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

A Voyage

About ten days after Sciton's funeral, Leon said to his wife: "We must take the children to see Salamis before the summer is quite over. I had hoped that the old man would go with us and fight another of his battles over again. Well, that was not to be; the Fates spun his thread out to the very end, and we must not complain. Anyhow, we will go. And it will be more pleasant, I think, to make a little sea trip of it. I met my friend Glaucus yesterday, and he will lend me his yacht. We will start early the day after to-morrow, if you can get ready by then, stop for the night at Peiræus, take a couple of days at Salamis, and then home again in the same way."

Elpinicé promised to have every thing ready at the appointed time, and the children, as you may suppose, made no objection. The sun was just rising on the appointed day when the party started. Nurse, of course, was one of them, and Elpinicé had her own maid, not the fine lady about whom I told you a little time ago, but a young girl who she thought would be a more pleasant companion, and would not grumble if they had to rough it, as they very likely might. Then Leon had his own servant, a middle-aged man, who used to dress him, cut his hair and nails (no Greek gentleman ever thought of cutting his own nails), and generally look after his comfort. Lastly, there was an elderly man whom we may call the butler. He had the charge of the provisions, for the expedition was to be something of a picnic; he carried the purse, and paid all the expenses, for which he afterwards would account to his master, and generally managed the whole affair. The father, mother, and children, together with nurse, went in the mule carriage, and the servants followed in a wagon.

It was a bright morning, near the latter end of August, and the children cried out with delight when they saw the yacht, all ready to start, fastened to a little stone pier in the bay of Marathon. She was about forty feet long, and what we should call half-decked—that is, about six feet at the head and fourteen or fifteen at the stern were covered over, while the middle part was open. There was a little cabin under the after-deck, in which the passengers might take shelter, if the weather should happen to be bad, and which also contained cupboards and lockers for provisions, wraps, and any thing else that might be wanted on the voyage. The deck itself had some very comfortable cushioned seats upon it.

The yacht was a sailing vessel, and carried upon its mast one great sail that reached nearly two thirds of its length, besides two small ones that were fastened to the bowsprit. There were also sweeps, that is, very large oars, which could be used when the weather was quite calm, or when the yacht had to be taken in or out of harbor. She was called the Xantho, and had for her figure-head a very prettily-painted half statue (that is, a figure cut off at the waist) of a sea-nymph, with bright golden hair and a light blue mantle just wrapped round her shoulders. On the middle of the after-deck, under a little roof, were two small figures of wood, gilded. These were images of the twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, who were thought to be the great protectors of ships and sailors. The crew consisted of a captain, who commonly steered; a mate, who had special charge of the sail; and six men.

The weather was delightful, and the wind exactly what was to be wished. It blew steadily from the west, and so, coming as it did from the shore (for the Marathon coast looks to the east), carried them along quickly without raising big waves. Even nurse, who did not like the sea at all, and had been sure before she started that she should be very ill, felt quite comfortable. The captain, who had no trouble to keep the vessel straight in its course, was as cheerful as possible, and the sailors, who had next to nothing to do, sang songs. The children were in a state of the greatest delight, though the two girls rather envied their little brother, who ran and clambered about just as he pleased, while they, of course, had to sit quietly and properly by their mother on the deck. The sailors petted the brave little fellow, and helped him to climb the rigging, rather to the terror of his mother. But he held on to the ropes like a little squirrel, and as he had not a thought of fear, and was not in the least giddy, there really was no danger. Every now and then he would run back to the stern deck, and tell his mother that he had quite made up his mind to be a sailor.

All went well as long as they were running down the coast from Marathon southward. But if you will look at the map of Greece, you will see that there is a point, now called Cape Colonna, where the coast ends, and that when a ship has got round this point, if it wants to go to Athens, it would have to sail nearly northwards. The west wind would not serve them badly, for of course with a side breeze you can sail either way you please; but the sea would be rather more rough. But that day it seemed as if they were to be wonderfully lucky, for just as the Xantho  rounded the point the wind shifted to the south.

"Here 's a stroke of good luck," said Leon to the captain, "the wind now is blowing due aft, and will carry us to Peiræus in no time."

"Very good, sir," said the captain, "if we don't have too much of it; but I don't much like the south wind, and I don't like at all these sudden changes. There is something coming, sir, that we shall not like."

The captain was quite right. Something was coming. Nothing changes so quickly as the sea. In less than half an hour every thing looked as different as possible from what it had looked in the morning. The sky was covered with low, scudding clouds, and the color of the sea was changed from a bright, beautiful sapphire blue, to a dull purple. The great sail was hauled down, or, as the sailors say, it would have lifted the yacht clean out of the water; only the sprit sails were kept up. If that had not been done the yacht could hardly have been steered. Even these were reefed as much as they could be. Every minute the sea rose higher and higher, and the big waves looked like wild beasts that were pursuing the ship as if they wanted to devour it. Luckily they came right behind, and did no more harm than give every one on board now and then a good wetting. But then it was necessary to keep the yacht right before the wind. If she should "broach-to," as the sailors say, that is, get sideways to the sea, the waves would break over her, and probably sink her in a very short time. The steersman wanted a strong hand and a cool head to do this, for every now and then the wind would shift a point to the westward, and catch the Xantho  a little on the side. Then, unless the steersman was quite prepared, she would get a little out of the straight course, and this little might easily become more. The captain had a sailor to help him hold the tiller, which was too heavy for one man in rough weather, and if he had not lost his head, all would have been well. But this is just what he did. When they had run about twelve miles past the Cape, the wind shifted to the southwest, and struck the yacht so suddenly, that the tiller was wrenched out of the hands of the men who were holding it. The sailor lost his footing, and rolled against the bulwark, and the captain, instead of getting hold again and doing his best till some one came to help him—and this would not have taken more than a few seconds, fell on his knees before the images of the Twin Brethren, and began to pray at the top of his voice that they would help him. Happily there were people on board who did not lose their courage and presence of mind. Leon was just at that moment coming out of the cabin, where he had been keeping up his wife's spirits. He sprang to the tiller without losing a moment, and so did the mate, and very soon they had her head straight again. But in that moment the yacht had shipped a heavy sea. After that she was lower in the water and did not rise on the waves as lightly as she had done before.

And what were the children doing all this time? The girls were sitting quite good and quiet in the cabin, each holding one of their mother's hands. She could not help being frightened, but she was a brave woman (for it is being brave to be frightened, and yet behave as if you were not), and she would not let her children see it. And they kept up because she did. As for little Hipponax, he was not in the least afraid, but laughed and clapped his hands as the big waves came rolling by. The bigger they were the more pleased he seemed to be. I believe it did the sailors a world of good to see him. They were ashamed to cry and wring their hands, as, I dare say, some of them would have done, when they saw the fearless little fellow. So they kept steadily at work baling out the water, and doing their best to save the ship. For some time it seemed as if it would be labor lost. The Xantho  took in more water than they were able to throw out, and got lower and lower in the sea, till Leon began to look about desperately for something in the way of barrels or spars that he could lash his wife and children to, so as to give them a chance of floating and being picked up. Some time before they had run up a flag of distress to the masthead.

Then there came another change. They found that the sea was not running so high, and the mate said to Leon: "We must be under the lee of Ægina" (which you will see in the map to be an island opposite the harbor of Athens). And so it was; the driving rain, which had hindered them from seeing much more than a cable's length, stopped for a time, and they saw the cliff of the island. And at that very moment a great ship of war, with her three rows of oars on either side of her, rising and falling as regularly as if by clockwork, came out of the darkness. She did not seem to mind the weather in the least, but drove on through the waves straight for the harbor. She was so close that they were almost afraid of being run down; but it was very well that she was close, for she stopped when her captain saw the signal of distress, and one of her sailors threw a rope on board the yacht. It all happened just at the right moment and at the right place. Unless it had been fairly calm water just there even the big and strong ship of war could hardly have helped the little Xantho. As it was, a strong towing cable was made fast to the yacht, and she was dragged into the harbor, only just in time, for the water in the stern cabin was up to the children's knees when they got past the light-house at the mouth.

The captain of the war ship, who happened to be a cousin of Leon's, wanted him and his family to go with him to Athens; but Elpinicé, the girls, and the woman servants were so worn out with what they had gone through, that when the old harbor-master asked him to come to his house close by, he preferred to go there. You shall hear about this house in the next chapter. Meanwhile, I will repeat the story of a shipwreck which Leon told his little boy before he went to sleep that night. Hipponax, you see, had thought it all good fun, even when the water came into the cabin, and instead of dropping off to sleep in a moment, as his sisters did, he could hear the story which he used to beg his father for every night.

"You remember about Ulysses?" said Leon.

"Yes, father," said the little boy, "he was the man who had the wonderful flower given him that saved him from being turned into a pig."

Then Leon told him—

The Story of the Shipwreck of Ulysses

"For seven years Ulysses was kept in a certain island where a goddess called Calypso lived. She would not let him go, because she hoped that in time he would forget his country and the wife and child he had left at home. But she had to let him go at last, for the king of the gods sent to her, and said: 'Why do you keep this brave man when he wants to go home? Let him depart, if he wishes so to do.' So she asked him whether he did really wish to go, and when he said yes, she gave him an axe and other tools, and showed him where some pine trees and poplars grew, out of which he could make a raft. So he set to work, and cut down the trees, and made a raft, with a mast, and a sail, and a rudder, and bundles of osiers all round to keep the waves from washing over it.

"When he was ready to start, Calypso gave him some handsome clothes and a skin of wine, and another great skin of water, and several baskets full of food. And she made a warm and gentle wind blow; this she was able to do because she was a goddess. She showed him those stars in the sky that are called the Great Bear, and said: 'You must always keep them on your left.'

"So he set his sail, and went on for seventeen days and seventeen nights, never shutting his eyes, but always watching to see that the Bear was on his left.

"Now one of the gods hated him. This was the Lord of the Sea, and when he saw Ulysses almost at his journey's end he grew very angry, and said: 'What is this? How has this fellow managed to get so near home?'

"And he raised a terrible storm. One big wave struck Ulysses so hard, that he lost his hold on the rudder, and fell into the sea; and at the same moment the wind broke the mast of the raft. The poor man was very nearly drowned, for the fine clothes which the goddess had given him weighed him down. But at last he got on to the raft again, and sat there, not knowing what would happen to him next.

"But one of the nymphs of the sea saw him, and was very sorry for him. She rose out of the sea, and sat upon the raft like a seagull, and said: 'Cast off your clothes, and jump into the sea, and swim to land. As for the raft, let it go, for it will not help you any more. And see, take this veil, and wind it round you; it will keep you from sinking. And mind that when you get safe to land, you throw it into the sea, and don't look behind you when you do it.'

"When the nymph had said this she dived under the sea and vanished. But Ulysses was afraid to leave the raft, and try to swim to the shore, for he knew that it was a long way off. Then another great wave came, and broke the raft to pieces, and he was left sitting astride on a single beam. Then he felt that he could not help himself; so he stripped off his clothes, and put the veil under his chest, and jumped into the sea.

"Two days and two nights he floated along, till he was nearly dead. On the morning of the third day he saw the land from the top of a big wave (the storm had ceased, but the waves were still very high). But when he got near he saw no place where he could land, the shore was so steep and rocky. And while he was thinking what he should do, a great wave drove him against one of the rocks. That time he was almost killed; but he put forth all his strength, and swam out to sea till he got outside the breakers. Then he swam along looking for a quiet place, and at last he came to a river. Then he landed, but he was so tired that as soon as he got on to the dry land he fainted away. No long time after he came to himself again. And the very first thing that he did was to throw the veil backwards into the sea, and he was very careful not to look behind him when he did it."

"What would have happened to him if he had?" asked the little boy.

"He never knew," said Leon, "and he did not care to know; for he was one of the wise people who did what they were told without asking why."

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