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

Work and Play

The festival was the one topic of conversation among the boys of Sparta during the days that followed. Naturally, they were most interested in the Pyrrhic war dance, and the chariot races. The boys of Orestes' company were eagerly discussing the news that Chartas had brought them.

"Did you say that we were to be taught the Pyrrhic dance?" asked Gelon, with shining eyes, as he pushed forward among the boys.

"Yes," answered Chartas, "so Orestes told me at the festival."

"I wonder when we are to begin," said Theognis, eagerly.

"Soon, I think," Chartas replied.

"I wish it were to-day!" exclaimed Theron.

"Well, it will not be to-day," said the hearty voice of Orestes, who had come upon the group unnoticed, "so be off to your tasks. Chartas, Brasidas, Theognis, and Gelon are to bring wood for the fires. The rest of you," he added, with a wave of his hand, "are to gather vegetables and greens for the tables."

The boys scattered at once: the four older boys to the woods; while the younger boys, led by Theron, slipped away to the country outside Sparta. Stealthily, and unseen, they crept here and there into gardens and fields, and gathered such supplies of vegetables as they could carry away unseen.

"My!" sputtered Ceos, a boy of lively tongue, as he overtook Theron later on. "I thought I was going to lose my skin that time. I came near getting caught, for the old slave who was after me was very light of foot. Why do they care so much," he added, "when they know that the State makes us steal for the tables?"

"Because they have worked to raise the stuff, I suppose," said Theron laughingly.

"Yes," answered Ceos, "but it is the State that provides them the land to raise it on. They do not own the land."

"That is so," replied Theron, "and I suppose that is what gives the State the right to send us out foraging upon their lands. All property really belongs to the State."

"Yes," replied Ceos, "that is the way my father explained it to me. He says, too, that soldiers, when marching or in camp, have to secure their food by foraging, or starve. It is the duty of the State to train us for soldiers."

"The girls are never sent to forage," said Theron.

"They could do it!" responded Ceos.

"Yes, they are as quick as we are," assented Theron, "but they do not go to war."

Suddenly the two boys stopped. Placing upon the ground their gifts for the tables, they stood erect, their arms folded across their breasts, and their eyes cast down.

An old man with white hair and long white beard passed them. He was one of the senators; and every citizen of Sparta paid to the senators a reverence which even their Kings might envy.

After their long tramp of the morning, the boys were put through their exercises and drills in the gymnasium, and later they were given a short time in which to amuse themselves as they pleased.

"Let us have a play," called out Theognis.

"A play! a play!" the other boys responded, and away they raced to the open space just below the city.

"'What shall it be?" asked Gelon, as they stopped for breath.

"The fruit stealers," suggested Theron.

"That is good; that is good!" cried the others,

"Who will take the parts?" asked Brasidas. "Who will be thief?"

None of the boys responded.

"Well, I will be then," said Brasidas. "Now, who will be the owner of the fruit?"

"I will take that," said Ceos laughingly. "I saw, this morning, a fine example of the way that should be played."

"Did you get caught?" cried Gelon.

"No," answered Ceos, "but I can imagine the flogging. I have seen it acted at other times," he added with a grim smile, at which all the boys laughed.

After a few other details had been arranged, the play began.

Ceos pretended to be busily at work among his fruit-trees. Brasidas came running from a distance; then he stopped, and began slowly and cautiously to creep up to the trees. Finally he pretended to begin picking the fruit. At first he watched the owner of the trees, as he worked; then, becoming eager to gather the fruit, he became less watchful.

During the progress of the play, the other boys looked on, occasionally imitating the actions of the two boys taking part, by a light, rhythmic motion that was almost a dance.

Suddenly Ceos seemed to catch sight of the thief. Quickly but quietly he ran toward Brasidas, and had almost reached him when Brasidas looked up.

Grasping, apparently, his fruit, Brasidas darted away, Ceos but a few feet behind.

"Brasidas' longer legs will save him!" shouted Chartas.

"He will win the race!" exclaimed Theognis.

"Ceos is smaller," said Theron, "but he is quick. See, he is holding his own!"

"Good!" shouted the boys, clapping their hands. "Ceos is plucky."

But Ceos' legs were shorter, and the distance between the two began to increase, when suddenly Brasidas, in glancing back at his pursuer, struck his foot upon a projecting rock. His arms, in which he had pretended to be holding his fruit, flew wide, and he fell headlong upon the ground.

In an instant Ceos was upon him, and with his hard little Spartan fists he began beating Brasidas with a right good will. Then, jumping to his feet, he pretended to pick up the scattered fruit.

The boys shouted and cheered. The play was over.

"That was well done," said Gelon.

"You are a good runner, Ceos, said Brasidas heartily, as they made their way back to the city. "Why don't you train for the footrace at the games?"

"I am afraid you would compete," replied Ceos, "and there are no stones on the course at Olympia."