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

A Pledge and a Chase

"The election occurs to-day," said Orestes, as he and Chartas came back together from their morning bath in the Eurotas.

"I knew of the death of the senator," replied Chartas. "Who is likely to be elected in his place?"

"Two men have offered themselves," answered Orestes. "One is Laertes; the other Diodorus. Both are men of blameless lives and upright character. They belong to distinguished families, and have spent their sixty years of life in the service of Sparta. It seems to me that it will be a close contest between them."

"But you will vote," said Chartas. "Who is your choice?"

"I shall vote for Laertes," said Orestes decisively.

"And what is your reason?" asked Chartas.

"The records of the two men are equally honorable," responded Orestes, "but since the laws of Sparta are unwritten, and must be delivered by the senators, it seems to me that the man of good judgment, who is thoughtful, and of an open mind, is the man to choose. I believe Laertes to be such a man. He is not easily swayed by passion; he has wonderful self-control."

Orestes' words showed that he had weighed the matter carefully and well, and Chartas was impressed by the fact.

"Chartas," he added earnestly, throwing his arm across the boy's shoulder with the familiar gesture which always awakened a deeper love and loyalty upon Chartas' part, "let us pledge ourselves to a worthy purpose: let us keep our lives so open and honorable that—if it is not the will of the gods that we die in battle—we may be deserving of a place among her most honored men."

Chartas was deeply touched. He knew that among all the captains of the city, none was more honored by the older men, nor more admired by the boys of the city, than Orestes. And he had been both proud and happy that he had been chosen as Orestes' special friend. Now he realized, more fully than ever, what this friendship meant to him.

"He is more than brave," he thought. "He is honored even now, young as he is, because he is morally brave. If he lives, he will some day be a senator." He looked up into Orestes' face, and, as he met the eyes of his captain, his own shone with an answering purpose. He slipped his hand into that of his friend, and, with a new resolve, walked with him hack to their barracks.

Later in the day, as the boys began climbing one of the mountain paths outside the city, they heard a great shout, as though a multitude of men were calling out.

They stopped.

"It is the Assembly voting," said Chartas. "I wonder who will be elected."

"How they shout!" exclaimed Brasidas. "I always want to shout, too, when I hear the men. But come, we were sent out to hunt, and we must not go back empty-handed."

"Shall we scatter, or hunt together?" asked Dorus, but before any one could reply there was a quick exclamation from Theron.

The boys looked. At a little distance they saw a young fox, about half grown, trotting along through a bit of forest.

Without a word, the boys bounded forward. At the same moment, the fox discovered the boys. The chase was an exciting one. The fox, used to the rocks and ledges, as well as to the forest, ran surely and swiftly. But the hardy, barefoot boys were scarcely less sure of foot, and they, too, were good runners.

Perhaps, in a more equal chase, the fox might have outstripped them, but with more than a dozen boys in full pursuit, it is no wonder that it became confused, turned in its course, and, in so doing, ran across the path of Chartas.

Chartas sprang forward, dropped, and buried his two hands deep in the long fur of the animal.

The struggle that followed was fierce and exciting. The boys stood about and watched, ready to help if Chartas asked it. But they understood too well the Spartan code of honor to interfere unasked.

The fighters were well matched for strength, the boy and the fox. Chartas had only his bare hands for weapons, while the fox fought with teeth and claws. But Chartas' hands were strong, his muscles hard, and back of them were a fierce courage and a wonderful power of endurance.

The fox bit at his bare arms, and his legs. It scratched and tore his flesh, but slowly Chartas' hands were working forward, while his tense muscles held the frantic animal with an unyielding hold. At last his hands reached the throat. With all the strength of his hardened muscles, Chartas tightened his grip. The fox gave one spasmodic twist, and its struggle was ended.

Then the boys shouted! Again and again the forest rang with their cries of "Chartas! Chartas!" and of "Victor! Victor!"

When their first excitement had subsided they pressed about him, praising him, and exclaiming over his deed.

"Good!" cried Gelon. "That was far better than the story we are told by our masters, of the brave boy who let the fox destroy him. I have always wondered why he did not choke the little beast when he had it so well hidden!"

Amid the laughter that followed Gelon's remark, Brasidas took Chartas' hand. "Come," he said, "let me wash your wounds. A clean wound is soon healed, you know."

So, laughing, praising and shouting, the boys led Chartas to a clear stream that flowed down the mountain, and there, in the cold water, washed the scratched and torn flesh of the sturdy young Spartan.

It was time for the evening meal when Chartas, bearing his trophy upon his back, led the group of boys into their quarters.

Some of the older men half rose to their feet when they saw him, and the face of Danaus lighted with pleasure, for Chartas' burden was all the explanation they needed for his torn and still bleeding flesh. Some of the men openly praised him, and all showed their approval.

He cast the body of the fox upon the floor and, looking up, met the eyes of Orestes. There was no need of words.

"Have your wounds been cleansed?" asked Orestes; and there was a note of personal concern in his voice.

"Yes," replied Chartas. "Brasidas washed them in the stream."

"That is good," said Orestes; and then he added earnestly, "You have borne yourself well!"