread, washed down with some very sharp Hymettus, a dinner; and that was rather before noon than after it,"

The meal was simple. It consisted of some fresh anchovies, a piece of roast pork, a hare brought from Euba, for Attica swept as it had been again and again by hostile armies, had almost ceased to supply this favorite food, and a pudding of wheat flour, seasoned with spices. This last had been made by Hermione herself. The rest of the dinner had been cooked by a man who came in daily for the purpose. When the viands had been cleared away, Hippocles proposed the usual toast, "To our Good Fortune," the toast not being drank, but honored by pouring some drops from the goblet. A second libation followed, this time to "Athene the Keeper of the City." The host then pledged his guest in a cup of Chian wine. His daughter followed the rule of the best Grecian families, and drank no wine.

"We can dispense, I think, with these," he said, when the steward was about to put some apples, nuts and olives on the table.

"Just so," replied his guest, "and this excellent cup of Chian will be all the wine that I shall want."

"Now then for business," said Hippocles. "Let us hope that the city will pardon us for postponing it so long. But we must eat. Shall my daughter leave us? For my part, I find her a very Athene for counsel."

"As you will, sir," replied Callias, "I have nothing to say but what all may know, and indeed will know before a day is past."

The young man then proceeded to tell the story with which my readers are already acquainted. The question was briefly this: How was Conon to be told that relief was coming?

"I see," said Hippocles, "that he must be told. He is a brave fellow, and a good general, too, though perhaps a little rash. But he must make terms for himself and his men, unless he has a project of relief. He would not doing his duty to the state if he did not. But if he capitulates before the relief comes—how many ships has he?"

Plan of a large Grecian House, probably more pretentious than the House of Hippocles.

"Forty," said Callias.

"And we can have a hundred, or possibly, a hundred and ten here, by straining every nerve. The Spartans have a hundred and forty, I think."

"A few may have been disabled in the battle; but it would not be safe to reckon on less, for very likely others have been dropping in since then."

"Then Conon's party will turn the scale, and they will be better manned, I take it, than any that we shall be able to send out from here. They must not be lost to us. If they are, we shall do better not to send out the fleet at all, but to stand on our defence."

"Is the Skylark in harbor now?" asked Callias.

My readers must know that the Skylark was Hippocles' fast sailing yacht.

"Yes," was the reply, "she is in harbor and very much at the service of the state."

"Trust me with her," said Callias, "and I will run the blockade."

"I don't think it is possible," answered Hippocles. "I gathered from what you said that the Spartans are inside the harbor. Now you may give the slip to a blockading squadron when it is watching a harbor from the outside. They always keep close to the mouth you see; and a really good craft, smartly handled, that can sail in the eye of the wind, and does not draw much water, has always a good chance. I'll warrant the Skylark to do it, if it is to be done. But with the blockade inside  the harbor, the case is different and I must own that I don't see my way."

"May I speak, father?" said Hermione.

"Since when have you begun to ask leave to use your tongue, my darling?" replied her father with a smile. "You should hear her lecturing me when we are alone," he went on, turning to his guest. "But our counselor is not used to speaking in an assembly."

"Would it be of any use," said the girl, "to disguise the Skylark, by painting her another color and altering the cut of her rigging?"

"A good thought, my darling," replied her father, "and one that I shall certainly make use of. Now let me think; just for the present, things do not seem to piece themselves together."

He rose from the couch on which he had been reclining, and paced up and down the room in profound thought. Fully half an hour had passed when he suddenly stopped short in his walk, and turned to his daughter.

"My darling," he said, "I see that you are getting sleepy."

"Sleepy, father?" cried the girl, who indeed was as wide awake as possible, "sleepy? what can you mean? how could I possibly feel sleepy, when we are talking about such things?"

"Nevertheless your father says it," replied Hippocles, "and fathers are never mistaken." And he laid his hand upon her shoulder.

Without another word Hermione rose from her chair, kissed her father, held out her hand again to Callias, and left the room.

Hippocles waited for a few minutes, and then sat down on the couch by Callias' side.

"You will have guessed," he said "that I wanted the girl away. I wish that I had never let her stay; now she will suspect something; but it cannot be helped. Now, listen. What the girl said about disguising the Skylark set me thinking. That will be useful another time; indeed I shall do it now. But it won't do all that we want. Disguised or not disguised, I don't see how she is to get past the Spartan ships in Mitylene harbor. Now we must try a bolder play. I shall disguise myself, and go."

"You, sir," cried Callias in astonishment. "But think of the danger."

"Well," replied Hippocles, "we cannot expect to get anything really valuable without danger. And I am something of a fatalist. What will be will be. Now listen: I shall disguise myself as a trader of Cos. I am a Dorian by birth, you know, and I can use the broad vowels and the lisps to perfection I flatter myself. I say Cos, because I happen to be particularly well acquainted with its dialect. I shall go to Callicratidas and tell him my story—what the story shall be I have not yet made up my mind, but it is not hard to impose upon a Spartan. However leave all that to me. Go and tell the magistrates that I undertake to tell Conon that he will be relieved. And mind not a word to my daughter. I shall tell her that I am called away on important business. Very likely she will guess something of the truth; but it would only trouble her to tell her more."

"And the magistrates, sir?" asked Callias, "how much are they to know?"

"Nothing more, I think, than what I said, that Hippocles the Alien undertakes to communicate with Conon. I don't doubt the good faith and discretion of our friends; but the fewer there are in the secret of such a plan, the better. Keep a thing in your own mind, I say. If you whisper a secret even unto the earth, when the reed grows up it will repeat it. You will say simply that it is a matter which it is well for the state to conceal. If I succeed, I justify myself; if not—well, I take it, no man's anger here will concern me much. And now farewell! Don't vex yourself about me. All will turn out well; and if not—how can a man die better than in saving Athens. All my affairs are arranged, if I should not return. My patron Melesippus will, of course, be my executor, and I have ventured to join your name with his in the trust? Have I your permission?"

Callias pressed his hand in silence.

"That is well, and now my mind is easy. And now," he went on in a cheerful tone, "farewell again; but before you go, we must have a libation to Hermione who for the next ten days must be my special patron. If I come back safe,I will regild this temple from roof to basement."

The libation was duly poured, and the vow repeated as the drops fell upon the ground.