Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

Running the Blockade

Hippocles, who was a shipbuilder as well as a merchant, put all available hands to work on the alterations which he proposed to make in the Skylark. To disguise her effectually was a more difficult thing than Hermione had imagined when she had suggested this idea. To disguise her beyond all risk of discovery was probably impossible, a landsman might be deceived by different colored paint, and a nautical observer, if he did not give more than a casual glance, by an altered rigging. But the lines of the ship would remain. These Hippocles endeavored to conceal by a false and much broader bow which was ingeniously fitted on to the true hull, and which made her look anything but the fast sailer that she really was. Heavy bulwarks were substituted for the light ones that had been a familiar feature of the Skylark. Altogether she was metamorphosed in a fairly satisfactory way from a smart yacht into a clumsy merchantman. As the venturous owner intended to time his arrival for the night, and to do his errand before daybreak, he hoped that the disguise would save her as long as it should be wanted.

So much energy did the workmen, stimulated by their master's presence and by his liberal promises of remuneration, throw into their work, that by the evening of the seventh day the Skylark was ready for sea in her new dress, disguised beyond recognition, except by very skillful eyes indeed. The dockyard had been strictly closed against all visitors while the work was in progress, and the men had been lodged within its walls, so that no hint of what was going on might leak out. Hippocles had paid a daily visit to his home, and did not conceal from his daughter that lie was busy in carrying out her suggestions. So frank, indeed, was he, and so cheerful in manner, that the girl was fairly thrown off her guard. Not a suspicion crossed her mind, that her father was meditating a desperate enterprise in which the chances were certainly rather against his life than otherwise, nor did she realize the extraordinary haste with which the work was being pressed on, though she was generally aware that, a good deal of expedition was being used. Hence she was taken by surprise, when on the eighth day instead of her father's usual visit, timed so that he might share her noonday meal, a written message was delivered to her, to the effect that her father was suddenly called away from Athens on business of importance, and that he could not be certain of the day of his return. The surprise almost overwhelmed her, chiefly because she felt that this unusual hurry on the part of her father was significant of the perilous nature of the enterprise. It was only her unusual fortitude, backed by the feeling that she herself must not deviate from doing her duty, that enabled her to bear up at all.

Meanwhile Hippocles was on his way to the scene of action. The Skylark crossed the Ęgean without meeting with any misadventure. She was overhauled, indeed, when about half her journey was accomplished by an Athenian cruiser, and her owner had the satisfaction of finding that so far his disguise was successful. The Athenian captain was an acquaintance of his own (indeed there were few prominent people in the city to whom he was not known) and had actually been on board the Skylark more than once; but he did not recognize either Hippocles or his vessel. In fact he was about to carry her off as a prize when Hippocles, still without discovering himself, produced the pass with which he had been provided under the seal of the Athenian authorities. His arrival at Mitylene was happily timed in more ways than one. By a stroke of that good fortune which is proverbially said to help the bold, it so happened that there was a violent north-east wind blowing. This was a wind from which the harbor of Mitylene afforded little or no shelter. In fact, when it was blowing, most sailors preferred to be out on the open sea. Hippocles accordingly found everything in commotion. The blockading ships, which moored as they were across the mouth of the harbor, felt the full force of the wind, were anxious about their moorings, and had little attention to give to any strange ship. The Skylark was in fact hardly noticed in the darkness and confusion, and actually got beyond the line of the blockading galleys, and as far as the admiral's ship, without being challenged. For a few moments he thought of boldly pushing on to the inner part of the harbor, where, as has been said, the remainder of the Athenian fleet was lying hauled up under the walls; but when he was hailed by a voice from a Spartan ship, one of two that lay almost directly in his way, he abandoned the idea. "Anaxilaus, merchant of Cos, to see the admiral, on business of importance," was his reply to the challenge. At the last moment he dropped his anchor. A few minutes afterwards he came on board the admiral's galley and reported himself to that officer.

It would be unjust to Callicratidas—for this was the admiral's name—to describe him as a model Spartan. He was rather a model Greek. The Spartans had great virtues which however, it is curious to observe, seldom survived transplantation from their native soil. They were frugal, temperate, and just; but they were narrow in their habits of thought and their conceptions of duty. A good soldier whose efficiency was not diminished by any vice was their ideal man: They could not enter into any large and liberal views of life. And their views of statesmanship whether as regarded their own city or the whole race in general were as narrow as were their notions of private virtue. They sometimes showed a great amount of diplomatic skill, a strange contrast with the bluntness which was their traditional characteristic, but of wide and general views they seem to have been incapable. Yet Callicratidas seems to have been an exception. We know comparatively little about him. He emerges from absolute obscurity at the beginning of the year with which my story opens, and it is only for a few months that he plays a conspicuous part in history, but from now up to the hour when we see him for the last time, all his words and acts are marked with a rare nobility.

It was not difficult for Hippocles to invent a story which should account for his presence at Mitylene. The domestic polities of almost every Greek state were mixed up with the great struggle that was going on between Athens and Sparta. Everywhere the democratic party looked to Athens as its champion, the aristocratic to Sparta. This was especially true of the states which were called the allies but were really the subjects or tributaries of Athens. A turn of the political wheels that brought the aristocrats to the top was commonly followed by a revolt from the sovereign state; when, as was usually the case, they remained underneath, they busied themselves in plotting for a change, and their first step was to open communications with the Spartan general or admiral in command.

In Cos the popular or pro-Athenian party was in the ascendant, and their opponents were weak. The fact was that the Spartans were not in good repute there. Six years before their admiral Astyochus had plundered the island laying hands impartially on the property of friends and of foes. Still there was a party which remained faithful to Sparta, and Hippocles preferred to speak as their representative. His wide-spread connections as a merchant—and Cos had a large trade with its famous vintages and equally famous woven stuffs—gave him a knowledge of details and persons that would have deceived a far more acute and suspicious person than Callicratidas.

The merchant began the conversation by offering the admiral a present of wine, and one of those almost transparent robes of silk that were a specialty of the island.

"I will not be so churlish as to refuse what you have the good will to offer me," said Callicratidas, "but you must understand that I do not accept these things for myself. I accept no personal gifts; it is a dangerous practice, and has given rise to much scandal. I shall send them to Sparta, and the magistrates will dispose of them as they think fit. "What is this?" he went on, taking up the robe and holding it between his eyes and the lamp. "'What do you use it for? for straining the wine?"

Hippocles explained that it was a material for garments.

"Garments!" exclaimed the Spartan, "why, we might as well wear a spider's web. It is not clothing at all. It neither warms nor covers. Is it possible that there are people so foolish as to spend their money on it? It is costly, I suppose?"

"As you ask me," replied Hippocles, "I may say that it costs about two minas a yard."

"Two minas a yard!" cried Callicratidas, whose Spartan frugality was scandalized at such a price. "Why," he added after a short calculation, "it is very nearly a seaman's pay for a year, are there many who buy such costly stuff?"

"A dress of this material is the top of the fashion for ladies in Athens and Corinth."

"What?" said the Spartan, "do women wear such things? It is incredible. I have always thought that things had changed for the worse at home, but we have not got so far as that. And now for your business."

Hippocles explained that there was a dissatisfied party in Cos which was very anxious to get rid of Athenian rule. "We are not strong enough," he went on, "to do it of ourselves, but send on a force and we will open the gates to you. Cos is a strong place now, since the Athenians fortified it, and, I should think, quite worth having."

"And if we put you in power," said the admiral, "you would begin, I suppose, by putting all your opponents to death."

Callicratidas was quite a different person from what Hippocles, with his former experience of Spartans in command, had expected to find. His disinterestedness, simplicity and directness were embarrassing, and made him not a little ashamed of the part that he was playing. He would have dearly liked to speak out of his own heart to a man who was transparently honest and well-meaning, but in his position it was impossible.

"We have, as you may suppose, sir," he said in answer to this last suggestion, "a great many injuries to avenge, but we should not wish to do anything that does not with your approval."

"The whole thing does not meet with my approval," said, the Spartan, "I hate these perpetual plots; I hate to see every city divided against itself, and see the big persons in Greece hounding them on to bloody deeds, and making our own gain out of them. I wish to all the gods that I could do something to bring this wretched war to an end. Why should not Athens and Sparta be friends as they were in the old days? Surely that would be better than our going on flying at each other's throats as we have been doing for now nearly twenty years past, while the Persian stands by, and laughs to see us play his game. Where should we be—you seem an honest man, by your face, though I cannot say that I particularly like the errand on which you have come—where should we be, I ask, if we had shown this accursed folly twenty-odd years ago, when Xerxes brought up all Asia against us? As it was we stood shoulder to shoulder, and Greece was saved. And now we have to go cap in hand, and beg of the very Persians who are only biding their time to make slaves of us. I tell you, sir, I feel hot with shame at the thought of what I have had myself to put up with in this way. When I came here I found the pay-chest empty; I don't want to complain of anybody, so I won't say how this came about; but that was the fact, it was empty; the men had had no wages for some time, and they would very soon have had no food. I asked my officers for advice. "'You must go to Cyrus,' they said, 'Cyrus is pay-master.' It was a bitter draught to swallow, but I managed to get it down. I went to his palace at Sardis. 'Tell your master,' I said to the slave who came to the door, a gorgeous creature whose dress I am sure I could not afford to buy, 'tell your master that Callicratidas, admiral of the Spartan fleet, is here, and wishes to speak with him.' The fellow left me standing outside, and went to deliver his message. After I had waited till my patience was almost exhausted, the man came back, and said 'Cyrus is not at leisure to see you. He is drinking.' Well, I put up with that. 'Very good,' I said, 'I will wait till he has done drinking.' I thought that I would go earlier the next day, though even then it was scarcely an hour after noon. So I went at a time when I thought that he could not possibly have taken to his cups, and asked again to see him. This time they had not the grace even to make an excuse. 'Cyrus is not at leisure to see you,' was the answer, and nothing more. That was more than I could stand, and I went away. I vowed that day, and believe me it was not only because I had myself been insulted, that if I lived to go home, I would do my very best to bring Sparta and Athens together again. And now, sir, as to your business. I will send home a report of what you say. If the authorities direct me to take any action in the matter, I shall do my best to take it with effect, but I tell you frankly that this idea does not commend itself to me, and let me give you a bit of advice: do your best to make peace in your city, as I shall do my best to make peace in Greece. Depend upon it, that if we don't, we shall have some one coming down upon us from outside. It may be the Persian, though he does not seem to me to have improved as a soldier; it may be the Macedonian, who is a sturdy fellow, and helps us already to fight our battles. Whoever it is he will find us helpless with an endless quarrel and will make short work with us. And now good night."

Hippocles left the Spartan admiral full of admiration for his manly and patriotic temper, and not at all pleased that he had been obliged to play a false part with a man so transparently honest.

About an hour after midnight the harbor was alarmed by the cry that the ship from Cos had parted from her moorings. Hippocles had taken advantage of a temporary increase in the force of the wind to cut his cables, and to drift toward the Athenian part of the harbor. Nobody was able to answer the cry for help, even if it had not been purposely raised too late. The Skylark had run the blockade, and Conon knew that he was to be relieved.