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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPausanias, The Spartan: An Unfinished Historical Romance - Book 2 - Chapter 1
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Pausanias, The Spartan: An Unfinished Historical Romance - Book 2 - Chapter 1 Post by :nonliteral Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1182

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Pausanias, The Spartan: An Unfinished Historical Romance - Book 2 - Chapter 1

BOOK II CHAPTER I

At noon the next day, not only the vessels in the harbour presented the same appearance of inactivity and desertion which had characterised the preceding evening, but the camp itself seemed forsaken. Pausanias had quitted his ship for the citadel, in which he took up his lodgment when on shore: and most of the officers and sailors of the squadron were dispersed among the taverns and wine-shops, for which, even at that day, Byzantium was celebrated.

It was in one of the lowest and most popular of these latter resorts, and in a large and rude chamber, or rather outhouse, separated from the rest of the building, that a number of the Laconian Helots were assembled. Some of these were employed as sailors, others were the military attendants on the Regent and the Spartans who accompanied him.

At the time we speak of, these unhappy beings were in the full excitement of that wild and melancholy gaiety which is almost peculiar to slaves in their hours of recreation, and in which reaction of wretchedness modern writers have discovered the indulgence of a native humour. Some of them were drinking deep, wrangling, jesting, laughing in loud discord over their cups. At another table rose the deep voice of a singer, chanting one of those antique airs known but to these degraded sons of the Homeric Achaean, and probably in its origin going beyond the date of the Tale of Troy; a song of gross and rustic buffoonery, but ever and anon charged with some image or thought worthy of that language of the universal Muses. His companions listened with a rude delight to the rough voice and homely sounds, and now and then interrupted the wassailers at the other tables by cries for silence, which none regarded. Here and there, with intense and fierce anxiety on their faces, small groups were playing at dice; for gambling is the passion of slaves. And many of these men, to whom wealth could bring no comfort, had secretly amassed large hoards at the plunder of Plataea, from which they had sold to the traders of Aegina gold at the price of brass. The appearance of the rioters was startling and melancholy. They were mostly stunted and undersized, as are generally the progeny of the sons of woe; lean and gaunt with early hardship, the spine of the back curved and bowed by habitual degradation; but with the hard-knit sinews and prominent muscles which are produced by labour and the mountain air; and under shaggy and lowering brows sparkled many a fierce, perfidious, and malignant eye; while as mirth, or gaming, or song, aroused smiles in the various groups, the rude features spoke of passions easily released from the sullen bondage of servitude, and revealed the nature of the animals which thraldom had failed to tame. Here and there however were to be seen forms, unlike the rest, of stately stature, of fair proportions, wearing the divine lineaments of Grecian beauty. From some of these a higher nature spoke out, not in mirth, that last mockery of supreme woe, but in an expression of stern, grave, and disdainful melancholy; others, on the contrary, surpassed the rest in vehemence, clamour, and exuberant extravagance of emotion, as if their nobler physical development only served to entitle them to that base superiority. For health and vigour can make an aristocracy even among Helots. The garments of these merrymakers increased the peculiar effect of their general appearance. The Helots in military excursions naturally relinquished the rough sheep-skin dress that characterised their countrymen at home, the serfs of the soil. The sailors had thrown off, for coolness, the leathern jerkins they habitually wore, and, with their bare arms and breasts, looked as if of a race that yet shivered, primitive and unredeemed, on the outskirts of civilization.

Strangely contrasted with their rougher comrades, were those who, placed occasionally about the person of the Regent, were indulged with the loose and clean robes of gay colours worn by the Asiatic slaves; and these ever and anon glanced at their finery with an air of conscious triumph. Altogether, it was a sight that might well have appalled, by its solemn lessons of human change, the poet who would have beheld in that embruted flock the descendants of the race over whom Pelops and Atreus, and Menelaus, and Agamemnon the king of men, had held their antique sway, and might still more have saddened the philosopher who believed, as Menander has nobly written, 'That Nature knows no slaves.'

Suddenly, in the midst of the confused and uproarious hubbub, the door opened, and Alcman the Mothon entered the chamber. At this sight the clamour ceased in an instant. The party rose, as by a general impulse, and crowded round the new comer.

"My friends," said he, regarding them with the same calm and frigid indifference which usually characterised his demeanour, "you do well to make merry while you may, for something tells me it will not last long. We shall return to Lacedaemon. You look black. So, then, is there no delight in the thought of home?"

"_Home!_" muttered one of the Helots, and the word, sounding drearily on his lips, was echoed by many, so that it circled like a groan.

"Yet ye have your children as much as if ye were free," said Alcman.

"And for that reason it pains us to see them play, unaware of the future," said a Helot of better mien than his comrades.

"But do you know," returned the Mothon, gazing on the last speaker steadily, "that for your children there may not be a future fairer than that which your fathers knew?"

"Tush!" exclaimed one of the unhappy men, old before his time, and of an aspect singularly sullen and ferocious. "Such have been your half-hints and mystic prophecies for years. What good comes of them? Was there ever an oracle for Helots?"

"There was no repute in the oracles even of Apollo," returned Alcman, "till the Apollo-serving Dorians became conquerors. Oracles are the children of victories."

"But there are no victories for us," said the first speaker mournfully.

"Never, if ye despair," said the Mothon loftily. "What," he added after a pause, looking round at the crowd, "what, do ye not see that hope dawned upon us from the hour when thirty-five thousand of us were admitted as soldiers, ay, and as conquerors, at Plataea? From that moment we knew our strength. Listen to me. At Samos once a thousand slaves--mark me, but a thousand,--escaped the yoke--seized on arms, fled to the mountains (we have mountains even in Laconia), descended from time to time to devastate the fields and to harass their ancient lords. By habit they learned war, by desperation they grew indomitable. What became of these slaves? were they cut off? Did they perish by hunger, by the sword, in the dungeon or field? No; those brave men were the founders of Ephesus."(25)

"But the Samians were not Spartans," mumbled the old Helot.

"As ye will, as ye will," said Alcman, relapsing into his usual coldness. "I wish you never to strike unless ye are prepared to die or conquer."

"Some of us are," said the younger Helot.

"Sacrifice a cock to the Fates, then."

"But why, think you," asked one of the Helots, "that we shall be so soon summoned back to Laconia?"

"Because while ye are drinking and idling here--drones that ye are--there is commotion in the Athenian bee-hive yonder. Know that Ariamanes the Persian and Datis the Mede have escaped. The allies, especially the Athenians, are excited and angry; and many of them are already come in a body to Pausanias, whom they accuse of abetting the escape of the fugitives."

"Well?"

"Well, and if Pausanias does not give honey in his words,--and few flowers grow on his lips--the bees will sting, that is all. A trireme will be despatched to Sparta with complaints. Pausanias will be recalled--perhaps his life endangered."

"Endangered!" echoed several voices.

"Yes. What is that to you--what care you for his danger? He is a Spartan."

"Ay," cried one; "but he has been kind to the Helots."

"And we have fought by his side," said another.

"And he dressed my wound with his own hand," murmured a third.

"And we have got money under him," growled a fourth.

"And more than all," said Alcman, in a loud voice, "if he lives, he will break down the Spartan government. Ye will not let this man die?"

"Never!" exclaimed the whole assembly. Alcman gazed with a kind of calm and strange contempt on the flashing eyes, the fiery gestures of the throng, and then said, coldly,

"So then ye would fight for one man?"

"Ay, ay, that would we."

"But not for your own liberties, and those of your children unborn?"

There was a dead silence; but the taunt was felt, and its logic was already at work in many of these rugged breasts.

At this moment, the door was suddenly thrown open; and a Helot, in the dress worn by the attendants of the Regent, entered, breathless and panting.

"Alcman! the gods be praised you are here. Pausanias commands your presence. Lose not a moment. And you too, comrades, by Demeter, do you mean to spend whole days at your cups? Come to the citadel; ye may be wanted."

This was spoken to such of the Helots as belonged to the train of Pausanias.

"Wanted--what for?" said one. "Pausanias gives us a holiday while he employs the sleek Egyptians."

"Who that serves Pausanias ever asks that question, or can foresee from one hour to another what he may be required to do?" returned the self-important messenger, with great contempt.

Meanwhile the Mothon, all whose movements were peculiarly silent and rapid, was already on his way to the citadel. The distance was not inconsiderable, but Alcman was swift of foot. Tightening the girdle round his waist, he swung himself, as it were, into a kind of run, which, though not seemingly rapid, cleared the ground with a speed almost rivalling that of the ostrich, from the length of the stride and the extreme regularity of the pace. Such was at that day the method by which messages were despatched from state to state, especially in mountainous countries; and the length of way which was performed, without stopping, by the foot-couriers might startle the best-trained pedestrians in our times. So swiftly indeed did the Mothon pursue his course, that just by the citadel he came up with the Grecian captains who, before he joined the Helots, had set off for their audience with Pausanias. There were some fourteen or fifteen of them, and they so filled up the path, which, just there, was not broad, that Alcman was obliged to pause as he came upon their rear.

"And whither so fast, fellow?" said Uliades the Samian, turning round as he heard the strides of the Mothon.

"Please you, master, I am bound to the General."

"Oh, his slave! Is he going to free you?"

"I am already as free as a man who has no city can be."

"Pithy. The Spartan slaves have the dryness of their masters. How, sirrah! do you jostle me?"

"I crave pardon. I only seek to pass."

"Never! to take precedence of a Samian. Keep back."

"I dare not."

"Nay, nay, let him pass," said the young Chian, Antagoras; "he will get scourged if he is too late. Perhaps, like the Persians, Pausanias wears false hair, and wishes the slave to dress it in honour of us." "Hush!" whispered an Athenian. "Are these taunts prudent?"

Here there suddenly broke forth a loud oath from Uliades, who, lingering a little behind the rest, had laid rough hands on the Mothon, as the latter once more attempted to pass him. With a dexterous and abrupt agility, Alcman had extricated himself from the Samian's grasp, but with a force that swung the captain on his knee. Taking advantage of the position of the foe, the Mothon darted onward, and threading the rest of the party, disappeared through the neighbouring gates of the citadel.

"You saw the insult?" said Uliades between his ground teeth as he recovered himself. "The master shall answer for the slave; and to me, too, who have forty slaves of my own at home!"

"Pooh! think no more of it," said Antagoras gaily; "the poor fellow meant only to save his own hide."

"As if that were of any consequence! my slaves are brought up from the cradle not to know if they have hides or not. You may pinch them by the hour together and they don't feel you. My little ones do it, in rainy weather, to strengthen their fingers. The Gods keep them!"

"An excellent gymnastic invention. But we are now within the citadel. Courage! the Spartan greyhound has long teeth."

Pausanias was striding with hasty steps up and down a long and narrow peristyle or colonnade that surrounded the apartments appropriated to his private use, when Alcman joined him.

"Well, well," cried he, eagerly, as he saw the Mothon, "you have mingled with the common gangs of these worshipful seamen, these new men, these Ionians. Think you they have so far overcome their awe of the Spartan that they would obey the mutinous commands of their officers?"

"Pausanias, the truth must be spoken--Yes!"

"Ye Gods! one would think each of these wranglers imagined he had a whole Persian army in his boat. Why, I have seen the day when, if in any assembly of Greeks a Spartan entered, the sight of his very hat and walking-staff cast a terror through the whole conclave." "True, Pausanias; but they suspect that Sparta herself will disown her General."

"Ah! say they so?"

"With one voice."

Pausanias paused a moment in deep and perturbed thought.

"Have they dared yet, think you, to send to Sparta?"

"I hear not; but a trireme is in readiness to sail after your conference with the captains."

"So, Alcman, it were ruin to my schemes to be recalled--until--until--"

"The hour to join the Persians on the frontier--yes."

"One word more. Have you had occasion to sound the Helots?"

"But half an hour since. They will be true to you. Lift your right hand, and the ground where you stand will bristle with men who fear death even less than the Spartans."

"Their aid were useless here against the whole Grecian fleet; but in the defiles of Laconia, otherwise. I am prepared then for the worst, even recall."

Here a slave crossed from a kind of passage that led from the outer chambers into the peristyle.

"The Grecian captains have arrived to demand audience."

"Bid them wait," cried Pausanias, passionately.

"Hist! Pausanias," whispered the Mothon. "Is it not best to soothe them--to play with them--to cover the lion with the fox's hide?"

The Regent turned with a frown to his foster-brother, as if surprised and irritated by his presumption in advising; and indeed of late, since Pausanias had admitted the son of the Helot into his guilty intrigues, Alcman had assumed a bearing and tone of equality which Pausanias, wrapped in his dark schemes, did not always notice, but at which from time to time he chafed angrily, yet again permitted it, and the custom gained ground; for in guilt conventional distinctions rapidly vanish, and mind speaks freely out to mind. The presence of the slave, however, restrained him, and after a momentary silence his natural acuteness, great when undisturbed by passion or pride, made him sensible of the wisdom of Alcman's counsel.

"Hold!" he said to the slave. "Announce to the Grecian Chiefs that Pausanias will await them forthwith. Begone. Now, Alcman, I will talk over these gentle monitors. Not in vain have I been educated in Sparta; yet if by chance I fail, hold thyself ready to haste to Sparta at a minute's warning. I must forestall the foe. I have gold, gold; and he who employs most of the yellow orators, will prevail most with the Ephors. Give me my staff; and tarry in yon chamber to the left."


Note:

(25) Malacus ap. Athen. 6.

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