Spartan Twins - Lucy F. Perkins

Company at the Farm

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

One lovely spring morning long years ago in Hellas, Lydia, wife of Melas the Spartan, sat upon a stool in the court of her house, with her wool-basket beside her, spinning. She was a tall, strong-looking young woman with golden hair and blue eyes, and as she twirled her distaff and twisted the white wool between her fingers she sang a little song to herself that sounded like the humming of bees in a garden.

The little court of the house where she sat was open to the sky, and the afternoon sun came pouring over the wall which surrounded it, and made a brilliant patch of light upon the earthen floor. The little stones which were embedded in the earth to form a sort of pavement glistened in the sun and seemed to play at hide and seek with the moving shadow of Lydia's distaff as she spun. On the thatch which covered the arcade around three sides of the court pigeons crooned and preened their feathers, and from a room in the second story of the house, which opened upon a little gallery enclosing the fourth side of the court, came the clack clack of a loom.

As she spun, the shadow of Lydia's distaff grew longer and longer across the floor until at last the sunlight disappeared behind the wall, leaving the whole court in gray shadow.

Under the gallery a large room opened into the court. The embers of a fire glowed dully upon a stone hearth in the center of this room, and beyond, through an open door, fowls could be seen wandering about the farm-yard. Suddenly the quiet of the late afternoon was broken by a medley of sounds. There were the bleating of sheep, and the tinkle of their bells, the lowing of cattle and the barking of a dog, the soft patter of bare feet and the voices of children.

Then there was a sudden squawking among the hens in the farm-yard, and through the back door, past the glowing hearth and into the court, rushed two children, followed by a huge shepherd dog. The children were blue-eyed and golden-haired, like their Mother, and looked so big and strong that they might easily have passed for twelve years of age, though they really were but ten. They were so exactly alike that their Mother herself could hardly tell which was Dion and which was Daphne, and, as for their Father, he didn't even try. He simply said whichever name came first to his lips, feeling quite sure that the children would always be able to tell themselves apart, at any rate. Daphne, to be sure, wore her chiton a little longer than Dion wore his, but when they were running or playing games she often pulled it up shorter through her girdle, so even that was not a sure sign.

Lydia looked from one of them to the other as the children came bounding into the court, with Argos, the dog, barking and leaping about them, and smiled with pride.

"Where have you been, you wild creatures?" she said to the twins, "I haven't seen you since noon," and "Down, Argos, down," she cried to the dog, who had put his great paws in her lap and was trying to kiss her on the nose.

"We've been down in the field by the spring with Father," Dion shouted, "and Father is bringing a man home to supper!"

"Company!" gasped Lydia, throwing up her hands. "Whoever can it be at this time of the day and in such an out of the way place as this? And nothing but black broth ready for supper! I might have had a roast fowl at least if only I had known. Where are they now?"

"They are coming down the road," said Dion. "They stopped to see the sheep and cattle driven into the farm-yard. They'll be here soon."

Lydia thrust her distaff into the wool-basket by her side and rose hastily from her stool. "There's no time to lose," she said. "The Stranger will not wish to linger here if he expects to reach Ambelaca to-night. It is a good two miles to the village, and he'll not find a boat crossing to the mainland after dark. I am sure of that, unlessperhaps he has one waiting for him there."

As she spoke, Lydia drew her skirt shorter through her girdle and started for the hearth-fire in the room beyond. "Shoo," she cried to the hens, which had followed the children into the house and were searching hopefully for something to eat among the ashes, "you'll burn your toes as like as not! Begone, unless you want to be put at once into the pot! Go for them, Argos! Dion, you feed them. They'll be under foot until they've had their supper, and it's time they were on the roost this minute! Daphne, your face is dirty; go wash it, while I get the fire started and see if I can't find something to eat more fitting to set before a guest."

While the children ran to carry out their Mother's orders, Lydia herself seized the bellows and blew upon the embers of the fire. "By all the Gods!" she cried, "there's not a stick of wood in the house." She dropped the bellows and ran into the court. From the room above still came the clack clack of the loom. Lydia looked up at the gallery of the second story and clapped her hands.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"Chloe, Chloe," she called. The clacking suddenly stopped, and a young girl with black hair and eyes and red cheeks came out of the upper room and leaned over the balcony rail.

"Did you want me?" she asked.

"Indeed I want you!" answered her mistress. "Company is coming to supper and there is nothing in the house fit to set before him! Hurry and bring some wood. There's not even a fire!"

There was a sound of hasty footsteps on the stair, and Chloe disappeared into the farm-yard. In a moment she was back again with a basket of wood, which she placed beside the hearth. Lydia knelt on the floor and laid the wood upon the coals. Then she blew upon them energetically with the bellows. Chloe knelt beside her and blew too, but not with bellows. The ashes flew in every direction.

"Mercy!" cried Lydia, "you've a breath like the blasts of winter! You will blow the sparks clear across the court and set fire to the thatch if you keep on! Come! Get out the oven and start a charcoal fire! We can bake barley-cakes, at least, and there are sausages in the store-room. See if there is fresh water in the water-jar."

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"There isn't a drop, I know," said Daphne. "I took the last to wash my face."

"Was there ever anything like it?" cried Lydia. "Fresh water first of all! Run at once to the spring, Chloe. I'll get the oven myself. Daphne, you take the small water-jar and go with Chloe."

As Chloe and Daphne, with their water-jars on their shoulders, started out of the back door for the spring, the door at the front of the court opened, and Melas entered with a tall, bearded man wearing a long cloak.

The moment she heard the door move on its hinges, Lydia stood up straight and tall beside her hearth-fire, and, at a sign from her husband, came forward to greet the Stranger.

"You are welcome," she said, "to such entertainment as our plain house affords. I could wish it were better for your sake."

"I shall be honored by your hospitality," said the Stranger politely, "and what is good enough for a farmer is surely good enough for a philosopher, if I may call myself one."

"Though you are a philosopher, you are also, no doubt, an Athenian," replied Lydia, "and it is known to all the world that the feast of the Spartan is but common fare for those who live delicately as the Athenians do."

"I bring an appetite that would make a feast of bread alone," answered the Stranger.

Melas, a tall brown-faced man with a brown beard, now spoke for the first time.

"There is no haste, wife," he said. "The Stranger will spend the night under our roof. It is not yet late. While you get supper, we will rest beneath the olive trees and watch the sun go down behind the hills."

"Until I can better serve you, then," Lydia replied; and the two men went out again through the open door, and sat down upon a wooden bench which commanded a view of the little valley and the hills beyond.

Meanwhile, within doors, Lydia dropped the stately dignity of her company manners and became once more the busy housewife. When Chloe and Daphne returned from the spring, she had barley-cakes baking in the oven, and sausages were roasting before the hearth-fire. A kettle of broth steamed beside it.

"How good it smells!" cried Dion, when he came in with Argos from the farm-yard. "I could eat a whole pig myself. Do cook a lot of sausages, Mother. I am as hungry as a wolf."

"And you a Spartan boy!" said his Mother reprovingly. "You should think less of what you put in your stomach! Plain fare makes the strongest men. It is only polite to give a guest the best you have, but that's no excuse for being greedy and wanting to stuff yourself every day."

"Well, then," said Dion, "I wish Hermes, if he is the god who guides travelers, would bring them this way oftener. I'd like to be a strong man, but I like good things to eat, too, and when we have company, we have a feast."

His Mother did not answer him; she was too busy.

She sent Chloe to the closet for a jar of wine, and some goat's-milk cheese, and she herself went upstairs to get some dried figs from the store-room. Daphne followed Chloe to the closet, and for a moment there was no one beside the hearth-fire but Dion and Argos, and the sausages smelled very good indeed.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"I wonder if she counted them," thought Dion to himself, as he looked longingly at them. And then almost before he knew it himself he had snatched one of the sausages from the fire and had bitten a piece off the end! It was so very hot that it burned both his fingers and his tongue like everything, and when he tried to lick his fingers, he let go of the sausage, and Argos snapped it up and swallowed it whole. It burned all the way down to his stomach, and Argos gave a dreadful howl of pain and dashed through the door out into the farm-yard. Dion heard his Mother's footsteps coming down the stair. He thought perhaps he'd better join Argos.

When Lydia reached the hearth-fire once more, only Daphne was in the room. She set down the basket of figs and knelt to turn the sausages. She had counted them and she saw at once that one was missing. She was shocked and surprised, but she guessed what had become of it. Mothers are just like that. She rose from her knees and looked around for the culprit. She saw Daphne.

"You naughty boy!" she said sternly to Daphne. "What have you done with that sausage?"

"I didn't do anything with it; I never even saw it," cried poor Daphne. "And, besides that, I'm not a naughty boy. I'm not a boy at all! I'm Daphne!"

"Where's Dion, then?" demanded Lydia.

"I don't know where he is," said Daphne. "I didn't see him either, but I heard Argos howl as if some one had stepped on his tail. Maybe he took the sausage."

Lydia went to the door and looked out into the farm-yard. Away off in the farthest corner by the sheep-pen she saw two dark shadows.

"Come here at once," she called.

Dion and Argos both obeyed, but they came very slowly, and Argos had his tail between his legs. Lydia pointed to the fire.

"Where is the other sausage?" she inquired, with stern emphasis.

"Argos ate it," said Dion.

"Open your mouth," said his Mother. She looked at Dion's tongue. It was all red where it was burned.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"I suppose Argos took it off the fire and made you bite it when it was hot," said Lydia grimly. "Very well, he is a bad dog and cannot have any sausage with his supper. And a boy that hasn't any more manners than a dog can't have any either. And neither one can be trusted in the kitchen where things are cooking. Go sit on the wood-pile until I call you."

She put both Dion and Argos out of doors and turned to her cooking again.

"Supper is nearly ready," she called at last to Chloe. "You and Daphne may bring out the couch and get the table ready."

Under the arcade in the court there was a small wooden table. Chloe and Daphne lifted it and brought it near the fire. Then they brought a plain wooden bench that also stood under the thatch and placed it beside the table. They arranged cushions of lamb's wool upon the bench, and near the foot set a low stool. Daphne brought the dishes, and when everything was ready, Lydia sent Chloe to call her husband and the Stranger, while she herself went out to the farm-yard. She found Dion and Argos sitting side by side on the wood-pile in dejected silence.

"Come in and wash your hands," she said to Dion. "If you get yourself clean, wrists and all, you may have your supper with us, but remember, no sausage. You have had your fingers with your food." This is what mothers used to say to their children in those days, because there were no knives or forks, and often not even spoons, to eat with.

Lydia didn't invite Argos in, but he came anyway, and lay down beside the fire with his nose on his paws, just where people would be most likely to stumble over him.

When Melas and the Stranger came in, they sat down side by side on the couch. Chloe knelt before them, took off their sandals, and bathed their feet. Then the Stranger loosened his long, cloak-like garment, and he and Melas reclined side by side upon the couch, their left elbows resting on the lamb's-wool cushions. Chloe moved the little table within easy reach of their hands, and Lydia took her place on the stool beside the couch. It was now quite dark except for the light of the hearth-fire.

The Twins had been brought up to be seen and not heard, especially when there was company, and as Dion was not anxious to call attention to himself just then, the two children slipped quietly into their places on the floor by the hearth-fire just as Melas and the Stranger dipped their bread into their broth and began to eat.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

It must be confessed that Melas seemed to enjoy the black broth much more than his guest did, but the stranger ate it nevertheless, and when the last drop was gone, the men both wiped their fingers on scraps of bread and threw them to Argos, who snapped them up as greedily as if his tongue had never been burned at all. Then Chloe brought the sausages hot from the fire, and barley-cakes from the oven. When she had served the men and had explained that these cakes were really not so good as her barley-cakes usually were, Lydia gave the Twins each one, and she gave Daphne a sausage. She just looked at Dion without a single word.

He knew perfectly well what she meant. He munched his barley-cake in mournful silence, and I suppose no sausage ever smelled quite so good to any little boy in the whole world as Daphne's did to Dion just then. However, there were plenty of barley-cakes, and his mother let him have honey to eat with them, which comforted Dion so much that when the Stranger began to talk to Melas, he forgot his troubles entirely. He forgot his manners too, and listened with his eyes and mouth both wide open until the honey ran off the barley-cake and down between his fingers. Then he licked his fingers!

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

No one saw him do it, not even his Mother, because she too was watching the the inhabitants of the little farm. They lived so far from the sea, and so far from highways of travel on the island, that the Twins in all their lives had seen but few persons besides their own family and the slaves who worked on the farm. The Stranger was to them a visitor from another world—the great outside world which lay beyond the shining blue waters of the bay. They had seen that distant world sometimes from a hill-top on a clear day, but they had never been farther from home than the little seaport of Ambelaca two miles away.

"How is it," the Stranger was saying to Melas, "that you, a Spartan, live here, so far from your native soil, and so near to Athens? The Spartans have but little love for the Athenians as a rule, nor for farming either, I am told."

"We love the Athenians quite as well as they love us," answered Melas; "and as for my being here, I have my father to thank for that. He was a soldier of the Persian Wars and settled here after the Battle of Salamis. I grew up on the island, and thought myself fortunate when I had a chance to become overseer on this farm."

"Who is the owner of the farm?" asked the Stranger.

"Pericles, Chief Archon of Athens," answered Melas.

"You are indeed fortunate to be in his service," said the Stranger. "He is the greatest man in Athens, and consequently the greatest man in the world, as any Athenian would tell you!"

"Do you know him?" asked Dion, quite forgetting in his interest that children should be seen and not heard.

Lydia shook her head at Dion, but the Stranger answered just as politely as if Dion were forty years old instead of ten.

"Yes," he said, "I know Pericles well. I went with him only yesterday to see the new temple he is having built upon the great hill of the Acropolis in Athens. You have seen it, of course," he said, turning to Melas.

"No," answered Melas. "I sell most of my produce in the markets of the Piraeus, and go to Athens itself only when necessary to take fruit and vegetables to the city home of Pericles. There is no occasion to go in the winter, and the season for planting is only just begun. Perhaps later in the summer I shall go."

"When you do," said the Stranger, "do not fail to see the new building on the sacred hill. It is worth a longer journey than from here to Athens, I assure you. People will come from the ends of the earth to see it some day, or I am no true prophet."

"Oh," murmured Daphne to Dion, "don't you wish we could go too?"

"You can't go. You're a girl!" Dion whispered back. "Girls can't do such things, but I'm going to get Father to take me with him the very next time he goes."

Daphne turned up her nose at Dion. "I don't care if I am a girl," she whispered back. "I'm no Athenian sissy that never puts her nose out of doors, I can do everything you can do here on the farm, and I guess I could in Athens too. Besides, no one would know I'm a girl; I look just as much like a boy as you do. I look just like you."

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"You do not," said Dion resentfully. "You can't look like a boy."

"All right," answered Daphne, "then you must look just like a girl, for you know very well Father can't tell us apart, so there now."

Dion opened his mouth to reply, but just then his Mother shook her head at them, and at the same moment Chloe, coming in with the wine-jar, stumbled over Argos and nearly fell on the table. Argos yelped, and Dion and Daphne both laughed. Lydia was dreadfully ashamed because Chloe had been so awkward, and ashamed of the Twins for laughing. She apologized to the Stranger.

"Oh, well," said the Stranger, and he laughed a little too, even if he was a philosopher, "boys will be boys, and those seem two fine strong little fellows of yours. One of these days they'll be competing in the Olympian games, I suppose, and how proud you will be if they should bring home the wreath of victors!"

"They are as strong as the young Hercules, both of them," Melas answered, "but one is a girl, so we can hope to have but one victor in the family at best."

"Perhaps two would make you over proud," said the Stranger, smiling, "so it may be just as well that one is a girl, after all."

Dion sat up very straight at these words, but Daphne hung her head. "I do wish I were a boy too," she said, "they can do so many things a girl is not allowed to do. They get the best of everything."

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"That must be as the Gods will," said the Stranger kindly. "And Spartan women have always been considered just as brave as men, even if they aren't quite as big. Anyway, some of us have to be women because we can't get along without women in the world."

Two bright spots glowed in Lydia's cheeks, and she twirled her distaff faster than ever. "I should think not, indeed," she said. "Men aren't much more fit to take care of themselves than children!"

Melas and the Stranger laughed, and the Stranger turned to Daphne.

"Don't you remember, my little maid, how glad Epimetheus was to welcome Pandora, even if she did bring trouble into the world with her?" he asked.

"No," said Daphne, "I don't know about Pandora. Please tell us about her!"

Lydia rose and glanced up at the stars. "It's getting near bed-time," she said to the Twins; and to the Stranger she added, "You must excuse the boldness of my children. They are brought up so far out of the world they scarcely understand the reverence due men like yourself. You must not permit them to impose upon your kindness."

"I will gladly tell them about Pandora if you are willing," said the Stranger. "The fine old tales of Hellas should be the birthright of every child. They will live so long as there are children in the world to hear them and old fellows like myself to tell them."

"If you will be so gracious then," said Lydia, "but first let us prepare ourselves to listen."

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

She signed to Chloe, who immediately brought a basin and towel to the Stranger and Melas. When they had washed their hands, she carried away the basin and swept the crumbs into the fire, while Lydia filled cups with wine and water and set them before her husband and his guest. Then wood was piled upon the fire, and Lydia seated herself beside it once more with her distaff and wool-basket, while Chloe crept into the shadow behind her mistress's chair, and the Twins drew nearer to her footstool. When everything was quiet once more, the Stranger lifted his wine-cup.

"Since we are in the country," he said, "we will make our libation to Demeter, the Goddess of the fields. May yours be fruitful, with her blessing." He poured a little wine on the earthen floor as he spoke. There was a moment of reverent silence. Then while the flames of the hearth danced upward toward the sky and the stars winked down from above, the Stranger began his story.