Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

The Voyage of the Skylark

It was not long before Callias recovered his consciousness; but he was so worn out by excitement and fatigue, coming as they did after the exhausting emotions through which he had passed since the death of the generals, that he found it impossible to rouse himself to any exertion. The yacht, which as my readers will have guessed was that excellent sea-boat the Skylark, had never been in any danger, though she had had to be very skillfully handled while she was engaged in picking up the swimmers. This task accomplished, her head was put northward, and before very long she had gained the shelter of Euba. Callias guessed as much when he found that she ceased to roll, and gladly resigned himself to the slumber against which he had hitherto done his best to struggle. He slept late into the morning; indeed it wanted only an hour of noon when at last he opened his eyes. The first object that they fell upon was the figure of Hippocles, who was sitting by the side of his berth.

"Then it was not a dream," said the young man. "I thought I saw your daughter on board last night, but could not believe my eyes."

"Yes, she is on board," said Hippocles, with a slight smile playing about the corners of his mouth.

"But tell me what it all means. I was seized in the streets of Athens, pinioned, blindfolded, and gagged. I was carried off I know not where, thrown into a boat, as nearly as possible drowned, and now, when I come to myself, I see you. Surely I have a right to ask what it means."

"My dear Callias," replied Hippocles, "I have always tried to be your friend, as it was my privilege to be your father's before you. You will allow so much?"

"Certainly," said the young man. "I shall never forget how much I owe you."

"Well, then, trust me for an hour. I will not ask you to do anything more. If you are not fully satisfied then, I will make you any redress that you may demand. I know that you have a right to ask for it. I know," he added with an air of proud humility that sat very well upon him, "that Hippocles the Alien is asking a great favor when he makes such a request of Callias the Eupatrid, but believe me I do not ask it without a reason."

The young Athenian could do nothing else than consent to a request so reasonable. Some irritation he felt, for there was no doubt in his mind that Hippocles had had something to do with the violence to which he had been subjected. The intention, however, had been manifestly friendly, and there might be something to tell which would change annoyance into gratitude.

A sailor now brought him some refreshment, and when this had been disposed of, another furnished him with some clothing. His own, it will be remembered, he had thrown away, when preparing to swim for his life. His toilet completed, he came up on deck and found Hippocles and his daughter seated near the stern. Both rose to greet him. He could not fail to observe that Hermione was pale and agitated. The frank friendliness of her old manner, which, blended as it had been with a perfect maidenly modesty, had been inexpressibly charming, had disappeared. She was now timid and hesitating. She could not lift her eyes when she acknowledged his greeting. He could even see that she trembled.

The young man stood astonished and perplexed. What was this strange reserve of which he had never before seen a trace? Was there anything in himself that had caused it?' Had he—so he asked himself, being a modest young fellow and ready to lay the blame on his own shoulders—had he given any offence ?

"Tell him the story, father," she said, after an anxious, pause during which her agitation manifestly increased, "tell him the story. I feel that I cannot speak."

"My little girl has a confession to make. In a word, it is her doing that you are here to-day."

"Her doing that I am here to-day," echoed Callias, his astonishment giving a certain harshness to his voice.

The girl burst into tears. Callias stepped forward, and would have caught her hand. She drew back.

"Tell him, father, tell him all," she whispered again in an agitated voice.

"Well then," said her father, "if I must confess your misdeeds, I will speak. You know," he went on addressing himself to the young Athenian, "you know how we vainly sought to persuade you to leave Athens. I had a better and stronger reason for speaking as I did than I could tell you. From private information, the source of which I could not divulge, if you had asked it, as you probably would have done, I had found out that you were in the most serious danger. Not only, were you to be arrested—so much you know—but having been arrested, you were to be put out of the way. You talked of answering for yourself before the assembly, even of accusing your enemies and the men who murdered your friends. You never would have had the chance. There are diseases strangely sudden and fatal to which prisoners are liable, and there was only too much reason to fear that you would be attacked by one of them. There are other poisons, you know, besides the hemlock, which the state administers to the condemned, and an adverse verdict is not always wanted before they are given. Well; we were at our wits' end. You were obstinate—pardon me for using the word—and I would not tell you the whole truth. Even if I had, it was doubtful, in the temper of mind you were in, whether you would have believed me. Then Hermione here came to the rescue. 'We must save him,' she cried, 'against his will.' 'How can we do that?' I asked; and I assure you that I had not the least idea of what she meant. 'You must contrive to carry him off to some safe place.' I was astonished. 'What!' I said, 'a free citizen of Athens.' 'What will that help him, with the men who are plotting to take his life?' she answered. Then she told me her plan. I need not describe it to you. It was carried out exactly. Now can you forgive her?"

"Oh! lady "—the young man began.

"Stop a moment," cried Hippocles. "I have something more to say, before you pronounce your judgment. You must take into account that if she has erred, she has already suffered."

"Oh! father," interrupted the girl, it is enough; say nothing more. I am ready to bear the blame."

And she sank back into her seat and covered her face with her mantle.

Hippocles went on: "I say she has suffered. We did not reckon on that unlucky wind. It was bad enough to have carried you off against your will; but when it seemed that we might drown you as well, that looked serious. I was not much afraid, myself. I felt pretty sure that we should be able to pick you up. But still there was a chance of something going wrong. And she, of course, felt responsible for it all. It was true that it was the only way of saving you—that, I swear by Zeus and Athene, and all the gods above and below, is the simple, literal fact—but still, I must own, it was a trying moment, and if anything had happened—Then you were the last to be picked up, and just at the last moment, something went wrong. The clumsy fellow at the helm—I ought to have been there myself, but I wanted to help in getting you on board—the clumsy fellow at the helm, I say, gave us a wrong turn. We should have had a world of trouble in bringing the Skylark about again. Hermione saw it, sprang to the tiller, and put things right—I have always taught her how to steer. So you really owe her something for that. I don't exactly say that she saved your life, but you might have been in the water a little longer than you liked. Well, it was trying to the poor girl. I can imagine how she felt; but she bore up till we got you on board. Then she fainted; for the very first time in her life, I give you my word, for she is not given to that sort of thing. Now, say, can you forgive her and us? We really did it for the best, and thanks to Poseidon, it has ended pretty well, so far, after all."

"This is no case for forgiveness," cried the young Athenian earnestly; "it is a case of gratitude which I shall never exhaust as long as I live. I am a headstrong young fool, a silly child, in fact, and you were quite right in dealing with me as grown people must deal with a child, help it and do it good against its will. Forgive me, lady," he went on, and kneeling before her chair, he took one of her hands in his own, and carried it to his lips.

So far all was well. A bold achievement had ended happily, but the situation was a little strained, to use a common phrase, and Callias, like the well bred gentleman that he was, felt that it would be a relief to the girl if it was brought to an end. Happily, too, at that moment the ludicrous side of the affair struck him, and it was without any affectation that he sprang to his feet and burst into a hearty laugh.

"And now that you have captured me," he said, "what is your pleasure? What are you going to do with me?"

"You shall go where you please," said Hippocles. "Even if you want to return to Athens I will not hinder you. But my plan is this, subject of course, to your consent. Come with me as far as Thasus. I have business there, to look after my vineyard, or rather the vintage. My people, I find, are sadly apt to blunder about it. This will take me no little time, and while I am engaged there, the Skylark shall take you on to Alcibiades' castle in Thrace. I was going to say that I would commend you to him. But that will not be necessary. He is, you know, a distant kinsman, and is hospitality itself. In my judgment he has had hard usage. It would have been better for Athens, if she had trusted him more. But all that is past. Meanwhile I think that his castle is the safest place for you just now. You and he are very much in the same case, I fancy. Athens has not treated either of you fairly and yet you wish well to her."

"Your plan seems a good one," replied Callias, "let me think it over for a few hours. Anyhow you shall have my company as far as Thasus, if you will accept it."

Meanwhile the Skylark was making headway gaily through the well-sheltered waters that lie between Euba and the mainland of Greece. When the shelter ceased the wind had fallen, shifting at the same time to the south-west. Nearly two hundred miles had yet to be traversed before Thasus could be sighted, and this was accomplished without accident or delay. The time of year was later than a Greek seaman commonly chose for a voyage of any duration, for it was the latter end of October, and the ninth of November was the extreme limit of the sailing season. Hippocles, however, was more venturesome in this way than most of his contemporaries, and his confidence was rewarded by a most pleasant and prosperous voyage. So blue were the cloudless skies, so deep the answering color of the seas, that it was only when the travellers saw the sunset tints on the forest-clad ridge of Thasus—"the ass's backbone laden with wood," as it was called—that they remembered that summer had long since given place to autumn.

Two days were spent in a visit to the vineyard which Hippocles had come to inspect, and then Callias, who had soon concluded to follow his friend's advice, resumed his voyage. The course of the Skylark was now south-easterly. The voyage had all the interest of novelty for him, for he had never before visited these waters. When the Skylark started at early dawn there was a mist which contracted the horizon. As this cleared away under the increasing power of the sun the striking peak of Samothrace became visible in the distance. All day its bold outlines became more and more clearly defined. On the following morning—for the good ship pursued her course all night—it had been left behind, but another height, not less striking in appearance, and even more interesting in its associations, the snow-capped Ida, at whose feet lay the world-famed Trojan plains, took its place. As evening fell the Skylark was brought to land at the western end of the Hellespont, the rapid current of which could be better encountered by the rowers when they had been refreshed by a night's rest. Progress was now somewhat slow; and it was on the afternoon of the fourth day after the start from Thasus that the cliffs of Bisanthe and the northern shore of the Propontis came in sight. This was our hero's destination, for it was here that Alcibiades, after quitting Athens in the previous year, had fixed his abode.