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Alfred J. Church

Before the Archon

The plot had all the success which the combination of favourable circumstances seemed to promise for it. The bearer of the forged letter covered the distance that lay between his starting point and Corinth so quickly that he reached his destination before noon on the following day, and he had no difficulty in finding the trainer's house, and in delivering the false missive to the person to whom it was addressed. It caused, as may easily be supposed, no small disturbance. The trainer was furious, all the more so as he felt he could not with a good grace, or even with any reasonable hope of success, object to the young man obeying the summons. After all a man is an apparently reasonable creature, and cannot be handled with the compulsion that is used with animals. A horse may be forced with whip and spur to make an extraordinary effort, but he cannot be made to run a whole race by the use of such stimulants. A man is even less amenable to force. Eubulus might be brought to the starting point, but unless he could be made to run with willingness and zeal, he might quite as well not have been brought thither. The trainer had the good sense to make no delay in yielding. If the thing had to be done, it would be better done at once. If the young man were to go at once, he might be back again in time to run the race. It was a lamentable contretemps; still, it was not necessarily fatal. If the gods gave a speedy recovery or a speedy end to this most inopportune illness, all might yet go well. As for Eubulus, he did not doubt for a moment the genuineness of the message. The thought never indeed occurred to him. He did not recognize the bearer as having been in Eumenes' employment, but this was not likely. The workmen had been transferred with the building and apparatus to Aquila. On the other hand he knew the seal, impressions of which were sufficiently familiar, and the man was acquainted, as has been said, with a number of particulars connected with the family. He introduced in his talk various little details about this or that member of it in a way that would have dissipated any doubts, even if the young man had entertained them. The preparations for the journey were speedily made, for they were of the slightest. The young man carried with him a small stock of food, just as much as he could carry without hindrance to his speed. He hoped to reach Mantinea, which was little more than forty miles distant, before sunset, and he promised that he would return, unless absolutely prevented by circumstances, on the third day. The trainer had no alternative to accepting this conditional promise. He implored the young man not to fail him: to lose what he said was as near a certainty as anything in human life could possibly be, would, he said, be the height of folly. He repeated his entreaties and commands with pathetic insistence up to the very moment of Eubulus's departure. When the young man was out of sight he burst into tears of mixed vexation and anger—tears were a relief to the feelings in which the impetuous Greek was very ready to indulge. Recovering from his outburst, he bethought him of something which might possibly help to bring about an accomplishment of his wishes. Though not by any means used to exercises of piety he determined to offer a sacrifice to Hermes, an appropriate deity, as being at once the patron god of the race-course and of athletics generally, and also the giver of good luck. This done, he sat down to wait, with as much patience as he could muster, the issue of the affair. It may be easily supposed that his household, whether competitors in training or slaves, did not have for the next few days an easy time. The messenger, though he received from Pauson the strictest commandment to return at once, could not resist the temptation of stopping a day or two in Corinth. He was a dissipated young fellow, and he had two or three gold pieces in his pocket; to such a man so circumstanced the city offered irresistible attractions. In any case his revels would not have lasted very long, for Corinth was notorious among the cities of Greece for the speed with which she emptied the pockets of her guests, but they were very soon brought to an end. The trainer had given him an hospitable draught of wine, of a quality and potency to which he was not accustomed. This, swallowed while he was yet fasting, had upset his balance. Another flagon purchased at a wine shop hard by had completed his overthrow. The next thing was a drunken brawl, for he was ever quarrelsome in his cups, and the end that in less than four hours after passing through the gate of Corinth he was in the custody of the guardians of the city's peace.

Archias had happened to be on his way back from one of the temples to his official residence when the disturbance took place, and he gave orders that the culprit should be brought before him at once. Half sobered by this fright, but not yet in full command of such faculties as he possessed, the man could think of nothing better than telling so much of the truth as would not absolutely incriminate him. He had come, he said, from Mantinea with a message from Eumenes, who had quite recently come to live in that city, to his son at Corinth. The message was to the effect that Eumenes was dangerously ill and desired to see his son without delay.

All this sounded sufficiently true. Archias was aware of his own knowledge that Eumenes had lately left Corinth to take up a situation at Mantinea, and that Eubulus was his son.

"Where," he asked, "did you deliver the message?"

"At the trainer's house," was the reply.

A slave was dispatched with instructions to find out whether this account was correct. The result appeared to be satisfactory. The trainer's narrative exactly bore out the statement of the accused. The message itself which Eubulus had left behind him in the hurry of departure, was produced, and seemed to be another link in the chain of evidence. It was exactly what the prisoner had described. Archias was about to discharge the man with a caution not to get into trouble, he salving the wound which he had inflicted with half a dozen drachmae, when an unexpected difficulty arose. The official who assisted the Archon when he was sitting on the Bench was an expert in documents, as indeed he needed to be. Frauds were very common, for they were easily committed. Signatures made in handwriting are frequently imitated; when they were made by the purely mechanical method of dipping a seal into ink or other liquid, imitations were easy enough and naturally more frequent. He now whispered to the magistrate that he had some questions to ask about the document just brought into court. There was something suspicious about it, and it would be well to hear what the prisoner had to say. The Archon gave him permission to interrogate the prisoner, and cross-examination began.

"Did you see Eumenes sign this letter?"

The prisoner would have done well to answer this question in the negative, and to say that it had been brought from the sick man's room, and handed to him for delivery, but he had a vague idea that by saying he had seen the signature affixed he would be adding to the apparent genuineness of the paper.

"You saw him dip the seal in the ink then?"

"Yes, I saw him."

The clerk's next remark was not made aloud, but whispered into the Archon's ear.

"As far as I can make out, the stuff into which the seal has been dipped is not ink at all, but a rude substitute for it."

Another question was addressed to the prisoner.

"And the paper? Where did the paper come from? Did you see the writer take it from a drawer or case, or was it handed to him?"

The prisoner's suspicions were aroused. These questions did not augur good. Immediately he stood on the defensive.

"I don't know anything about the paper. It was lying by him when I came into the room, and I know nothing more than that he signed it."

The clerk now made another whispered communication to the magistrate. He had made some discoveries about the paper. He recognized it as a kind that was sold by a certain dealer in Corinth, who received it direct from Egypt, and who used to declare that he had the monopoly of it. A piece of it might of course have found its way to Mantinea, but this was not very likely. Then, again, it looked as if it had been used before. Some writing could be faintly traced on the other side, one of the words looking somewhat like Corinth. On the whole the document had a somewhat suspicious appearance, and it seemed not unreasonable that the prisoner should be kept in custody till the matter could be more fully investigated.

The court in which these proceedings had taken place was open to the public, and while they were going on two persons had come in whose presence happened to be singularly opportune. The two were the Corsican captain and his now inseparable companion Rufus.

The two had been listening with the deepest attention to an account given them by a by-stander of what had been going on. The prisoner, they were given to understand, had been taken into custody for taking part in a brawl, and had accounted for his presence in Corinth by saying that he had brought an urgent message to Eubulus the runner from his father at Mantinea. They had been long enough in Corinth to know something about Eubulus, whose name, indeed, was in every one's mouth. His mysterious illness and not less mysterious recovery had been freely canvassed. And the suspicion that things were not quite straight had been freely expressed. And now his name had turned up again. This time Rufus, who had a professional acquaintance with such matters, anticipated the conclusions of his companions. He had seen such devices practised, and had indeed taken part in practising them himself. When he perceived that the genuineness of the summons was questioned—for so much could be gathered from the questions addressed to the prisoner by the magistrate's clerk—he divined at once the character of the whole business.

"Depend upon it," he whispered to the Corsican, "this is another dodge to get at the runner. He has been enticed out of the city by a forged message, and there are fellows to lay hands on him. I have known such things done myself."

"Then tell the magistrate what you suspect," said the Corsican.

"I think that you had better do it," answered Rufus. "I must own that I am not quite at my ease when talking to gentlemen of his way of thinking."

The Corsican acknowledged the force of the remark, and rising from his seat at the back the court, said in passable Greek acquired during frequent residences at Alexandria, that he had something for the private ear of the Archon. He was accordingly invited to take a seat on the Bench, Rufus modestly remaining meanwhile in the background. His story carried conviction. The suspicious departure of Ariston fitted in exactly with what had happened since. They could hardly doubt that the attempt to disable Eubulus having failed, he had been lured out of the city by a forged message and was probably by this time in the hands of the brigands.