Saturday, October 9, 2010

Invalided

THE extraordinary fatigues which Charidemus had undergone, together with continual exposure to the burning summer heat, resulted in a long and dangerous illness. He had strength enough to make his way along with a number of other invalided men to Ecbatana; but immediately after his arrival in that city the fever which had been lurking in his system declared itself in an acute form. For many days he hovered between life and death, and his recovery was long and tedious, and interrupted by more than one dangerous relapse. All this time the outer world was nothing to him. First came days of delirium in which he raved of battles and sieges, with now and then a softer note in his voice contrasting strangely with the ringing tone of the words of command. These were followed by weeks of indifference, during which the patient took no care for anything but the routine of the sick-room. When his thoughts once more returned to the business and interests of life it was already autumn. Almost the first news from the world without that penetrated the retirement of his sick-room was the story of a terrible tragedy that had happened almost within sight and hearing.

Parmenio, the oldest, the most trusted of the lieutenants of Alexander, was dead, treacherously slain by his master's orders; and Philotas his son, the most brilliant cavalry leader in the army, had been put to death on a charge of treason. Whether that charge was true or false no one knew for certain, as no one has been able to discover since. But there were many who believed that both men had been shamefully murdered. The accusation was certainly improbable—for what had Parmenio and his son, both as high in command as they could hope to be, to gain? And it rested on the weakest evidence, the testimony of a worthless boy and a still more worthless woman.

All Charidemus's feelings were prepossessed in favour of the king; but the story came upon him as an awful shock. With Parmenio he had had no personal acquaintance, but Philotas had been in a way his friend. Haughty and overbearing in his general demeanour, he had treated Charidemus with especial kindness. The first effect of the news was to throw him back in his recovery. For a time, indeed, he was again dangerously ill. He ceased to care for life, and life almost slipped from his grasp.

He was slowly struggling back to health, much exercised all the time by doubts about his future, when a letter from the king was put into his hands. It ran thus:—

"Alexander the king to Charidemus, greeting.

"I hear with pleasure that the gods have preserved you to us. But you must not tempt the Fates again. You have had four years of warfare; let it suffice you for the present. It so happens that at this moment of writing I have before me the demand of Amyntas, son of Craterus, to be relieved of his command. He is, as you know, Governor of Pergamos, and he wishes to take part in the warfare which I purpose to carry on in the further East. This command, therefore, of which he is not unreasonably weary, you may not unreasonably welcome. Herewith is the order that appoints you to it. My keeper of the treasure at Ecbatana will pay you two hundred talents. Consider this as your present share of prize-money. You will also find herewith letters that you will deliver with your own hand. If you have other friends in Pergamos, greet them from me, and say that I wish well both to them and to you. Be sure that if hereafter I shall need you I shall send for you. Farewell."

This communication solved at least one of the problems over which the young man had been puzzling. The physician had told him most emphatically that for a year or more all campaigning was out of the question. Here was a post which, as far as its duties were concerned, was practically equal to retirement. If he had had his choice he could not have picked out anything more suitable to his circumstances. A doubt indeed occurred whether, after what had happened, he could take anything from Alexander's hands. But the State, he reflected, must be served. Pergamos must have its garrison, if for no other reason, at least because the child who was at present the king's only heir was there, and the garrison must have its commander.

And besides—who was he that he should judge the king? It would be painful, he acknowledged to himself, to be in daily contact with a man whose hands were red with the blood of a friend. That pain he would be spared. But it was another thing to refuse office at his hand. That would be to pronounce sentence in a case which he had no means of deciding. It was only after conscientiously weighing the matter by the weights of duty that the young man suffered himself to consult his private feelings. Here at least there was not a shadow of doubt in his mind. It was a grief to the ambitious young soldier to be checked in his active career. The campaign which the king was meditating in the further East promised to be full of adventure and interest, but if he was, for the future, to hear only of these glories, where could he do so with greater content than in the daily companionship of Clearista?

The westward journey was begun the next week. It was accomplished far more easily and speedily than would have been the case a short time before. The traffic between the coast and Upper Asia was now constant; the passage of invalided soldiers homeward, and of fresh troops to join the army, went on without intermission, and consequently the service of transport had been effectively organized. In about eight weeks Charidemus reported himself at Pergamos, and took possession of his new command.

Barsiné welcomed him with the liveliest delight, and was never wearied of his stories of the campaigns through which he had passed. Clearista, now grown from a girl into a woman—it was nearly four years since the two first met in the citadel of Halicarnassus—had exchanged the frank demeanour of childhood for a maidenly reserve. The young soldier, who had had little experience of women's ways, was at first disappointed and disheartened by what seemed her coldness. He knew nothing, of course, of the intense eagerness with which she had looked out for tidings of him during these years of absence, of the delight with which she had heard of his probable return, of the day-dreams of which he was ever the principal figure. She treated him as a casual acquaintance, but he was her hero, and not the less so, because, while he was full of striking reminiscences of the war, it was very difficult to get from him any account of personal adventure.

Certainly a Greek treatise on the subject of "How Men Propose" would have had to be very brief, for lack of variety. Men proposed, it may be said, invariably to the parents or guardian of the lady. But it must not be supposed that then, any more than now, among people where marriage arrangements seem most rigorously to exclude any notion of choice, there was no previous understanding between the young people. Cramp and confine it as you will, human nature is pretty much the same in all times and places.

Charidemus made his suit in due form and to the person whom he was bound by custom to address, to Barsiné. But he did not make it till he had satisfied himself, as far as that could be done without actual words, that the suit would be welcome to the party chiefly interested. Reserve, however carefully maintained, is not always on its guard; a look or a word sometimes betrayed a deeper interest than the girl chose to acknowledge; in short, Charidemus felt hopeful of the result when he opened his heart to Barsiné, and he was not disappointed.

The marriage was solemnized on the fifth anniversary of the day on which Alexander had crossed over from Europe into Asia.

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