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Mr. Achilles   By: (1860-1951)

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By Jennette Lee



"To keep the youth of souls who pitch Their joy in this old heart of things;

Full lasting is the song, though he, The singer, passes; lasting too, For souls not lent in usury, The rapture of the forward view."




Achilles Alexandrakis was arranging the fruit on his stall in front of his little shop on Clark Street. It was a clear, breezy morning, cool for October, but not cold enough to endanger the fruit that Achilles handled so deftly in his dark, slender fingers. As he built the oranges into their yellow pyramid and grouped about them figs and dates, melons and pears, and grapes and pineapples, a look of content held his face. This was the happiest moment of his day.

Already, half an hour ago Alcibiades and Yaxis had departed with their pushcarts, one to the north and one to the south, calling antiphonally as they went, in clear, high voices that came fainter and fainter to Achilles among his fruit.

They would not return until night, and then they would come with empty carts, and jingling in their pockets coppers and nickels and dimes. The breath of a sigh escaped Achilles's lips as he stood back surveying the stall. Something very like homesickness was in his heart. He had almost fancied for a minute that he was back once more in Athens. He raised his eyes and gave a quick, deep glance up and down the street soot and dirt and grime, frowning buildings and ugly lines, and overhead a meagre strip of sky. Over Athens the sky hung glorious, a curve of light from side to side. His soul flew wide to meet it. Once more he was swinging along the "Street of the Winds," his face lifted to the Parthenon on its Acropolis, his nostrils breathing the clear air. Chicago had dropped from him like a garment, his soul rose and floated.... Athens everywhere column and cornice, and long, delicate lines, and colour of marble and light. He drew a full, sweet breath.

Achilles moved with quick, gliding step, taking orders, filling bags, making change always with his dark eyes seeking, a little wistfully, something that did not come to them.... It was all so different this new world. Achilles had been in Chicago six months now, but he had not yet forgotten a dream that he had dreamed in Athens. Sometimes he dreamed it still, and then he wondered whether this, about him, were not all a dream this pushing, scrambling, picking, hurrying, choosing crowd, dropping pennies and dimes into his curving palm, swearing softly at slow change, and flying fast from street to street. It was not thus in his dream. He had seen a land of new faces, turned ever to the West, with the light on them. He had known them, in his dream eager faces, full of question and quick response. His soul had gone out to them and, musing in sunny Athens, he had made ready for them. Each morning when he rose he had lifted his glance to the Parthenon, studying anew the straight lines that were yet not straight the mysterious, dismantled beauty, the mighty lift of its presence. When they should question him, in this new land, he must not fail them. They would be hungry for the beauty of the ancient world they who had no ruins of their own. He knew in his heart how it would be with them the homesickness for the East all its wonder and its mystery. Yes, he would carry it to them. He, Achilles Alexandrakis, should not be found wanting. This new world was to give him money, wealth, better education for his boys, a competent old age. But he, too, had something to give in exchange. He must make himself ready against the great day when he should travel down the long way of the Piraeus, for the last time, and set sail for America.

He was in America now. He knew, when he stopped to think, that this was not a dream. He had been here six months, in the little shop on Clark Street, but no one had yet asked him of the Parthenon... Continue reading book >>

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