Leon and his family stopped at Corinth for some time after the games were finished. The fact was that, though there was still peace, between Athens and Sparta a good deal of angry feeling had sprung up, and it seemed doubtful whether it would be well for Manto to go with her Athenian friends, as had been once arranged. So they waited week after week to see how things would turn out; and as there was plenty to see in Corinth and the places round about, they did not find it at all dull. At last Agis, who had got away from his soldier's duty, made up his mind to take his wife back to Sparta. Manto was very sorry to say good-bye to them, and the girls were almost broken-hearted at the thought of losing the dear little baby. After this there was nothing to keep them at Corinth. Within a day or two it happened by good luck that their old friend, the Xantho, came into harbor. The former mate was now captain, and Leon was very glad to accept his offer of a passage to Athens, which his master had told him to make.
At the Vintage
The voyage to Athens was made in safety. They sailed inside Salamis by Megara. This was not the shortest way, as you will see by the map, but it was the most sheltered, and so the smoothest. And they had the pleasure of seeing old Ladon. He was fishing, as usual, for anchovies.
At Athens they stopped longer than they had expected, and far longer than the children wished. First, Leon had a good deal of business to do; and then, when he was ready to start, there was a fire at the Marathon home, and much had to be done before it was ready for the family. As it was, they came just in time for the rejoicings at the end of the vintage.
The children had never been in the country before at this time, and they were very much amused at what they saw. There were dances of the women, and dances of the men, and singing, and the music of flutes and cymbals and drums. But the most curious thing was the way in which some of the men dressed themselves up. They had goat-skins and deer-skins round their waists; these reached down to a little above their knees. All the rest of their bodies was bare, and so were their arms. These parts were curiously painted with many colors, black and red and yellow and blue. They had garlands, too, of various kinds of leaves, and they wore masks, which were like the heads of animals, bears and lions and tigers. Last of all there was a play. This was chosen by Leon, who had seen it acted a few years before in Athens, and thought it very beautiful. I should tell you that plays were always acted at the feasts of the wine god, and that at this feast, at the end of the vintage, old plays used to be brought out again. And now I will tell you something of what they saw.
First of all they saw Apollo with his bow and arrows walking up and down in front of the house of King Admetus. He tells the people that the king had been about to die, but had been told that he might live if he could get some one to die in his stead, and that his wife, Alcestis, had offered to do this, and now the day was come when Death was to fetch her. Then Death came upon the stage, dressed in black, with a black mask upon his face. He and Apollo have a long dispute, for Apollo wants Death to take some old person instead of the young Alcestis; but Death declares that he will not be robbed of his prey, and that he wants the young as well as the old. So he carries her off. Very soon after he has gone comes in Hercules with his lion's skin and his bow and quiver on his shoulders, and his great club in his hand. He is on one of his journeys, to get the horses of Diomed, King of Thrace, terrible creatures, that their master used to feed on the flesh of men. Admetus is an old friend, and he wishes to stop for the night in his house. The king is too hospitable to send him away. He does not deny that there has been a death in the house, but he says it was the death of some one not related to him, which was true in a way, for Alcestis, though she was his wife, was not related to him. Hercules, when he hears this, consents to stay.
The next scene showed Hercules eating and drinking and singing merry songs. He cannot understand why all the people about him look so sad, and thinks that they are not treating him as a guest very well. At last he makes himself so disagreeable that the steward tells him the truth, that the dead woman was his host's wife. Hercules is very much ashamed of himself and his behavior, and determines to do what he can to make amends.
In the last scene he comes in leading by the hand a woman whose face is covered by a veil. He tells the king that he has won her as a prize in some games, and he wants him to take care of her in his house. Admetus does not like to undertake the charge, and the two have a long argument about it. At last he consents, and tells his servants to lead her to the palace. "You should not hand the lady over to servants," says Hercules. "Then lead her in yourself," answered the king. "Not I; you must take her, and only you." "She may go into the house, but I will not take her." "But it is to no one but you that I would trust her." "You constrain me against my will. But if I must, I must." "Reach out your hand, then." "I would as soon touch a Fury's head." "Have you hold of her?" "I have." "Then keep her, and see to whom she is like."
So as Admetus lifted off the veil all the children cried out together: "Oh, she is his wife come home again!"
"And we have come home again," said Gorgo, when the people had finished clapping their hands, "and it is very nice, though we have not been dead."