Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

For Sparta's Honor

Once more the truce-bearers of Olympia had come to Sparta with their message of peace.

"Let us pray the gods that we may be able to keep the truce!" exclaimed Orestes.

"But the games are in honor of the gods," said Theognis. "We cannot hope for victory in war, if we fail to honor the gods."

"'Tis true enough!" replied Orestes thoughtfully.

"You are going to the games?" questioned Chartas of Theognis. "You must go," he added, "and enter the musical contest with your song."

"Yes," answered Theognis, "I am going, and—" he flushed as he added, "I hope to sing."

"Many who were of our old company are going," said Gelon. "You are of course," he added. "You have trained for the foot-race."

"Yes, I have trained," replied Chartas, but he said no more.

"Gorgo is sending her chariot and horses!" exclaimed Dorus. "I hope they will win."

It was later in the day when Chartas again met some of his friends, and again the subject of the Olympic games was mentioned. The boys had not understood his apparent indifference of the morning, for he had taken his many months of training for the foot-race with such enthusiasm and perseverance that they all had predicted that he would win. And now, when he said, in answer to a question from Gelon, "I shall not compete," they were too greatly surprised even to speak.

Chartas looked into their faces. He had hoped to be able to show them what Orestes had shown him, of the danger that threatened Greece: of the need of standing ready for instant action. The battle of Marathon, too, had opened his eyes to the size and character of the Persian army, and he knew that the defeat of the Persians there would by no means end the invasion; and of this, too, he had hoped to convince them.

But what Chartas saw when he looked into the faces of his friends held him speechless. It was a dawning look of distrust; even of scorn.

Could it be that these friends, with whom he had lived day by day, through all the years of his boyhood and youth, could believe for a moment that he was a coward? So the faces told him!

With a suffocating, choking sense of resentment, anger, hurt, he turned and strode away. He could not speak, nor would he, now.

"I have no heart for the games this year," said Orestes, later, when he and Chartas were alone together. "If it were not that you are to compete, I should not go."

"But I shall not compete," said Chartas quietly. "I have already withdrawn." He turned his face, that Orestes might not see its expression, for his hurt was still fresh and keen.

"What! Not compete? And you have trained for the foot-race, and are almost sure to win!" cried Orestes.

"I had thought to go," said Chartas, "but even though it is the time of the truce, something tells me that Sparta will have need of men at home."

It was some moments before Orestes answered. Then he laid his arm across Chartas' shoulders with the old gesture, as he said, "It must have been a hard struggle to give it up. Aye, it took courage, more than most of your age could summon! But, Chartas, you are right. What do the Persian hordes care for the sacred games of Greece?

"But, listen!" he added. "The heralds are summoning the people. Let us see what it means."

Together they hurried to the place of assembly.

As soon as the people had gathered, one of the aged senators stood forth. There was a hush over all as he began to speak.

"Men of Sparta," he said, "we are soon to send competitors to the Olympic games, in honor of the gods. Can the gods accept the offerings of those who are dishonored?"

"No!" shouted the people. "No!"

"But we are dishonored!" exclaimed the senator, his voice ringing as he flung out the words. "In the heat of passion we have slain two innocent men."

There was a murmur at this, partly of approval, partly of disapproval. But he went on.

"The men came as ambassadors. They bore a message from their king. Had we acted with honor, we would have sent them back—empty-handed, to be sure—but we would have sent them back to their king.

"But Sparta has a conscience," he continued, "and Sparta's conscience is at length aroused. We must wipe out the stain upon our honor!"

"Yes, yes!" cried many voices among the throng, while others shouted, "How can we do it?"

"There is but one way," said the aged man. He was silent as his gaze swept over the up-turned faces of the multitude. "But one way!" he repeated slowly. Then, after an impressive pause, he added: "We must send two men to Darius, to fare at his hands as his ambassadors did at ours!"

There was a breathless silence.

Then there was a movement among the crowd, and at almost the same instant four Spartans stood before the senator, and as one man they said: "I will go. For Sparta's honor, I will go."

The senator looked at the men. "Sperthias, Bulis, Orestes, Chartas!" he cried. "But two are needed. The lot shall be cast."

Again Orestes' arm rested upon Chartas' shoulder, as he whispered, "Pray the gods that we may go together!"

But it was not to be. The lot was cast, and the names of Sperthias and Bulls were called.

There was no shout. A feeling of solemnity fell upon the people, as they realized the price that must be paid for their rash and dishonorable act.

Quietly they dispersed, talking in low undertones, and with grave faces.

Chartas felt a hand placed upon his arm. Turning, he faced his father, and beside Danaus were his mother and Melissa.

Melissa caught his hand, and held it close, while his mother threw her arms about him—but said no word.

"My son," said Danaus simply, "you have made us both proud and happy."

Then a group of young men sought out Orestes and Chartas. Turning toward the group, the friends stood in the attitude so familiar to them all.

Dorus was the first to speak.

"Chartas," he said, "yesterday, after you left us, I called you a coward, because you withdrew from the foot-race. I thought you feared the trial. Now I hate myself for having had such a thought. I should have known you better!"

"We should all have known you better," cried Theron and Gelon.

"And I!" exclaimed Brasidas, pressing forward. "After all the years we have been together, even I wondered if you lacked courage." His face flushed. "Courage!" he added, with intense self-scorn, "and you would have died for Sparta's honor!"