One of the new friends whom the children made at the Marathon house was old Hylax. This name means "Barker," and so you will not be surprised when I tell you that old Hylax was a dog. Very old he was, and so weak that he could no longer go out hunting, but used to spend the day lying in the sun, which never seemed too hot for him. You would have thought him dead as he lay stretched out at full length, except that now and then he would make a lazy little snap at the flies. But he used to wake up a little when the hunting party came home; they used always to go and show him what they had caught, and for a minute or two he would look quite young again. They let him hold the hare or the rabbit in his mouth, and the old sparkle came into his eye, and the bristly hair round his neck grew rough, and he gave a very deep growl. Poor old fellow! I wonder whether he thought of the happy time long ago when he was swift and strong? In shape and size he was something like a deerhound, which, I may tell you, is a large, rough greyhound.
I said that the children made friends with him, but I must tell you that he made a curious difference in his way of behaving to them. He did not take much notice of the little girls. When they patted him he would just open his eyes, and wag his tail ever so little. But any one could see that he thought much more of Hipponax. He would lift his head and try to lick the little boy's hand, and wag his tail quite briskly. And when Leon, the children's father, came to see him, as he did every morning and evening, the poor old dog used to stagger up on to his feet and lift one of his paws for his master to shake, and look at him as if he loved him, which I am sure he did with all the heart he had. Once Leon came home wetted to the skin with a sudden storm, and went into the house to change his clothes, and did not think of coming out again to say good-night to Hylax. That night the poor old dog seemed not to be able to rest. A groom, who was sitting up with a sick horse, said next morning that he heard him again and again give a little moan as if something was troubling him.
"Is Hylax very old?" said Gorgo to her father the next day when they went to pay him their morning visit.
"Yes," said Leon; "nearly twice as old as you are. Indeed, he is the oldest dog I ever heard of except one. Shall I tell you how I came to get him?"
"Yes, father!" cried all the children together, and Leon began.
"When I was a boy, about two years older than Gorgo, I went with my father to pay a visit to an old friend of his in Arcadia. There are great woods in that country, and wild beasts, such as bears and wolves, which we never see here. Well, my father and his friend were very fond of hunting, and sometimes they used to take me with them. Very proud and pleased I was, and though I could not help my heart beating a little quickly when a bear, for instance, stood at bay, I behaved pretty well. Indeed, our host, Pauson was his name, was so pleased with me that he gave me a little hunting spear of my own.
"Well, one day Pauson and my father went after a great wild boar that was quite famous in those parts. As it was a long journey, and would be a difficult bit of hunting, they left me at home. Then I did a very silly thing. The truth was that Pauson's present had made me quite conceited. I felt as if I were grown up, and what should come into my head but that I would do a little bit of hunting on my own account.
"The day after Pauson and my father started—they were to be away three or four days—I got up very early in the morning, managed to get out of the house without waking any of the servants, and was off, with my spear in my hand, into the wood. I had not gone half a mile when I heard a rustling in a thicket, and there, right in front of me, was a bear!"
"O father!" cried little Hipponax, "were you very much frightened?"
"Well, to tell the truth, I think that I was. Generally bears leave people alone if they are left alone themselves. But this happened to have a cub with it. It turned, looked at me, growled, and then trotted towards me. I was not too frightened to remember what I ought to do. So I knelt on one knee, and planted my spear, which, after all, was not much more than a toy, as firmly as I could upon the ground, and waited. When the bear was close to me she lifted herself upon her hind legs and tried to hug me. If I could have held the spear firm, of course she could not have done it, but I was not strong enough. The point just pricked the beast's skin, and then the creature got its fore paws round me. Just at that moment it was knocked over by something that jumped on it from behind. This was a big dog that had been left behind by the hunters, because she had a litter of puppies to attend to. She had seen me go out, and followed me, either because she wanted some amusement, or because she knew that I was a foolish young creature, and must be taken care of. Anyhow, she came just in time. What a fight she and the bear had, rolling over and over on the ground! but of course the bear was much the stronger, and when two woodcutters came by a few minutes afterwards the poor dog was nearly dead. As for me, I had got no harm, except a terrible fright that made me dream of bears for many a month to come. One of the little puppies was given to me, and I took a great deal of trouble in rearing it, for at first it was too young to lap, and I had to put the milk down its throat. That puppy is old Hylax there."
"But, father," said Rhodium, who was always on the look-out for stories, "you spoke of another dog that was as old as Hylax. Tell us about him."
"Another time, my child. One story a day, or I shall have no more to tell."
But the time came that very evening. They were coming home from a walk when Sciton met them with the news that Hylax was dying. Indeed, when they came to his kennel he seemed dead. But when his master spoke to him he opened his eyes and wagged his tail just a little way, and drooped his ears just once, and then he died. When the children looked at their father they were almost frightened to see the big tears rolling down his cheeks. Before they went to bed he told them this story.
The Story of Argus
"Once upon a time, all the kings and chiefs of Greece went to fight against a great city called Troy. Ten years they fought against it, and when at last they took it, many of them had great trouble in getting home again. And of all none had greater trouble than a certain Ulysses, who was king of an island in the Western Sea. He wandered about for ten years, and all his ships were wrecked, and all his companions perished, so that when he did get back at last he was quite alone.
"And, I am sorry to say, he found great trouble at home. Most people thought that he must be dead, for, you see, he had been away from home twenty years, and for the last ten nothing had been heard of him. So a number of princes came and wanted his wife to choose one of them for a husband, and while she went on putting them off, for she would not believe that he was dead, they stayed in his house, and killed his oxen and sheep and swine, and drank his wine. When at last he came back no one knew him; indeed, he did not want to be known, for he had to see whether he had any friends left, and to think how he was to get back his own again. So he disguised himself as a beggar, and went to one of his old servants. This man was very kind to him, though he did not in the least know who he was, and took him the next day to the palace. There Ulysses saw a poor old dog lying on a dunghill. And he said to the old servant: 'Why do they let this dog lie in this way? I can see that he is of a good breed, though he does look so wretched.'
" 'Ah!' said the man, 'his master went away twenty years ago, and is long since dead, and the careless women do not look after the poor creature. Things go very wrong when there is no master in a house.'
"But the old dog—his name was Argus—heard his master's voice, and lifted up his head, and when he saw him he knew him at once. He wagged his tail, and drooped his ears, just as you saw old Hylax do this afternoon, and then he died. He had waited for his master twenty years, and he saw him at the last."
"Thank you, father," said the children.
And then Rhodium asked: "Did not Ulysses have some adventures while he was trying to get home?"
"Yes," said Leon; "and if you are good children you shall hear some of them some day."