Gateway to the Classics: Our Little Macedonian Cousin of Long Ago by Julia Darrow Cowles
 
Our Little Macedonian Cousin of Long Ago by  Julia Darrow Cowles

Nearchus Becomes a Page

As they drew near to the outer gates of the palace they met a group of boys accompanied by an older man.

"They are doubtless going to the school or the gymnasium," said Parmenion, and he exchanged a word of greeting with the man. "That is Leonidas," he added. "He is a relative of Queen Olympia, and has charge of Alexander's education."

"Is Alexander among them?" asked Nearchus eagerly.

"No," replied Parmenion, "I do not see him."

Nearchus scanned eagerly the faces of the boys who passed him, and they in turn looked curiously at him.

"A new Page," he heard one of them say. "I wonder what he will be like."

As they were about to enter the gates they were halted by a soldier. At the same moment they heard the music of a flute, and a company of the Companions rode forth on prancing horses, followed by a band of foot soldiers.

"Is there a war?" questioned Nearchus of his father.

"No," replied Parmenion with a smile. "They are only drilling. You will grow accustomed to such sights in Pella. Philip drills his men like a Spartan,—but fortunately he does not feed them upon the Spartan black broth."

When the company had passed, Parmenion and Nearchus entered the gate. The size of the castle and the strength of its walls, struck Nearchus with amazement. The courtyard seemed filled with boys, horses, men; all darting, prancing, hallooing. Nearchus' blood went tingling through his veins. "There will be plenty of excitement in life at court," was his thought.

A moment later he was following his father through the great doors of the palace. For a few moments he was left alone, and he spent the time in looking about him, and noting the splendor by which he was surrounded.


[Illustration]

For a few moments he was left alone.

His own home, near the foothills, was comfortable, but simple in all its appointments. It had seemed to him quite luxurious, however, in contrast to the homes of the people of the hill tribes beyond them. But of such magnificence as he now beheld he had never dreamed.

The walls about were hung with tapestries of rich, even gorgeous colorings, and they were heavy with the glittering threads of their embroideries. On the floors were soft rugs into which his feet sank as he stepped, and he half drew back, wondering that such beauty should be placed beneath men's feet.

On the walls about him hung armor of wonderful workmanship. There were helmets with waving plumes, shields of brass, curiously and richly embossed, and bows so large and heavy it seemed to Nearchus that only a giant could draw them.

Every object upon which he looked was in striking contrast to the simplicity of the Macedonian homes that he had seen. Then he remembered to have heard his father say that Philip had spent many years of his life in Thebes, a city of Greece, and that he had adopted many of the Greek customs, as well as the Greek manner of living.

"I am to learn to speak Greek," thought Nearchus, "and to live like a Greek, it seems. But, all the same," and he drew himself up to his full height, "I am a Macedonian!"

"Of what are you thinking?" asked a frank, half-amused voice at his side. Nearchus turned. A young boy of about his own age stood before him, and as Nearchus looked upon him he thought him the most beautiful, the most attractive youth he ever had seen.

With a frankness quite equal to that of his questioner, Nearchus replied, "I was thinking of the new life I am to begin at court. It seems to me that it must be more Greek than Macedonian; and I am a Macedonian!"

The soft eyes of his companion sparkled, and he thrust out his hand. "I, too, am a Macedonian," said he, as he grasped Nearchus' hand in a cordial clasp, "but you know we Macedonians are also Greeks."

"We are Greeks?" questioned Nearchus, looking puzzled.

"Yes, indeed we are, of the same race, the same stock. I will prove it to you some day, but now I must hurry on. I am late at the gymnasium already, and Leonidas is very strict." He made a wry face; then, with a laugh and a friendly nod, he was gone.

"Well," exclaimed Parmenion,—and Nearchus turned at sound of his father's voice,—"you have made the acquaintance of Alexander early!"

"Alexander!" exclaimed Nearchus. "Was that Alexander? I did not know!" Then he added: "But I might have known no other boy could have such beautiful features and so noble a bearing."

As he followed his father through what seemed endless halls and chambers he kept repeating under his breath, "Alexander! Alexander! And he was the first person in Pella to greet me!"

Nearchus had been so amazed by his meeting with the young prince that he had given no thought to the ordeal of being presented to the King. But in spite of the luxury and grandeur of the castle and its furnishings, Philip cared comparatively little, when among his own intimates, about ceremonials and forms. He was on good terms with his Companions, and the presentation of their sons as Pages was not a very trying ordeal after all.

On the afternoon of the same day, Nearchus found himself, with other boys, ushered into the King's presence. The room was even more magnificent than those which Nearchus had previously seen, and Philip sat upon his throne in his kingly robes.

The father of each boy made a speech, and introduced his son by name to the King. Some of the speeches were rather long and filled with praises of the King. But Parmenion, who chanced to be last, contented himself by saying, "This, oh, King, is my elder son, Nearchus. May he be a loyal subject, and serve you well."

Then the King addressed the boys briefly, ending by charging them to remember that in serving him they served all Macedonia.

Soon after this they were dismissed, going to the quarters assigned the youths, where they were instructed in their duties by the master of the Pages.

And so, with little ceremony, but with great earnestness of purpose, Nearchus became a Page of King Philip of Macedon.


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