Spartan Twins - Lucy F. Perkins

The Shepherds

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

The next morning Dion was wakened by feeling a cold wet nose wiggling about in the back of his neck. It was Argos' nose. Dion knew it at once. He had felt it before.

"Go away, Argos," he said crossly. He pulled the sheepskin coverings of his bed closer about his ears and turned over for another nap.

But Argos was a good shepherd dog and he knew that his first work that morning was to round up the Twins. So he gamboled about on his four clumsy paws and barked. Then, seeing that Dion had no intention of getting up, he seized the sheepskin covers and dragged them to the floor.

"Bow-wow," he said.

Dion sat up shivering. "Good dog," said Dion, "go away from here; go wake Daphne!"

"Bow-wow, bow-wow," said Argos, and bounded off to Daphne's room to wake her too.

Dressing took only a minute, for the children each wore but one garment, and there were no buttons; so, though they were sleepy and their fingers were cold and clumsy, they appeared in the court while the roosters in the farm-yard were still crowing and the thrushes in the olive trees were in the midst of their sunrise song. Chloe had already gone out to feed the chickens. Lydia was bending over the hearth-fire, and their Father was just saying good-bye to the Stranger at the door of the court, and pointing out to him the road to the little seaport town.

"You will probably find a boat going over to the Piraeus some time to-day," he said, "and as they usually go early in the morning, it is well for you to make an early start from here. May Hermes speed you on your way."

"Farewell," said the Stranger, "and if ever a philosopher can serve a farmer, you have but to ask in the Piraeus for the home of Anaxagoras. I thank you for your hospitality," and with these words he was gone.

Melas had eaten his breakfast of bread and wine with his guest before dawn, and was now ready for the day's work in the fields. The slaves of Pericles were already in the farm-yard, yoking the oxen, milking the goats, and getting out the tools. There were pleasant early sounds all about, but the Twins hovered over the hearth-fire, for the morning was chill; and Dion yawned. Lydia saw him.

"Come," she said briskly, "wash your faces! That will wake you up, if you are still sleepy. And then I'll have a bite for you to eat, and some bread and cheese for you to carry with you to the hills."

"Are we going to the hills?" asked Dion.

"Yes," said Melas. "To-day you must watch the sheep. Dromas has to help me plough the corn-field. You are old enough now to look after the flock and bring the sheep all safe home again at night. Come, move quickly! 'Still on the sluggard hungry want attends.'"

"They were up too late," said Lydia. "If they can't wake up in the morning they must go to bed very early every night."

When Dion and Daphne heard their Mother say that, they became at once quite lively, and were soon washed and ready for their breakfast, which was nothing but cold barley-cakes left over from the night before and a drink of warm goat's milk. When they had eaten it, Daphne put the bread and cheese which Lydia had wrapped up in a towel for their luncheon in the front of her dress and they were ready to start.

Melas and Dromas, the shepherd, were waiting for them at the farm-yard gate when the Twins came bounding out of the back door, Dion with a little reed pipe in his hand and Daphne carrying a shepherd's crook. The sheep were huddled together at the gate, waiting to be let out.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"Be sure you keep good watch of that old black ewe," said Dromas to the Twins as he went to open the gate. "She is a wanderer. I never saw a sheep like her. She is always straying off by herself. Quarrelsome too. Argos knows she has to be watched more than the others, and sometimes when she goes off by herself and he goes after her, she just puts her head down and butts at him like an old goat The wolves will get her one of these days, as sure as my name is Dromas."

"Are there wolves in the hills?" asked Daphne.

"Maybe a few," answered Dromas, "but they don't usually come round when they see the flock together, and a good dog along. You needn't be afraid."

"I'm not afraid of anything," said Daphne proudly, and then the gate was opened, the sheep crowded through, and Dion and Daphne with Argos fell in behind the flock, and away they went toward the hills, to the music of Dion's pipe, the bleating of the sheep, and the tinkling of their bells.

The children followed the cart-path westward for some distance, and then left it to drive the flock up the southern slope of a rocky high hill, where the grass was already quite green in places and there was good pasture for the sheep. It was still so early in the morning that the sun threw long, long shadows before them, when they reached the hill pasture, though they were then two miles from home. The pasture was a lonely place. Even from the hill-tops there were no houses or villages to be seen. Far, far away toward the east they could see the olive and fig trees around their own house. On the western horizon there was a glimpse of blue sea. In a field nearer they could barely make out two brown specks moving slowly back and forth. They were oxen, and Dromas was ploughing with them. It was so still that the children could plainly hear the breathing of the sheep as they cropped the grass, and the ripple of the little stream which spread out into a shallow river and watered the valley below.

The hillside was bare except for shrubs and a few trees, but there were wonderful places to play among the rocks. Dion proposed that they play robber cave in a hollow place between two large boulders; but as he insisted on being the robber, and Daphne wouldn't play if she couldn't be the robber half the time, that game had to be given up.

Then Daphne said, "Come on! Let's play Apollo and Daphne! I'm Daphne anyway, and I can run like the wind. You can be Apollo, only I know you can't catch me! I can run so fast that even the real Apollo couldn't catch me!"

Dion looked scared.

"Don't you know the Gods are all about us, only we can't see them?" he demanded. "Apollo may have heard what you said, and if he should take a notion to punish you for bragging, I guess you'd be sorry. Maybe he'll turn you into a tree just like the other Daphne."

"Pooh," said Daphne. "I'm not afraid. I should think the Gods wouldn't have time to listen to everything little girls say! They can't be very busy if they do."

Dion was horrified. "That's a wicked thing to say," he said. "You must never speak that way of the Gods. Oh dear! This is bound to be an unlucky day. This morning when Argos woke me, I was having a bad dream! That's a very bad sign."

"It's a sign you ate too much last night," said Daphne. She said it very boldly, but really she was beginning to feel a little frightened too, for every one she knew believed in such signs and omens.

"Come along out of this place, anyway," said Dion. "Let's go somewhere else and play. Let's go to the brook."

The two children came out of their cave between the rocks and started toward the little stream, which was hidden from them by bushes. The sheep were all grazing contentedly along the hillside, the old black ewe browsing in the very middle of the flock. Argos was sitting on the hill-top in the sunshine, watching them, with his tongue hanging out. The sun was now quite high in the sky and the day was warm. The children paddled in the water and built a dam, and sent fleets of leaves down the stream, and played knuckle-bones on a flat rock beside it, until at last they were hungry, and then they ate their bread and cheese.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

When they had finished the last crumb, Daphne curled herself up on the flat rock with her head on her arm.

"I'm so sleepy," she said. "I can't keep awake another minute."

You see, they had been up ever so many hours then, and the sunshine was very warm, and the bees buzzed so drowsily in the sunshine!

"You and Argos watch the sheep," she begged, and was asleep before you could say Jack Robinson.

Dion came out of the bushes and counted the flock like a careful shepherd. They were all there, and Argos was still on watch.

"I'll lie down a little while, too," said Dion to himself, "but I won't go to sleep. I'll just look at the sky."

He stretched himself out beside Daphne and watched the white clouds sailing away overhead, and in two minutes he was asleep too.

How long they slept the children never knew. They were awakened at last by a long, long howl, which seemed to come from the other side of the hill. They sat up and clutched each other in terror. There was an answering howl from Argos, and mingled with it they heard the dull thud of many feet, the bleating of sheep, and the frightened cries of lambs.

"The sheep are frightened. There's a stampede!" cried Dion.

The two children plunged through the bushes and gazed about them. The whole flock had disappeared! Their bells could be heard in a mad jangle of sound from the farther side of the hill, Argos was barking wildly.

"Come on," shouted Dion, springing out of the bushes, "We must get them back."

"Suppose it is a wolf!" shrieked Daphne, tumbling after him.

"We'll have to get the sheep back even if it is a bear," cried Dion, and he tore away over the crest of the hill and down the farther slope. Daphne followed after him, as fast as she could run.

The sheep were already a long distance away, in a region of the hills which the children had never seen before in their lives, but they did not stop to think of that. All they thought was that the sheep must be brought back at any cost. They could see Argos barking and circling round the frightened flock, and away in the distance a huge wild creature was just disappearing into the woods.

On the children ran, over rocks and through briars, until at last they reached the sheep, whose flight Argos had already checked. Dion ran beyond to turn them back, while Daphne herded them on one side and Argos on the other. When they had the flock together and quiet once more, the children counted them.

"There's one missing!" cried Daphne, aghast. "And it's the old black ewe! What will Father say?"

"It's all your fault," said Dion. "I told you you would have bad luck if you spoke about the Gods the way you did. I shouldn't wonder if that wasn't really a wolf that we saw. It may have been Pan himself! Or it may have been Apollo, and he meant to show you that you can't run even as fast as a sheep!"

"Anyway, the old black ewe is gone."

"Oh dear! Oh dear! What shall we do?" mourned Daphne.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

By this time the sun was low in the sky, and it was late afternoon.

"The first thing to do is to get home as fast as we can," said Dion.

"Which way is home?" said Daphne.

Dion looked about him. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe Argos does. Here Argos! Good dog! Take 'em home! Home Argos! Home!"

Argos wagged his tail, and ran around behind the flock.

"Bow-wow, bow-wow," he barked, and nipped the heels of the wether. In a short time he had the whole flock moving toward a hollow between the hills. As they trotted along behind the sheep, Daphne struck her hands together in dismay.

"What else do you think I have done?" she cried. "I've left my crook in the robber's cave!"

"And I left my pipe there, too," Dion wailed.

"We can't get them to-night anyway," sobbed Daphne. "We could never find the place! And besides, it is too late. It will be dark before we get home."

They trudged along behind Argos and the sheep in dismal silence. Argos did not seem at all in doubt about the way home. He drove the sheep through the hollow between the hills and across two fields, and brought them out at last upon a roadway.

"This must be the road that goes by the house," cried Dion joyfully. For answer Daphne pointed toward the east. There some distance ahead of them was Dromas driving the oxen home from the day's ploughing.

Daphne clapped her hands for joy. "I knew Argos would find the way!" she cried.

The bright colors of the sunset were just fading from the sky when they reached the farm-yard gate. Dromas had gone in before them with the oxen, and Melas himself was waiting to let them in and to count the sheep.

"Where is the old black ewe?" he said sternly to the Twins, when the last sheep had passed through the gate.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"We don't know," sobbed Daphne. "We lost her. We lost the crook, and Dion's little pipe, too. A wolf frightened the flock, and they ran away, and—"

"Maybe it was a wolf," said Dion darkly.

Then the Twins told the whole story to their Father. Melas did not say much to them. He was a man of few words at any time, but he made them feel very much ashamed. And when Lydia heard the things Daphne had said about the Gods, they felt worse than ever, at least Daphne did.

That night, before the family went to bed, Melas kindled a fire upon the little altar which stood in the middle of the court and offered upon it a handful of barley, and prayed to Pan and to Apollo that Daphne might be forgiven for her wicked words.