Spartan Twins - Lucy F. Perkins

Sowing and Reaping

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

The children were not allowed again to take the sheep to the hills. "They are not to be trusted," said Melas. "They are the sort of shepherds that go to sleep and let the wolves find the flock. They are not real Spartans."

Dion and Daphne felt this as a terrible reproach. Dromas now had to go with the sheep, and so could no longer help with the other farm work, and the ploughing and sowing of the corn-field had to be finished by Melas himself. The Twins did their best to help. When Melas scattered the grain, they followed with rakes and scratched a layer of earth over the seeds. The crows watched the planting with much interest.

"Look at them," cried Dion to his Father one afternoon. "There are five of them on that tree yonder, and the minute we get to one end of the field they begin to scratch up the grain at the other."

"We'll fix them," said Melas shortly.

He sent the Twins to the house for sticks and straw and his old worn-out sheepskin cloak and hat, and when they came back, Melas stuck two long sticks of wood in the ground and bound a cross piece to them with strips of leather. Then he wound the sticks with straw, and made a round bundle of straw at the top. He tied it all securely with thongs. Then he dressed it with the sheepskin and put on the hat. When it was done, it was the scariest looking scarecrow you ever saw!

"I guess that will frighten the crows!" said Dion, as he gazed at it admiringly. "It just about scares me."

"Caw, caw, caw!" screamed a crow.

A crow was flying right over his head! Dion shook his fist at him. "You old thief!" he cried.

"I know one more thing we can do," said Daphne. "Lycias told me about it." She got a small piece of bark and made a little amulet of it. She punched a hole through one end and put a leather string through it. Neither she nor Dion could write, so when she had explained what must be done Melas himself took a sharp stone and scratched a curse upon crows in the soft bark. When it was done Daphne hung it about the neck of the scarecrow. "There," said Melas grimly, "I don't believe he'll go to sleep on the job. He's a Spartan scarecrow! Now let's go home to supper, and to-morrow we'll see how it works."

The next morning the very first thing the Twins did was to rush out to the field and there, right on top of the scarecrow were three black crows, and more were on the ground eating up the seed!

"After all we did, just look at them!" cried Dion.

"Caw, caw," screamed the crows.

"You don't suppose Father made a mistake, and wrote a blessing instead of a curse on that amulet?" said Daphne anxiously. They ran back to the house as fast as they could go. Melas was just coming out of the farm-yard with a pruning-hook in his hand.

"Oh, Father," cried Dion, "the crows are roosting all over the scarecrow. Maybe he wasn't a Spartan scarecrow after all."

"Anyway, he seems to have gone to sleep on the job," added Daphne.

Melas stared at the crows in angry silence. "You children will have to get your clappers then, and just drive the old thieves away," he said at last, "You will have to spend the day in the field watching them. I've got to work in the vineyard. The vines must be pruned."

The Twins had not yet had their breakfast and they were hungry. So they ran to the kitchen, seized some barley-cakes and a little jar of milk, and in a few minutes were back again in the field. They sat down with the wooden clappers beside them, and ate their breakfast in the company of the scarecrow. All day long they watched the grain and rattled their clappers, or threw clods at the black marauders. It was lively work, and although they did not like it, they remembered the black ewe and stuck faithfully at it all through the long day.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

When the sun was high overhead, Lydia brought them some figs and cheese and a drink of goat's milk. She also brought a message. This was the message. "Father says you are to stay here until after dark. You are to hunt around until you find a toad, and when you find it, you must be sure not to let it get away from you. He is going to put a magic spell on the field to keep the crows away, but the spell will not work except in the dark. So you must stay here until he comes."

Between keeping off the birds and hunting for the toad, the Twins spent a busy afternoon. And after the toad was found it was no joke to try to keep it. It was a wonderful hopper and nearly got away twice. At dusk the crows flew away to their nests, and the children were alone in the field until the twilight deepened into darkness. Owls had begun to hoot and bats were flying about, when at last they saw three dim, shadowy figures coming across the field.

The shadowy figures were Melas, Lydia, and Chloe. Lydia bore a jar, which she placed beside the scarecrow in the middle of the field. Melas took the toad in his hand, formed the others in line, and then solemnly headed the procession as the five walked slowly round the entire field, carrying the toad. When they got back to the scarecrow again, Melas put the toad in the jar and sealed it. Then he buried the jar in the middle of the field, beside the scarecrow.

"There," said Lydia, when it was done, "that's the very strongest spell there is. If that doesn't protect the corn, I don't know another thing to do."

Whether it was the scarecrow, or the curse, or the spell, I cannot say, but it is certain that the corn grew well that summer, and when harvest time came, Melas was so proud of his crop that he decided to have an extra celebration. So one day in late summer every one on the entire farm rose with the dawn and hastened to the fields. It was the twelfth day of the month, which was counted a lucky day for harvesting, and every one was gay, as, with sickles in hand, slaves and master alike entered the field of ripe grain. Melas and two other men led the way, cutting the stalks and leaving them on the ground to be gathered into sheaves and stacked by others who followed after.

Meanwhile Lydia, Chloe, and the other women prepared an out-of-door feast. A calf had been killed and cut up for cooking, and in the afternoon a huge fire was built. Lydia had charge of the cooking. She set great pieces of meat before the fire to roast, and told the children to sit by and turn them often to keep them from burning. Dion and Daphne also brought wood for the fire, while the slave women mixed cakes of meal and baked them in the ashes, or went to the spring for water, or carried refreshing drinks to the workers in the field.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

It was sundown when the last sheaf was stacked and Melas gave the signal to stop work. Chloe at once brought cool water from the spring to the tired harvesters, and when they had washed their hot hands and faces, Melas made a rude altar of stones, kindled a fire upon it, and, calling the people together, offered upon it a handful of the new grain and made a prayer of thanks to Demeter, the Goddess of the fields, for the rich harvest. When this was done, the feast was ready. The meat and cakes and wine were passed to the men by the women, and when they had been well served, the women too sat down under a tree and ate their supper. It was a gay party. After supper there were jokes and songs, and Dromas played upon his shepherd's pipe, until the night came on and the moon showed her round face over the crest of the hills.

Then Lycias, the oldest slave of all, began to tell stories. He had seen the battle of Salamis, and he told how he had watched the Persian ships go down, one after another, before the victorious Greeks. "And the King sat right on the high rocks north of the Piraeus and saw 'em go down," he chuckled. "It was a great sight."

When Lycias had finished his story, Dromas told the tale of how the God Pan had appeared to a shepherd he knew, as he was watching his sheep along on the hills. "It's all true," he declared, as the story ended. "I knew the man myself. All sorts of things happen when you're out alone on the hillsides."

The fire, meanwhile, had died down to a heap of brands and gleaming coals, and Melas told the Twins to bring some wood to replenish it. They had been gone only a short time on this errand when the group around the fire was amazed to see them come darting back into the circle, all out of breath and with eyes as big as saucers.

"What is it?" cried Lydia, springing to her feet.

"We don't know," gasped Dion. "It's big—and black—and there's two of it. It's right out by the brush-pile."

"We were just going to get an armful of brush," added Daphne, "when all of a sudden there it was—right beside us! We didn't wait to see it any more. We just ran like everything!"

Lydia poked the coals into a blaze and peered out into the surrounding darkness.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"It was wolves, I'll go bail," cried Lycias, and he started at once to climb a tree.

"Wolves!" shrieked Chloe, and got behind her mistress. The Twins were already holding to her skirts.

"Wolves!" howled the slaves, "a whole pack of them!" and as there was nothing for them to climb, each hastily tried to get behind some one else. In the struggle Dromas got crowded back and sat down on a hot coal. He hadn't many clothes on, so he got up very quickly, and the next howl he gave was not wholly on account of wolves. Only Lydia and Melas stood their ground beside the fire. Melas waved a burning brand in the air and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Fools! Rabbits! Don't you know wolves won't come near a fire?" but nothing soothed the frightened slaves. Something was coming, and if it wasn't wolves, they thought it was likely to be a worse creature. They could see two black figures bounding along in the moonlight, and behind them came a huge dog, barking with all his might. Bang into the row of cowering slaves they ran, and the biggest black thing roared "baa," and the little one bleated "maa," right into Dromas' ear. The "whole pack of wolves" was just the old black ewe and her little black lamb. Argos was chasing them and when he came tearing into the circle about the fire and saw the sheep safe with Dromas, he sat down panting, with his tongue hanging out, and looked very much pleased with himself. Dromas seized the lamb in his arms.

"It's a fine young ram," he cried, "and it's nothing short of a miracle that the wolves haven't got it, and its mother too, long before this!'

"I always said that old ewe was bewitched," quavered Lycias. "It's magic, I say. And the lamb is as black as Erebus too. No good will come of this!"

"Come, come! We must take them up to the farm-yard at once," said Melas, "before the old sheep takes it into her head to run away again. Dromas, you and Argos attend to her, and I'll carry the lamb myself."

"We will all go," said Lydia. "It is time for bed anyway." So the remains of the feast were gathered up, the fire was put out, and the whole company trailed back over the hill to the farm-house, Melas at the head of the procession, carrying the lamb in his arms. When the old sheep was corraled once more with the flock, and the slaves had gone home to their huts, Melas came in from the farm-yard with the lamb. He seemed strangely excited.

"Light the fire on the hearth, wife," he said to Lydia. "There's something queer about this lamb."

Lydia uncovered the coals, laid on some wood, and blew the fire to a blaze. By its light Melas examined the lamb carefully. Then he said to Lydia, who stood near with the Twins, "This ram has but one horn!"

"It can't be!" gasped Lydia. "Whoever heard of a ram with only one horn?"

"Feel it," said Melas briefly. Lydia felt it.

"By all the Gods," she cried, "here is a strange thing!"

"Let us feel," begged Dion and Daphne. They both felt. There was only one little budding horn to be found, and that was right in the middle of the lamb's forehead.

"What does it mean?" cried Lydia. "Is it a miracle? Is it a portent? Does it mean good luck or bad luck?"

"I don't know," said Melas. "Only a priest could tell that."

"Then take it to a priest," said Lydia.

"It is not my sheep," said Melas. "It belongs to Pericles."

"Then you must take it to him and let him decide what shall be done with it," cried Lydia. "And go soon, I beg of you. I don't wish to have the creature in the house. It may be bewitched. It may bring all kinds of bad luck to us."

"It is just as likely to bring good luck as bad," said Melas.

"Is Father really going to take the lamb to Athens?" asked Dion.

"Yes," answered Melas, with surprising promptness, "to-morrow."

"Oh," cried Dion and Daphne at the same instant, "please let me go too."

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins

"No," said Lydia at once, but Melas said, "Not so fast, wife. Seek guidance of the Gods. The children would learn much from such a journey, and their chances for learning are few. We should be gone but two days, if the sea is calm."

Lydia was silent for a moment while the Twins stood by breathless with suspense. At last she said, "Well,—if the Gods so will,—we will seek an omen. You could spend the night at the house of my brother, Phaon, the stone-cutter, I suppose. I have seen him but seldom since he married his Athenian wife, but no doubt he would make you welcome for the night."

She rose slowly as she spoke, and threw a handful of grain upon the family altar, at the same time praying to Hermes, the God of travelers, for guidance. Then she ran round the court with her hands over her ears, and as she came back to the group beside the hearth, suddenly uncovered them again. The Twins were talking together in low tones.

"Oh, do you suppose they will let me go?" Daphne was saying to Dion, and just at that moment Lydia took her hands from her ears. "Go" was the first word she heard.

"The omen is favorable," cried Lydia. "You are to go! I prayed to Hermes, then closed my ears, well knowing that the first word I should hear when I uncovered them would be the answer to my prayer. That word was 'Go.' Hasten to bed, my children, for you must make an early start to-morrow."

Daphne could scarcely believe her ears. Not a word had been said about her staying at home because she was a girl! She flew upstairs to bed lest some one should suddenly think of it.

[Illustration] from Spartan Twins by Lucy F. Perkins