Spartan Twins - Lucy F. Perkins

The Festival of Athena

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

The day had begun so early that it was still morning when Melas and the Twins left the house of Pericles and took their way toward the Agora, which was the business and social center of Athens. Here were the markets where everything necessary to the daily life of the Athenians was sold. The Twins had never dreamed there were so many things to be found in the world. Not only were there fruits, meats, fish, vegetables, and flowers, but there were stalls filled with beautiful pottery or with dyed and embroidered garments gorgeous in color, and even with books. The books were not bound as ours are. They were written on rolls of parchment and were piled up in the stalls like sticks of wood. Around the marketplace there were arcades supported by marble columns, and ornamented by rows of bronze statues. In the center stood a magnificent altar to the twelve Gods of Olympus, whom the people of Hellas believed to be the greatest of their many Gods. There were temples opening on the Agora, and beyond the temples there were the hills of Athens, with the Sacred Mount of the Acropolis, the holiest of all holy places, bounding it on the south.

Melas had seen all these sights before, but to the Twins it was like stepping right into the middle of an enchanted world. Melas took them each by the hand, and found an out-of-the-way corner near a stall where young girls were selling wreaths, and there they ate their luncheon, while they watched the people swarming about them.

The flowers-sellers, the bread-women, and some flute-girls were almost the only women in sight, but the whole Agora was full of men. There were fathers of families buying provisions for the day. Each was followed by a slave with a basket, for no Athenian gentleman would carry his own packages. There were always slaves to do that. There were grave men in long cloak-like garments with fillets around their heads who walked back and forth talking together. There were boys, followed by their "pedagogues," old slaves who carried their books for them, and saw to it that their young charges got into as little mischief as possible, as they went about the streets.

Suddenly at some signal which neither Melas nor the Twins saw, the whole crowd began to move toward the south.

"Where are they going?" asked Dion.

"Listen to that little Spartan savage," said one of the wreath-sellers, laughing. "He doesn't even know it's the regular festival of Athena. Run along, bumpkin, and see the sights."

Melas gave the girl a black look. He didn't like to have Dion called a "Spartan savage," nor a "bumpkin" either, but he knew very well Spartans might expect scant courtesy in Athens, so he said nothing, but he rose from his corner at once and, telling the children to follow, started after the crowd.

They reached the steep incline which led up to the Acropolis, and, still following the crowd, had gone part way to the summit, when there was a mighty pushing and jostling among the people, and loud voices cried, "Make way for the sacred procession." The crowd parted, and Melas and the Twins were pushed back toward one side, but as they were lucky enough to be on the border of the crowd, instead of being pressed farther back, they were able to see the sacred procession of the Goddess Athena as it mounted the long slope and disappeared through the great gate.

In one of the oldest temples on the Acropolis, called the Erechtheum, there was an ancient wooden statue of Athena which the Athenians believed had fallen from heaven. It was very sacred in their eyes, and every year they celebrated a festival when the robes and ornaments of the statue were taken off and cleaned. This year the maidens of Athens had embroidered a new and beautiful robe, and it was being carried in state to the temple to be offered to the Goddess and placed upon her statue.

The Twins had never seen so many people in all their lives before. The procession was headed by some of the chief men of Athens, and foremost among them the children recognized Pericles. Near him walked Anaxagoras the Philosopher, with Phidias, the great sculptor, and Ictinus, the architect of the new temple of which the Stranger had told the Twins on the spring evening so long before. There were also Sophocles the dramatist and Euripides the poet. Melas recognized them all, for they were known to every one and he had seen them at the house of Pericles or walking about the Agora on previous journeys. He pointed them out to the Twins.

"That queer snub-nosed man back of Sophocles is Socrates the philosopher," he said. "He is a friend of Pericles also, though he is poor and queer, and is always standing about the market-place talking to any one who will listen to him."

"Are there two philosophers in Athens?" asked Dion. "I thought Anaxagoras was the philosopher."

Melas laughed. "Philosophers are as thick in Athens as bees in a hive," he said, "and poets too."

The beautiful embroidered robe, borne on a chariot shaped like a ship, now appeared in the procession, and the crowd breathed a long sigh of wonder and admiration as it passed. Then came a long row of young girls bearing baskets and jars upon their shoulders. They were followed by older women, for women were allowed to take part in this festival. After them came youths on horseback, and then more youths leading garlanded oxen for the sacrifice. The procession was so long that the end of it was still winding through the streets below some time after the head had reached the top of the incline. Right up the steep slope it streamed, between the gaping crowds massed on either side, and when the very end of it had passed out of sight, the people closed in behind it and swarmed over the level height of the sacred hill.

Melas and the children pushed their way with the others, but the crowd was so great and the movement so slow that when at last they got near the sacred altars before the Erechtheum, the ceremonies were over and the air was already filled with smoke and the smell of roasting meat.

It was late afternoon before the feasting was over, and, meanwhile, the entire hill-top of the Acropolis was covered with moving crowds. As a part of the festival, there were all sorts of games and side shows. Dion and Daphne were so busy watching sword-swallowers, and tumblers, and men performing all sorts of strange and wonderful tricks, they almost forgot entirely the Gorgon's head with the snaky locks, which the Stranger had told them about, and which Dion so much wished to see. Daphne was the first to remember it.

"I'm going to see the new temple that Pericles is building over there. Don't you want to see it, too?" said Melas to the Twins. "Where?" said Dion. Melas pointed to a great heap of marble blocks toward the southern side of the Acropolis. It was then that Daphne thought about the statue.

"Dion wants to see the Gorgon's head," she said.

"Well, then," answered Melas, "hurry up about it, for it is getting late and we must soon be starting for your uncle's house."

The two children trotted away toward the great bronze statue near the entrance without another word, and it was not until they were quite out of sight that Melas remembered he had not told them where to meet him.

"I shall find them by the statue anyway," he said to himself, and went on examining the foundations of the Parthenon.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

Meanwhile the children ran round to the front of the statue and gazed up at the breastplate of the Goddess, upon which Phidias had carved the Gorgon's head. There it was with its staring eyes and twisting locks, looking right down at them.

"Ugh! I don't like it a bit better than I thought I should," said Daphne, covering her eyes. "It's worse than eels."

"I'd rather see the man swallowing swords any day," answered Dion. "Let's go and see if we can't find him again," and off they went toward a crowd of people gathered about a little booth beyond the Erechtheum.

It was not until they had seen him swallow swords twice and eat fire once, and the conjurer had begun to pack his things to go away that the Twins thought at all about time. When at last they woke up to the fact that the sun was setting behind the purple hills, and looked about them, there were very few people left on the Acropolis, and their Father was nowhere to be seen. The two children ran as fast as they could go to the place where the Parthenon was building, but there was no one there. Even the workmen had gone. Then they ran back and looked down the long incline up which the procession had come in the morning, but Melas was not to be seen. The Twins returned to the statue of Athena, but no one awaited them there. The Gorgon's head looked down at them with its dreadful staring eyes, and Daphne thought she saw one of the snaky locks move.

"Oh, let's run," she cried.

"Where?" asked Dion.

"I don't know," said Daphne. "Anywhere away from here! Let's go back to the Erechtheum. Perhaps Father will be there looking for us."

They went all round the old temple, which was partly in ruins, and when they found no trace of their Father, sat down miserably upon the steps of the great porch of the Maidens on the southern side. It was called the Porch of the Maidens because, instead of columns of marble, statues of beautiful maidens supported the roof. Daphne looked up at them.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"They look strong, like Mother," she said. "It doesn't seem quite so lonesome here with them. Maybe we shall have to stay here all night."

"Don't you think we could find Uncle Phaon's house by ourselves?" asked Dion.

"Oh," cried Daphne, shuddering, "never! We couldn't even by daylight, and now it is almost dark."

"Anyway," said Dion, "we're safer being lost here than anywhere else in Athens. It's where the Gods live. Maybe they'll take care of us."

"We might sacrifice something on an altar," said Daphne, "and pray, the way Father does."

"We haven't a thing to sacrifice," answered Dion. "We haven't anything to eat even for ourselves."

They were so tired and hungry and discouraged by this time that they didn't say another word. They just sat still in the gathering darkness, and wished with all their hearts that they had never come to Athens at all.

They were startled by hearing footsteps above them on the porch. The stone balustrade was so high, and the children were crouched so far below it near the ground, that they could not be seen by people above unless they should lean over the balustrade and look down. The twins snuggled closer together in the darkness and kept very still. Suddenly they heard voices above them; there were two men on the porch talking together in low tones. One was the voice of Lampon the priest; the children both recognized it at once.

"Look over there," it was saying. "Pericles is building new temples in Athens, to the dishonor and neglect of the oldest and most sacred of all. Pericles does not fear the Gods, even though they have raised him to his proud position. He is a traitor to our holy office, and I hate him."

"You speak strongly," said the other voice.

"It isn't only that he neglects the old temples and refuses to restore them, but he actually builds a new one before our eyes on this holy hill," went on the voice of Lampon. "It is not only an impiety in itself, but an affront to you and your holy office. I myself saw his scorn and indifference this very day. I was called to his house by his pious wife to see a prodigy. A ram was brought from his country estate that had but one horn,—a marvel, truly!"

"How did you read the portent?" asked the other voice.

"As favorable to him, of course," answered Lampon. "What else could I do with Pericles himself watching me, and with that old fox of an Anaxagoras by his side?"

"The Gods punish people who do not believe in them," said the other voice, "and we are the priests of the Gods. Should we not do all we can to bring such wicked men to justice?"

"Yes, but," said Lampon, "the people adore Pericles. They would not believe evil of him. We must act carefully, lest we ourselves receive the blow that we aim at him."

"I have found out that he went to the boat-race at the Piraeus this afternoon," answered the voice of the other priest, "and after that he goes to a banquet at the house of the rich Hipponicus, and will return late to his home. If we could waylay him and make him angry, he might say something blasphemous to us, not knowing we were priests. He might even offer us violence! Disrespect to a priest is disrespect to the Gods, and no man in Athens, not even Pericles, can insult the representatives of the Gods and live."

"A good idea, truly, and worthy of the priest of Erechtheus," said the voice of Lampon.

"We will doff our priestly robes and appear as men of the people. Pericles must not suspect who we are, or of course he will be too clever to allow himself to speak the insults we know only too well he would like to offer us as priests. We can each be witness for the other; and he cannot deny our report."

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

If Daphne had not sneezed just at this moment, everything that happened after that would almost surely have been quite different. But she did sneeze! The air was damp and chill, she was sitting on a cold stone step, and a loud "kerchoo" suddenly startled the two plotters on the porch. The children were so frightened they could not move, but they rolled up their eyes, and over the edge of the balustrade they saw two shadowy heads looking down at them.

"Who's there?" said the voice of Lampon.

The children were too frightened to answer.

"Bring a torch," cried the voice of the other priest, and soon the two heads were again hanging over the balustrade and a torch in the hand of Lampon threw light on the upturned faces of the Twins.

"Who are you?" said the priest of the Erechtheum, "and what are you doing here at this hour, you miserable little spies?"

"Oh, please, we aren't spies at all," cried Dion. He didn't know what a spy was, but he thought it safe to say he wasn't one. "We are lost."

"Come up here at once." It was Lampon who spoke.

The children, half dead with terror, went round to the other side of the porch, climbed the steps to the entrance, and stood trembling before the priests. Lampon lifted his torch and looked at them carefully.

"Didn't I see you this morning at the house of Pericles?" he asked sternly. The Twins nodded.

"Who sent you here?" he asked.

"Nobody sent us. We're lost," cried poor Daphne.

"Humph!" said the other priest. "That's a likely story."

"Did you hear what we were talking about?" asked Lampon. He took Dion by the shoulder, and as he did not answer at once, shook him.

"Come, yes or no," he said.

"Ye-e-es," stammered Dion.

The two priests looked at each other, and Lampon said: "They are the children of the farmer who brought the lamb to Pericles. They live on his farm."

"It will be a long time before they see the farm again," answered the other shortly. "They say they are lost. Very well, we will see to it that those words are made true. What do you say to shipping them to Africa? They would make a pretty pair of slaves, and a ship sails for Alexandria to-morrow. It can easily be arranged. I know the captain."

"A good idea!" said Lampon. "Since these children are in a sense wards of Pericles, they are for that reason the more likely to be enemies of the Gods. It would be an act of piety to send them where they could do no harm by betraying the secrets of the temple."

The children were speechless with fright. Their two captors pushed them roughly before them into the temple and drove them through the great gloomy interior, lighted only by a few torches, to a small closet-like room somewhere in the rear. As they walked, huge black shadows cast by the torch of Lampon danced grotesquely before them. At the closet the two priests stopped to unlock the door.

"Here is a safe harbor for you for the night," said Lampon, as he pushed the children into the closet. "To-morrow we may find a yet safer place for you," and with these words he locked them in.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

The children were so exhausted by hunger and fright that, even though they were Spartans, they sat down on the cold stone floor and wept in each other's arms.

"Oh, Mother, Mother," sobbed Daphne, "why did we ever leave you?"

"Don't you remember," said Dion, struggling with his tears, "that the signs were favorable? It must be all right somehow, for the word Mother heard was 'Go.'"

"If I only hadn't sneezed!" sobbed Daphne.

"But a sneeze is always a good sign," said Dion.

"Well, anyway," said Daphne bravely, though her voice shook and her teeth chattered, "crying won't do any good. Let's feel around and see if there is anything in this room."

It was dark, except for a gray patch of dim light from a window high up in the wall. Dion and Daphne kept close together and went carefully round the room, feeling the wall with their hands. Dion stumbled against something. It was a chest where the priests' robes were kept.

"Do you suppose we could move it?" whispered Daphne. "If we could, maybe we could look out of the window and see where we are."

They both got on the same side of it and pushed with all their strength. The chest moved a little and made a horrible screeching sound on the stone floor.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"Sh-sh-sh," whispered Daphne, as if the chest could hear. They held their breath to listen for footsteps. There was no sound outside. They waited a little while and pushed again. Again the chest screeched, and again they stopped to listen. After many such efforts it was finally moved under the window, and the two sprang up on the top of it to look out. By standing on tiptoe they could just see over the sill. There was no glass, for there was no window-glass anywhere at that time, and the cool night air blew in on their faces. The Acropolis was bathed in moonlight. There was no sound outside, and no one in sight anywhere. Apparently the world was asleep. Suddenly the stillness was broken by the hoot of an owl, and they could see the great bird flying toward them.

"It's Athena's own bird," whispered Dion, "and it's flying from the east. That means good luck. Oh, maybe we can get away from this dreadful place after all!"

"Let's pray to Athena," quavered Daphne. "We can't sacrifice, but maybe she'll hear us just the same."

The two little prisoners spread their hands toward the sky, and Dion whispered, "Help us, O Athena, just the way you helped Perseus kill the Gorgon."

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"Give us wisdom to get out of this place and to save Pericles from these wicked men," added Daphne.

"Sh-sh," whispered Dion, "they're priests."

"They are wicked, anyway, whatever they are, to want to kill Pericles," said Daphne stoutly. Then she added: "Maybe that's why we're here! Maybe we could warn him about the priests if we could just get out. Anyway, we're Spartans, and we've got to stop crying and do our best."

Dion put his hands on the window-sill and gave a jump.

"I believe I could get up here if you'd give me a boost," he said.

"But how shall I getup?" asked Daphne. "There'll be nobody to boost me."

"I'll pull you," said Dion.

"You might fall out backwards, or fall in head first doing it," said Daphne.

"Let's try, anyway," said Dion.

Daphne boosted, and Dion climbed, and in another minute he was sitting on the window-sill with one foot hanging down outside and the other firmly braced against the side of the window. He held on with his left hand and, leaning over, was able with his right to clasp Daphne. She hooked her left arm on his, put her hand on the sill and leaped. The next instant she was lying on her stomach over the sill, and Dion was helping her to a sitting position.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"It isn't so very far to drop," whispered Dion. "I've dropped from the balustrade into the court lots of times at home."

"All right," said Daphne, "You drop first, and I'll follow."

Dion turned, stuck his head out as far as possible, and looked in every direction. Then he let himself down from the sill, hung to it for a moment by his hands, and dropped like a cat to the ground. He flattened himself against the wall of the temple, and in another moment Daphne was safe beside him.

"Now," whispered Dion, "we'll run like everything around behind the temple to the statue of Athena."

Hand in hand through the moonlight they sped, and were soon in the shadow of the great bronze statue.

"Let's wait here a minute and look around," whispered Dion.

They crouched down in the shadow and looked back. Their hearts almost stopped beating when they saw two cloaked figures emerge from the temple, and they recognized Lampon and the priest of the Erechthcum. The two men passed so near the statue that the children could plainly hear their voices, though they spoke in low tones.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"We will wait at the head of the street of the Amphorae," they heard Lampon say. "He is sure to pass that way. It will relieve my tongue to tell him some things in the guise of a common ruffian which I could not say as a priest."

"You did well to recognize those brats," said the priest of the Erechtheum. "They might have upset all our plans if we had not kept them safe."

The two brats behind the statue shook their fists at the retreating figures. They waited until the sound of footsteps had died away, and then they made a quick dash from the shadow and flew down the incline up which the procession had come in the morning. In a moment they were at the bottom. They could just see the dark figures of the priests disappearing toward the north. The children shrank back again into the shadow.

"What shall we do next?" said Daphne. "We don't know our way anywhere at all. We don't even know where our uncle lives."

"What was the name of that rich man at whose house they said Pericles was going to the banquet?" asked Dion, with a sudden inspiration.

"Oh, dear," said Daphne, "I can't think. Let me see. Hip—-Hip—"

"Ponicus," finished Dion, "that's it! Surely any Athenian would know where a rich man like Hipponicus lives. We must just go along until we meet some one we can ask."

"Suppose we should meet Lampon!" shuddered Daphne.

"We shan't," said Dion; "they've gone off that way. They are going to the street of the Amphorae. We should recognize that street. It has the long row of vases, don't you remember? We went through it this morning."

"If we can find the house of Hipponicus and warn Pericles about the priests, I'm sure he'll take care of us," said Daphne.

Encouraged by this thought, the two children passed boldly out of the shadow and ran westward. They passed a few people, but for the most part, the street was deserted, and they met no one they dared speak to. At last they came to the city wall and a gate.

"Now what shall we do?" murmured Daphne. "We can't go any farther this way."

"Why, I know this place," Dion whispered joyfully. "It's the gate that opens into the paved road to the Piraeus. It's the very gate we came through this morning! The luck is surely with us now."

"Let's stay here and speak to the first person that comes along," said Daphne. "I'm sure it will be the right one."

The two children waited with beating hearts. A tall figure now appeared walking toward the gate, followed by a slave carrying a torch. As the man drew near, the children went boldly out to meet him.

"Can you tell us the way to the house of Hipponicus?" asked Dion politely.

The man stopped, and the slave held the torch so his master could see the faces of the children.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"By all the Gods," said the man, "what are you children doing out here at this time of the night?"

"The Stranger! Anaxagoras!" cried Daphne. "Oh, I knew Athena would help us!" and the two children threw themselves into his arms, so great was their relief and joy.

They told him the whole story of their adventure on the Acropolis and why they wanted to find the house of Hipponicus.

"Well," said Anaxagoras, when they had finished, "I live in the Piraeus. I was on my way home, but now I shall go with you to the house of Hipponicus, and you shall tell your story to Pericles himself."