Gateway to the Classics: Three Greek Children by Alfred J. Church
Three Greek Children by  Alfred J. Church

The Home at Marathon

In about a week's time the three children were able to leave Athens for their dear country home. Dear it was, though I do not think that even Gorgo, the eldest, remembered much about it, and little Hipponax had never even seen it. But they had heard their father and mother talk about it till they seemed to know it as well as if they had lived there all their lives. It was just about ten miles from the city, and just outside a little village called Marathon. How pleased they were when they found that after all not much harm had been done to the house, and garden, and farm! The reason of this was that one of the Spartan generals had been living there, and that by great good luck this general was the nurse's own foster-brother. He had taken care of the place for his own sake, and also because he knew that its owners were very kind to his foster-sister. So the house was bright, and clean, and ready, with a very little preparation, for them to live in; and the garden was full of flowers, and joy of joys! there was an orchard, with beautiful red pomegranates and apples and pears in it. Behind the house, too, on the slope of the hill, there was an olive-yard, and, what the children thought much prettier, a vineyard in which the grapes were beginning to grow yellow and purple. Little Hipponax, who had scarcely been outside the city since he was born, was quite wild with delight. The first morning after they got there he slipped away from the nurse as soon as he was dressed—and you may be sure he did not give her much peace after it had once begun to be light,—and went to explore the beautiful new place for himself. When he found apples and pears hanging on the trees he was quite astonished. He ran into the house, and made his way to his mother's room, where she was still fast asleep; for mothers used to be very tired in those days, just as they are in these, with a family "move."

"O mother!" he cried, "do get up and come and look at this beautiful fruit. Why, it is really hanging on the trees!"

"Why not?" his mother said, for she was still very sleepy, and did not remember at the moment that her little boy had never seen a fruit-tree before.

"Oh, but mother," he went on, "in Athens it never used to hang on trees, but used to lie on boards, or be piled up in baskets in the shops. And I used to think that the men in the shops made it, for it cost a lot of money, you used to say, just like the other things which people make. But now, I suppose, we may have as much of it as we like?"

"Yes, darling," said his mother; "or perhaps we had better say, as much as nurse thinks good for you."

After breakfast, while the little girls were helping their mother get things into order, Hipponax went for a walk with his father round the farm. It would not be easy to say what pleased him most, but I think it was the kind looks that all the people that were at work on the farm gave him. In fact, if he had not been a very nice, simple little fellow he might easily have been spoilt. At Athens, his father, whose name I should have told you, was Leon, was not a very great man, but here he was quite the chief person of the place, and the "little master," whom the old servants had never seen before, was made much of. He felt quite hot and ashamed when the old people kissed his hand, and won their hearts by offering his cheek instead. When they came to the vineyard they found a very old man busy tying up some of the clusters that were touching the ground. He did this wonderfully well though he had but one hand. He was dressed like the other laborers, and Hipponax was surprised to see his father kiss him on both cheeks, while he said: "Here is the little one, father. Is he like the old stock?"

"The gods make it flourish!" said the old man, and he stooped down and kissed the little boy.

Then Leon and the old man had some talk together about the vines and other matters of the farm. As they were going home Hipponax said: "Father, why did you kiss the old man and call him 'father'?"

Leon answered: "Wait till to-morrow, my little son, and you shall hear a story that you must never forget as long as you live."

The next day all the family went on an expedition. There was a cushioned carriage drawn by two mules; in this the children rode with their mother and nurse. The old man, too, whom Hipponax had seen in the vineyard, went with them. Leon rode on horseback by the side of the carriage. The road ran along the side of a little stream, which was then almost dry. On either side were cornfields, now quite bare, and sometimes a little cottage, with its little clump of old, gray, olive-trees. Some of the cottages were in ruins, but the olive-trees seemed not to have been hurt at all. After they had gone four or five miles they came to two mounds, one of which had a number of little pillars on it. Here the carriage stopped, and the children got down. Then Leon said to the old man, whose name was Sciton: "Sciton, no one but you must take them to see it." So Sciton took the little boy by the hand, and beckoned to the girls that they were to follow. When they came near, they saw that all the pillars had names written on them, some more and some less. Sciton took them to one on which there were about thirty names, and told Gorgo, who, you will remember, was the elder of the two girls, to read them. It was not very easy to spell them out, for the letters were a little old-fashioned. But after she had looked at them about a minute she almost screamed: "Oh, mother, here is father's name, and brother's too!" And sure enough there they were: Leon, son of Hipponax. Old Sciton looked proud and sad, too, when he heard it. Then Leon said to him: "Tell them the story, Sciton." So Sciton told them the story of the great battle of Marathon, in which he had himself fought almost seventy years before.

"Once upon a time some people called Persians came to conquer this country. They came in ships from over the sea, and there were so many of them that they quite covered all this plain that you now see. Still the Athenians went out to fight with them, and drew up their little army—it was very little compared with the Persians—just under the hills there. Your great-grandfather was among them, and I was allowed to go with him, though I was only a slave then. Well, we waited several days, and began to get sad and dull; and there were some who even talked of making peace. At last one of the generals, who was my master's uncle, persuaded the others to fight. How glad we all were to hear it, and that very night a thousand men from a little town called Platæa marched in to help us. The next day, when we had been drawn up in line and had said our prayers, we set off running towards the enemy. One of the prisoners afterwards told us that they thought we were mad. Well, your great-grandfather and I were in the middle of the line, and we happened to have the very strongest of the Persians to fight with, and we came up to them all out of breath and out of order. There were so many of them that they pushed us back and we had not strength to stand, though we did not wish to move. Your great-grandfather was a very strong man, and could run almost any distance without getting out of breath. He would  not give way, and he was left quite alone, and of course I could not leave him. I do not know how many Persians he struck down, but at last one came behind him and aimed a great blow at his head. I put up my arm to save him, and the sword lopped my hand sheer off and wounded him. Then another Persian struck him, and we fell both together. I do not remember any thing more; but I heard that the middle of our line was broken—the two ends won the battle. My dear master was dead when they came to look for us, but I was just alive, and when I got better they made me free. That is his name your sister read on the pillar there."

"Well," said Leon to little Hipponax, "that is the story you must never forget. Never forget, too, that you have seen one of the 'men who fought at Marathon.' "

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