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A Piece Of Possible History
by [?]

They soon appeared on foot, but hardly burdened by the light packs they bore.

A soldier’s welcome soon made the Ionian sailors as much at home with the men of the bivouac, as they had been through the day with the detachment from the sea-board. A few minutes were enough to draw out sheep-skins for them to lie upon, a skin of wine for their thirst, a bunch of raisins and some oat-cakes for their hunger; a few minutes more had told the news which each party asked from the other; and then these sons of the sea and these war-bronzed Philistines were as much at ease with each other as if they had served under the same sky for years.

“We were listening to music,” said the old chief, “when you came up. Some of our young men have gone up, indeed, to the picket yonder, to hear the harper sing, whose voice you catch sometimes, when we are not speaking.”

“You find the Muses in the midst of arms, then,” said one of the young Ionians.

“Muses?” said the old Philistine, laughing. “That sounds like you Greeks. Ah! sir, in our rocks here we have few enough Muses, but those who carry these lances, or teach us how to trade with the islands for tin.”

“That’s not quite fair,” cried another. “The youngsters who are gone sing well; and one of them has a harp I should be glad you should see. He made it himself from a gnarled olive-root.” And he turned to look for it.

“You’ll not find it in the tent: the boy took it with him. They hoped the Ziklag minstrel might ask them to sing, I suppose.”

“A harp of olive-wood,” said the Ionian, “seems Muse-born and Pallas-blessed.”

And, as he spoke, one of the new-comers of the Philistines leaned over, and whispered to the chief: “He is a bard himself, and we made him promise to sing to us. I brought his harp with me that he might cheer up our bivouac. Pray, do you ask him.”

The old chief needed no persuasion; and the eyes of the whole force brightened as they found they had a minstrel “of their own” now, when the old man pressed the young Ionian courteously to let them hear him: “I told you, sir, that we had no Muses of our own; but we welcome all the more those who come to us from over seas.”

Homer smiled; for it was Homer whom he spoke to,–Homer still in the freshness of his unblinded youth. He took the harp which the young Philistine handed to him, thrummed upon its chords, and as he tuned them said: “I have no harp of olive-wood; we cut this out, it was years ago, from an old oleander in the marshes behind Colophon. What will you hear, gentlemen?”

“The poet chooses for himself,” said the courtly old captain.

“Let me sing you, then, of the Olive Harp”; and he struck the chords in a gentle, quieting harmony, which attuned itself to his own spirit, pleased as he was to find music and harmony and the olive of peace in the midst of the rough bivouac, where he had come up to look for war. But he was destined to be disappointed. Just as his prelude closed, one of the young soldiers turned upon his elbow, and whispered contemptuously to his neighbor: “Always olives, always peace: that’s all your music’s good for!”

The boy spoke too loud, and Homer caught the discontented tone and words with an ear quicker than the speaker had given him credit for. He ended the prelude with a sudden crash on the strings, and said shortly, “And what is better to sing of than the olive?”

The more courteous Philistines looked sternly on the young soldier; but he had gone too far to be frightened, and he flashed back: “War is better. My broadsword is better. If I could sing, I would sing to your Ares; we call him Mars!”