Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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clatter of the horses' hoofs and the grinding of the chariot wheels upon
the road. Then came a stoppage. The prisoner was lifted from his seat
and put on board what he guessed to be a small boat. He felt that this
was pushed out from the land, that it began by making fair progress, and
that not long after starting, when it had passed, as he conjectured
beyond the shelter of some bay or promontory, it began to meet bad
weather. The waves were breaking, it was easy to tell, over the boat, in
which the water was rising in spite of the efforts of the men who were
busy bailing to keep it under. It was time for our hero to speak; so
busy were the sailors in struggling with their difficulties, that they
might easily have forgotten their prisoner, and let him go to the bottom
like a stone.

"Friends," he cried, "you had best let me help you and myself."

"By Poseidon! I had forgotten him," he heard one of the men cry. "If he
drowns there will be no profit to us in floating." A consultation
carried on in low, rapid whispers followed. It ended in the prisoner's
bonds being severed, and the bandage being removed from his eyes.

When the situation became visible to the young Athenian it was certainly
far from encouraging. The boat was low in the water, and was getting
lower. It was evident that it could not live more than a few minutes
more. The night was dark, and the sea so high that even the most expert
swimmer could not expect to survive very long. The only hope seemed to
lie in the chance of being blown ashore. But obviously the first thing
to be done was to prepare for a swim. Callias, accordingly, threw off
his upper garment and untied his sandals. This done he waited for the

It was not long in coming. The boat was too low in the water to rise to
the waves, and one of unusual size now broke over and swamped it,
immersing the crew, who numbered nine persons including Callias. Happily
they were good swimmers, and if speedy help were to come, might hope to
escape. And, luckily, help was nearer than any of them had hoped. A
light became visible in the darkness; and the swimmers shouted in
concert to let the new comers know of their whereabouts. An answering
shout came from the galley, for as may be supposed, it was a galley that
carried the light. "Be of good cheer," shouted a voice which Callias
thought that he recognized. The swimmers shouted in answer, and felt new
hope and new life infused into them. But the rescue was no easy task.
Each man in turn had to fasten under his armpits a rope with a noose at
the end which was thrown to him, and was then drawn up the side of the
galley. This took time. Some of the men found it hard to do their part
of the work, and so delayed the rescue of the others. By the time that
Callias was reached, and he was the last of the nine, he was almost
beyond the reach of help. By one supreme effort, however, he managed to
slip the rope about him. As he was dragged on to the deck the last
conscious impression that he had - and so strange was it that he thought
it must be a dream - was the face of Hermione bent over him with an
expression of intense anxiety.


[41] The "Long Walls" ran from Athens down to its chief harbor the



It was not long before Callias recovered his consciousness; but he was
so worn out by excitement and fatigue, coming as they did after the
exhausting emotions through which he had passed since the death of the
generals, that he found it impossible to rouse himself to any exertion.
The yacht, which as my readers will have guessed was that excellent
sea-boat the _Skylark_, had never been in any danger, though she had had
to be very skillfully handled while she was engaged in picking up the
swimmers. This task accomplished, her head was put northward, and before
very long she had gained the shelter of Euboea. Callias guessed as
much when he found that she ceased to roll, and gladly resigned himself
to the slumber against which he had hitherto done his best to struggle.
He slept late into the morning; indeed it wanted only an hour of noon
when at last he opened his eyes. The first object that they fell upon
was the figure of Hippocles, who was sitting by the side of his berth.

"Then it was not a dream," said the young man. "I thought I saw your
daughter on board last night, but could not believe my eyes."

"Yes, she is on board," said Hippocles, with a slight smile playing
about the corners of his mouth.

"But tell me what it all means. I was seized in the streets of Athens,
pinioned, blindfolded, and gagged. I was carried off I know not where,
thrown into a boat, as nearly as possible drowned, and now, when I come
to myself, I see you. Surely I have a right to ask what it means."

"My dear Callias," replied Hippocles, "I have always tried to be your
friend, as it was my priviledge to be your father's before you. You will
allow so much?"

"Certainly," said the young man. "I shall never forget how much I owe

"Well, then, trust me for an hour. I will not ask you to do anything
more. If you are not fully satisfied then, I will make you any redress
that you may demand. I know that you have a right to ask for it. I
know," he added with an air of proud humility that sat very well upon
him, "that Hippocles the Alien is asking a great favor when he makes
such a request of Callias the Eupatrid,[42] but believe me I do not ask
it without a reason."

The young Athenian could do nothing else than consent to a request so
reasonable. Some irritation he felt, for there was no doubt in his mind
that Hippocles had had something to do with the violence to which he had
been subjected. The intention, however, had been manifestly friendly,
and there might be something to tell which would change annoyance into

A sailor now brought him some refreshment, and when this had been
disposed of, another furnished him with some clothing. His own, it will
be remembered, he had thrown away, when preparing to swim for his life.
His toilet completed, he came up on deck and found Hippocles and his
daughter seated near the stern. Both rose to greet him. He could not
fail to observe that Hermione was pale and agitated. The frank
friendliness of her old manner, which, blended as it had been with a
perfect maidenly modesty, had been inexpressibly charming, had
disappeared. She was now timid and hesitating. She could not lift her
eyes when she acknowleged his greeting. He could even see that she

The young man stood astonished and perplexed. What was this strange
reserve of which he had never before seen a trace? Was there anything in
himself that had caused it? Had he - so he asked himself, being a modest
young fellow and ready to lay the blame on his own shoulders - had he
given any offence?

"Tell him the story, father," she said, after an anxious pause during
which her agitation manifestly increased, "tell him the story. I feel
that I cannot speak."

"My little girl has a confession to make. In a word, it is her doing
that you are here to-day."

"Her doing that I am here to-day," echoed Callias, his astonishment
giving a certain harshness to his voice.

The girl burst into tears. Callias stepped forward, and would have
caught her hand. She drew back.

"Tell him, father, tell him all," she whispered again in an agitated

"Well then," said her father, "if I must confess your misdeeds, I will
speak. You know," he went on addressing himself to the young Athenian,
"you know how we vainly sought to persuade you to leave Athens. I had a
better and stronger reason for speaking as I did than I could tell you.
From private information, the source of which I could not divulge, if
you had asked it, as you probably would have done, I had found out that
you were in the most serious danger. Not only were you to be
arrested - so much you know - but having been arrested, you were to be put
out of the way. You talked of answering for yourself before the
assembly, even of accusing your enemies and the men who murdered your
friends. You never would have had the chance. There are diseases
strangely sudden and fatal to which prisoners are liable, and there was
only too much reason to fear that you would be attacked by one of them.
There are other poisons, you know, besides the hemlock, which the state
administers to the condemned, and an adverse verdict is not always
wanted before they are given. Well; we were at our wits' end. You were
obstinate - pardon me for using the word - and I would not tell you the
whole truth. Even if I had, it was doubtful, in the temper of mind you
were in, whether you would have believed me. Then Hermione here came to
the rescue. 'We must save him,' she cried, 'against his will.' 'How can
we do that?' I asked; and I assure you that I had not the least idea of
what she meant. 'You must contrive to carry him off to some safe place.'
I was astonished. 'What!' I said, 'a free citizen of Athens.' 'What will
that help him, with the men who are plotting to take his life?' she
answered. Then she told me her plan. I need not describe it to you. It
was carried out exactly. Now can you forgive her?"

"Oh! lady" - the young man began.

"Stop a moment," cried Hippocles. "I have something more to say, before
you pronounce your judgment. You must take into account that if she has
erred, she has already suffered."

"Oh! father," interrupted the girl, "it is enough; say nothing more. I
am ready to bear the blame."

And she sank back into her seat and covered her face with her mantle.

Hippocles went on: "I say she has suffered. We did not reckon on that
unlucky wind. It was bad enough to have carried you off against your
will; but when it seemed that we might drown you as well, that looked
serious. I was not much afraid, myself. I felt pretty sure that we
should be able to pick you up. But still there was a chance of something
going wrong. And she, of course, felt responsible for it all. It was
true that it was the only way of saving you - that, I swear by Zeus and
Athene, and all the gods above and below, is the simple, literal
fact - but still, I must own, it was a trying moment, and if anything
_had_ happened - Then you were the last to be picked up, and just at the
last moment, something went wrong. The clumsy fellow at the helm - I
ought to have been there myself, but I wanted to help in getting you on
board - the clumsy fellow at the helm, I say, gave us a wrong turn. We
should have had a world of trouble in bringing the _Skylark_ about
again. Hermione saw it, sprang to the tiller, and put things right - I
have always taught her how to steer. So you really owe her something for
that. I don't exactly say that she saved your life, but you might have
been in the water a little longer than you liked. Well, it was trying to
the poor girl. I can imagine how she felt; but she bore up till we got
you on board. Then she fainted; for the very first time in her life, I
give you my word, for she is not given to that sort of thing. Now, say,
can you forgive her and us? We really did it for the best, and thanks to
Poseidon, it has ended pretty well, so far, after all."

"This is no case for forgiveness," cried the young Athenian earnestly;
"it is a case of gratitude which I shall never exhaust as long as I
live. I am a headstrong young fool, a silly child, in fact, and you were
quite right in dealing with me as grown people must deal with a child,
help it and do it good against its will. Forgive me, lady," he went on,
and kneeling before her chair, he took one of her hands in his own, and
carried it to his lips.

So far all was well. A bold achievement had ended happily, but the
situation was a little strained, to use a common phrase, and Callias,
like the well bred gentleman that he was, felt that it would be a relief
to the girl if it was brought to an end. Happily, too, at that moment
the ludicrous side of the affair struck him, and it was without any
affectation that he sprang to his feet and burst into a hearty laugh.

"And now that you have captured me," he said, "what is your pleasure?
What are you going to do with me?"

"You shall go where you please," said Hippocles. "Even if you want to
return to Athens I will not hinder you. But my plan is this, subject of
course, to your consent. Come with me as far as Thasus. I have business
there, to look after my vineyard, or rather the vintage. My people, I
find, are sadly apt to blunder about it. This will take me no little
time, and while I am engaged there, the _Skylark_ shall take you on to
Alcibiades' castle in Thrace. I was going to say that I would commend
you to him. But that will not be necessary. He is, you know, a distant
kinsman, and is hospitality itself. In my judgment he has had hard
usage. It would have been better for Athens, if she had trusted him
more. But all that is past. Meanwhile I think that his castle is the
safest place for you just now. You and he are very much in the same
case, I fancy. Athens has not treated either of you fairly and yet you
wish well to her."

"Your plan seems a good one," replied Callias, "let me think it over for
a few hours. Anyhow you shall have my company as far as Thasus, if you
will accept it."

Meanwhile the _Skylark_ was making headway gaily through the
well-sheltered waters that lie between Euboea and the mainland of
Greece. When the shelter ceased the wind had fallen, shifting at the
same time to the south-west. Nearly two hundred miles had yet to be
traversed before Thasus could be sighted, and this was accomplished
without accident or delay. The time of year was later than a Greek
seaman commonly chose for a voyage of any duration, for it was the
latter end of October, and the ninth of November was the extreme limit
of the sailing season.[43] Hippocles, however, was more venturesome in
this way than most of his contemporaries, and his confidence was
rewarded by a most pleasant and prosperous voyage. So blue were the
cloudless skies, so deep the answering color of the seas, that it was
only when the travellers saw the sunset tints on the forest-clad ridge
of Thasus - "the ass's back-bone laden with wood," as it was
called - that they remembered that summer had long since given place to

Two days were spent in a visit to the vineyard which Hippocles had come
to inspect, and then Callias, who had soon concluded to follow his
friend's advice, resumed his voyage. The course of the _Skylark_ was now
south-easterly. The voyage had all the interest of novelty for him, for
he had never before visited these waters. When the _Skylark_ started at
early dawn there was a mist which contracted the horizon. As this
cleared away under the increasing power of the sun the striking peak of
Samothrace became visible in the distance. All day its bold outlines
became more and more clearly defined. On the following morning - for the
good ship pursued her course all night - it had been left behind, but
another height, not less striking in appearance, and even more
interesting in its associations, the snow-capped Ida, at whose feet lay
the world-famed Trojan plains, took its place. As evening fell the
_Skylark_ was brought to land at the western end of the Hellespont, the
rapid current of which could be better encountered by the rowers when
they had been refreshed by a night's rest. Progress was now somewhat
slow; and it was on the afternoon of the fourth day after the start from
Thasus that the cliffs of Bisanthe and the northern shore of the
Propontis came in sight. This was our hero's destination, for it was
here that Alcibiades, after quitting Athens in the previous year, had
fixed his abode.


[42] The Eupatridae were the old aristocracy of Athens. Under the early
constitution they were the ruling castæ, and they always retained the
monopoly of certain religious offices.

[43] "The seas are closed," says Vegetius in his treatise _De Re
Militari_, "from the ninth of November to the tenth of March."



The sun was just setting when the _Skylark_ cast anchor about two
hundred yards from the shore and opposite the castle with which the
loftiest point of the cliffs was crowned. The signal flag which the
captain ran up to his mast-head was answered by another from the castle,
and in a few minutes a boat was seen to start from a little quay which
had been built out into the sea at the foot of the cliff. Callias had
written a letter to Alcibiades in which he briefly described himself and
his errand, and Hippocles, though modestly depreciating the value of any
thing that he could say, had also written, at the young man's request, a
letter of introduction. These documents were handed over to the officer
in charge of the boat, and conveyed by him to the castle. After a very
short delay the boat returned again, this time in the charge of an
officer of obviously higher rank. This higher personage mounted the side
of the _Skylark_, and after giving a courteous greeting to Callias,
delivered to him an invitation from Alcibiades to make his castle his
home for as long a period as he might find it convenient to stay there,
explaining at the same time that his master would have come in person to
welcome his guest, if he had not been detained by business of importance
with a neighboring chief. The young Athenian's baggage - for he had been
liberally fitted out by the thoughtful and generous care of
Hippocles - was transferred to the boat, and in a few minutes more he had
set his foot on the landing-place.

He had been speculating as he neared the shore, about the way in which
the castle was to be approached. An observer looking from the sea might
have thought that there was no way of getting to it except by scaling
the almost perpendicular base of the cliff. Once landed on the quay,
however, the traveller discovered that a passage had been cut through
the cliff. This passage, which could be closed at its lower end by a
massive door, was something like a winding staircase. It was somewhat
stifling and dark, though light and air were occasionally admitted by
holes bored to the outer surface of the rock. Its upper end opened in to
a courtyard round which the castle was built. The approach from the sea
was, it will have been seen, sufficiently secure. On that side indeed
the castle of Bisanthe was absolutely impregnable. From the land, it
was, to say the least, safely defensible. It was approached by one
narrow ridge, so formed that a few resolute men could hold it against a
numerous body of assailants. The walls were lofty and massive, and so
constructed that a galling fire of missiles could be kept up on either
flank of an attacking force.

Callias was escorted to his chamber by a young Thracian slave, who
informed him in broken speech that a bath room in which he would find
hot and cold water was at his service, and further that his master hoped
to have the pleasure of his company at supper in an hour's time. The
chamber, it may be said, was furnished with a clepsydra, or
water-clock, marked with divisions.[44]

Callias awaited his introduction to his host with no little curiosity.
Alcibiades was, as has been said, a kinsman of his own, and he had heard
of him - what Athenian, indeed, had not, - but he had never happened to
see him. Callias' father had been an aristocrat of the old-fashioned
type, and had so strongly disapproved of his cousin's reckless and
extravagant behavior that he had broken off all intercourse with him,
and had been particularly careful that his son should never come in
contact with him. Callias was about fourteen when Alcibiades left Athens
in command (along with two colleagues) of the Sicilian expedition. The
absence thus begun lasted about eight years. For the first half of this
time he was an exile; for the second half in command of the fleets and
armies of Athens, but still postponing his return to his native city.
Then came his brief visit, lasting it would seem, only a few days,[45]
and at that time Callias, as it happened, had been absent in foreign
service. He was now in what was or should have been, the prime of life,
having just completed his forty-fourth year, but the dissipation of his
youth and early manhood and the anxieties of his later years had left
their mark upon him, and he looked older than his age. Yet there were
traces of the brilliant beauty that in earlier days had helped to make
him the spoiled darling of Athens. The wrinkles had begun to gather
about his eyes, but they were still singularly lustrous, and could
either flash with anger, or melt with tenderness. His temples were
hollow and his cheeks had somewhat fallen in; but his complexion was
almost as brilliant as ever, while the abundant auburn curls that fell
clustering about his neck had scarcely a streak of gray in them.

His greeting to his guest was more than courteous. It was affectionate,
exactly such as was fitting from an older to a younger relative. Indeed
then, as ever afterward during their acquaintance, Callias was greatly
struck by the perfection of his manners. It seemed impossible that the
stories told of his haughty insolence by which in former years he had
made himself one of the best-hated men in Athens could possibly be true.

Supper was announced shortly after Callias had been ushered into the
chamber. Alcibiades took his guest by the hand, led him into the
dining-room, and assigned him a place next to himself. Some other guests
were present. Two of these were officers in the military force which
Alcibiades maintained in his stronghold; the third was an aged man, who
had been his tutor many years, and for whom he retained an affection
that was honorable to both master and pupil. The fourth was the Thracian
chief with whom Alcibiades had been engaged when the _Skylark_ arrived.

The meal was simple. The chief feature was one of the huge turbot for
which the Euxine was famous.

"That would have cost a fortune in the fish market at Athens," said the
host pointing to the dish, "even if it could have been procured at all.
Here a fisherman thinks himself well paid for such a monster by three,
or at the most, four _drachmae_."[46]

A piece of venison and a platter of quails were the other dishes. The
second course consisted of a maize pudding and some sweet-meats.

During the repast the conversation turned speedily on local matters, and
was carried on (but not till after a courteous apology had been offered
to the young Athenian) in the bastard Greek largely mixed with Thracian
words, in which the chief was accustomed to express himself. The meal
ended, a handsome silver cup was handed by the major-domo, a venerable
looking man, who made the comfort of his master and his most honored
guests his special care. Alcibiades took it and poured out a few drops
upon the table, uttering as he did so, the words: "To Athene the
Champion." This was equivalent to the loyal toasts of an English
banquet. He then took a very moderate draught, the wine being unmixed,
in obedience to the rule which demanded that all wine used in religious
ceremonies - and this libation was such a ceremony - should be pure.[47]
He then tipped the cup to each guest in turn. All were equally moderate,
for it was not the custom, even for a Greek drunkard, it may be said, to
drink his wine unmixed. But when the cup came to the Thracian chief he
drank a deep draught as if the liquor had been liberally diluted.
Callias who had never been at table with a Thracian before, watched the
man with amazement. He saw that while the other guests were supplied
with the usual mixtures of wine and water the chief remained steadfast
in his devotion to the undiluted liquid, and that he emptied his cup at
a draught, and that the cup itself was of an unusual capacity. Nor did
the drinker seem affected by these extraordinary potations, except that
his voice became louder, and his manner more boastful. At last, however,
and that without a moment's notice, he rolled over senseless on his
back. So sudden was the change that it suggested the idea of a fit.

"Is he ill?" he whispered in some alarm, to his neighbor.

"Ill? not a whit. It is the way in which he always finishes his
evenings. His slaves will carry him to bed, and he will awake to-morrow
morning without the suspicion of a headache. Bacchus, I verily believe,
has a special favor for these fellows, and, truly, they do worship him
with a most admirable earnestness."

The Thracian's collapse was the signal for breaking up the party.
Callias and the old tutor, Timanthes by name, declined to drink any

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 8 of 22)