Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

incredible, now that I think of it. He said-but you will laugh, it is so absurd

"

Periander did not laugh; his countenance grew like that of Lycophron, black and pale, like the winter sky when the clouds pile up upon it in mountains, and are full of rain. But Cypselus gave vent to his merriment, throwing himself back in foolish laughter. 'My father, he told us-that you had killed Melissa: I remember.'

Periander spoke not a word; but even Cypselus himself, foolish as he was, was sobered by his father's face, and the courtiers who were round shrank aside and withdrew themselves out of the tyrant's path. Among them were men who knew far better than her children how Melissa had come by her death, and, divining what the talisman was that Procles must have employed, had attempted to stop the mouth of the foolish brother. They dispersed, as by a wind, from Periander's path as he turned round in awful silence, and flinging the end of his mantle over his shoulder, strode across the marble floor. The marble reflected dully his step and his shadow, as his memory reflected that deed of the past. So long ago, so covered over with the oblivion of years, half forgotten even by himself. But the gods, though they seem so indifferent, had after all not forgotten. They had awaited the hour and the man. Periander's thoughts, however, were not those of penitence. After the first shock there blazed up within him a sudden fire of rage against Procles and Lycophron, and all who knew his guilt, and dared to criticise his actions. Should he, the ruler of Corinth, be called upon to account to a boy for what he had done? What was it to Lycophron, a puling child, if the master of a princely house executed his pleasure upon his wife? A boy, not so old as his father's beard, less strong than his forefinger. Was he to place himself on the seat of justice and judge his sovereign? Periander's wrath blazed up into fury. He sent off a messenger to the Corinthian noble, with whom his son had found a home, commanding him to cast out Lycophron without a moment's delay. Periander was not a ruler with whom his subjects dared to trifle, and the mandate was sorrowfully obeyed. Another house opened its doors to the persecuted youth, with the same result. The enraged father followed him from house to house with angry vigilance, and from house after house Lycophron was driven, still silent, with perhaps a smile half of sorrow half of scorn, unyielding, unconquerable-saying not a word. At last, inflamed more and more by the stern disdain of this silence, by the pale countenance which he could still see about the streets, spectator of all his actions, remorseless judge and executioner in one, the tyrant launched his last and most terrible thunderbolt at the head of his son. Periander issued such an edict of excommunication as priests made use of in later ages forbidding all and sundry to harbour Lycophron, or to comfort him, to give him food or drink, or even address a word of kindness to the outlaw. The penalty of the offence in such a case was to be a heavy fine to Apollo. Thus the legal condemnation was

strengthened, and religion brought in to confirm the penalty. The young prince and heir was henceforward a vagabond, given up to the infernal gods.

Lycophron bore this new change of circumstances with the same firmness and proud silence as before. He made no accusation, attempted no rebellion, but saw his friends cut off from him, and all the palliations of his pain removed without a word. All Corinth looked on pitying and excited at the desperate duel between the father and the son; but the young man took no advantage of the situation, raised no party, attempted no vengeance. No fury of revenge like that of Orestes moved him. Did he fear the Furies, those dark avengers who sooner or later find every sinner out, the pursuers from whose hands the slayer of Clytemnestra scarcely escaped ? Lycophron was no Orestes. Neither the dagger of the assassin nor the craft of the conspirator was his. When the heart of the people was full of sympathy for his wrongs, and subdued indignation, and when it would have been according to all the traditions of his time that he should have taken advantage of that popular sympathy, and overthrown the tyrant who was the murderer of his mother, and taken possession of the throne, he confused all his enemies and his friends by the inaction of a modern dreamer, the attitude of one so sadly disenchanted with the earth and its treacheries as to scorn all the petty panaceas of personal success. What would it have been to him to wrest the throne from the murderer, to make himself that futile amends of vengeance which never restored the dead nor healed a mortal wound? Would that give back to him the beautiful world as it had been when Periander was his true father, and his home was pure of stain, and the foundations of the earth stood fast ? Some men there are who find a satisfaction in revenge, and are reconciled with the world when crime is punished, but Lycophron was not one of these. The soil was cut away beneath his feet, and no forced junction of the two edges, no bridging over of the chasm, could make it solid ground as of old. Therefore it was that Corinth saw such a sight as the primæval world had never seen before. The son of its ruler lived in the city the life of an outcast, obeying and accepting with a proud disdain his father's judgment against him, maintaining himself as he could on furtive gifts and the gatherings of the streets, sleeping under the porticoes of the temples, under the stately colonnades through which a little while before he had swept with a courtly retinue, the observed of all observers. Not a complaint, not a petition fell from his lips. He passed the palaces of his former friends, the temples and Forum where no one dared address a word to him, silent himself, in proud possession of his soul, patient, with a lofty scorn of all that Fate could do had not Fate done its worst? What was it to him to be homeless, penniless, in want and desolation, when first his soul had been beggared, his home desolated, bis affections outraged, all trust and hope taken out of his life? He who has borne the greater can smile at the lesser woe; and with many a bitter musing—but not of his outcast life, and many a sorrowful meditative questioning of heaven and earth—but not of how to get bis comforts back, or his splendours of heirship, Lycophron stretched himself like other outcasts upon the white steps of the temple, or perhaps with a smile more wonderful still at that excess of circumstantial irony, under the marble archways of the palace, while his father, with sleepless eyes and passionate resentment, not less unhappy, watched within.

This sight, however, which filled all the city with wonder and awe, began to work upon the mind of Periander with an increasing force. When men love each other or hate each other intensely, the world becomes to each concentrated in the other all-important figure, whose doings, in admiration or disgust, fill up all their horizon. What must, then, the effect be when love and hate are combined ? And if to Lycophron—who was young, and to whom, even in his misery, chance distractions, happier contemplations of the moment, would come in spite of himself—Periander was the chief object in Corinth, the one inhabitant there whom he could not forget, whose movements he followed, whose steps he watched with intense spectatorship; how much more to Periander was every interest concentrated in the proud, silent, resentful boy, whom nothing could subdue, who smiled at all the penalties that could be inflicted, and with the serenity of despair defied all efforts to bring him to his knees. Amid all the obsequious crowds about, this rebel's was the one face that Periander saw. He felt the boy's eye upon him in every ceremonial of state, and the stern inquiry of his looks when crime was being judged or sentence given, and the scorn with which he smiled when a criminal, less guilty than the judge, received his sentence. Periander read, as in à book, the meaning in his son's mind, and being of kindred soul comprehended it, and saw mirrored in his own the thoughts of this adversary, dearly beloved and deeply hated. What was Corinth but a stage upon which these two worked out a feud that was irreconcilable, a combat fierce as human passion could make it, yet interrupted and intensified by yearnings of natural affection, by wild gusts of pity and pride and admiration and insufferable pain? Where could the stern ruler see a successor so meet as the unconquerable youth whose eyes pursued him through all his triumphs with looks that never wavered, of condemnation as stern and unrelenting as his own ? nay, less relenting, for had not every new severity been an appeal to the rebel ? The tyrant watched his son, as proud in rags as any other in the purple, with pride, with admiration, with fierce determination to subdue him, with sudden meltings of pity. It was to the latter of these impulses that he yielded at last. One day, seeing this constantly thought of, cherished, outlawed, miserable, yet indomitable son, a prince in rags, proudly careless of what befell him, on the roadside as be passed, Periander was moved by one of those sudden outbursts of fatherly affection. “My son,' he said, “which is better, to wander about in misery, or to be my heir, the son of the great ruler of Corinth? In my past life, hear me confess it, there happened a great misfortune—was it less to me than to you? You were a child and knew nothing till an enemy whispered it in your ear; but I—what did I lose ? a companion, the sharer of my life—and think you my sorrow was less or my suffering, because I myself, insensate, was the wretched one who did it? Oh, Lycophron I listen to the words of your father. Know you whom it is that you oppose: a king who can destroy you, a father who can curse you? Is it wise thus to struggle in vain with those who are stronger than you ? is it natural to set yourself against your father ? Come back, oh, my son! come back, and let this misery be overpast!'

Lycophron looked at his father as he spoke, with eyes more stern, more lofty than ever. •You forget,' he said, “O Periander, that he

' you address is excommunicated. Have you forgotten the law that bids no man speak to Lycophron? Go, pay your fine to Apollo. And while all the cavalcade trembled, and Periander stood thunderstruck like one deprived of reason, the outcast rose from the dust and

turned away.

After this, as was natural, Periander's passion of baffled love and rage blazed up once more. He could neither endure this defiance, nor permit his people to see how he could be dared and defied. His next step was to banish his son to Corcyra, removing at least the daily spectacle of his resistance from bis eyes. And wild with pain and wrath, he himself took an easier and less costly vengeance. He marched with an army against Epidaurus, where the fatal secret had been told, took the city, and seized Procles, the maker of strife. What was done to the old man whose interference had been so fatal, the story does not tell.

Thus Lycophron was banished out of sight, but not out of mind, as will be seen. He submitted to his father's sentence, as he had always done, making no attempt at resistance; and it may easily be supposed that it was to their mutual relief that these two adversaries found themselves delivered from the intense attraction of each other's presence-freed from that watch which neither could choose but keep upon the other. To the youth, at least, the liberation must have been salutary. The silence of the sea, the monotonous sweep of the oars, disturbed only by the bustle of setting sails to a favourable wind-and all the universe shut out, and existence limited to that one floating world of life in which every man had his work to do, and all were faithful to their duty at peril of destruction—soothed his soul. If his thoughts were no less bitter as the slow leagues of seawater slid gliding under the keel, and the hum of the oarsmen made an atmosphere of sound around the boat, at least there were openings around him into the honest interests of a simple life ; and when Lycophron reached the island of his banishment, his youth and sorrow and mysterious story made him friends. The Corcyræans loved not Periander, but for tbat very cause received into their sympathies Periander's rebellious son. This, however, was not the kind of rebellion that was intelligible to that early world. Had he raised among them a fire of insurrection, and proclaimed his wrongs, and made himself the head of a faction, and wrested Corcyra from the hands of Periander, both Corinth and Corcyra would have understood Lycophron. But not even now did he form any party, or give any explanation of the gloom that had fallen upon his life. That gloom was too profound, and the severance too complete, to admit of measures of recovery. He lived on the island as he had lived in the city, separated by the horrible shadow of that crime from everything real and practical and true. It stood between him and mankind, it stood between him and all the joys of life, it paralysed all his youthful energies, and chilled his every feeling. But yet, though he had neither heart nor hope for action, the stern and thoughtful youth got friends. The Corcyræans pitied and wondered at him, so young, so cut off from all that was delightful in life; they looked at him with awe, as a being of another species, not being able to contemplate him, on the other hand, with contempt as a weakling unable to avenge terribly. Spite of this amazing self-control, which was past their comprehension, the exiled prince was not one to endure, or to permit contempt. If they could have understood him they would have loved him; but who in these early ages could understand the young man who struck no blow either for advancement or for revenge? No one; yet the islanders took his part blindly, without either wish or acceptance of his.

And the court of Corinth returned to its old ways. By turns there would be whispers of the absent heir, and heads shaken, and ominous forecasts made. More foolish than ever grew Cypselus, more clearly incapable of any sway, and Periander was virtually sonless, and the family of the Cypselides, so recently founded, so vigorous as it had seemed, on the verge of returning to the obscurity from whence it came. All this was present to the eyes of the ruler of Corinth with far more force than was perceived by his courtiers. He was old, and sooner or later he must die—and who was to come after him? He was old, and already his hands were less strong to wield either the sceptre or the sword : and who was to aid him in these imperial cares ? Not Cypselus, for he was a fool; not Labda, for she was a woman.

And Periander's heart cried out for his boy. Was it not boyish waywardness after all—perhaps a touch of madness, exaggeration, the overstrain and absolutism of youthful passion ? He missed even that stern pale countenance, even the reproach of that povertystricken wanderer about the streets. While he was there, a pitiless spectator of all the contradictions of Periander's life, the sight of him had been insupportable; but now still more insupportable was the vacancy in which his father's imagination still beheld him, stern in that remorseless virtue of inexperience, making no excuses, incapable of forgetting. Neither could Periander forget. He had banished his son, he had subdued his enemy, he had cleared away all disap

No. 610 (No. cxxx, x. s.)

MM

« AnteriorContinuar »