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- Arachne, Volume 1. - 2/8 -


But the tension of her charming features, whose lines, though sharp, were delicately outlined, soon vanished. There was still plenty of time before the darkness would permit Hermon to join her unnoticed. A reception, from which he could not be absent, was evidently about to take place.

Yes, that was certainly the case; for now the magnificent galley had approached as near the land as the shallow water permitted, and the whistle of the rowers' flute-player, shouts of command, and the barking of dogs could be heard.

Then a handkerchief waved a greeting from the vessel to the men on shore, but the hand that held it was a woman's. Ledscha would have recognised it had the twilight been far deeper.

The features of the new arrival could no longer be distinguished; but she must be young. An elderly woman would not have sprung so nimbly into the skiff that was to convey her to the land.

The man who assisted her in doing so was the same sculptor, Hermon, for whom she had watched with so much longing.

Again the blood mounted into Ledscha's cheeks, and when she saw the stranger lay her hand upon the shoulder of the Alexandrian who, only yesterday, had assured the young girl of his love with ardent vows, and allow him to lift her out of the boat, she buried her little white teeth deeply in her lips.

She had never seen Hermon in the society of a woman of his own class, and, full of jealous displeasure; perceived with what zealous assiduity he who bowed before no one in Tennis, paid court to the stranger no less eagerly than did his friend Myrtilus.

The whole scene passed like a shadow in the dusk before Ledscha's eyes, half dimmed by uneasiness, perplexity, and suddenly inflamed jealousy.

The Egyptian twilight is short, and when Hermon disappeared with the new- comer it was no longer possible to recognise the man who entered the very boat in which she was to have taken the nocturnal voyage with her lover, and which was now rowed toward the Owl's Nest.

Surely it would bring her a message from Hermon; and as the stranger, who was now joined by a number of other women and two packs of barking dogs, with their keepers, vanished in the darkness, the skiff already touched the shore close at her side.

CHAPTER II.

In spite of the surrounding gloom, Ledscha recognised the man who left the boat.

The greeting he shouted told her that it was Hermon's slave, Pias, a Biamite, whom she had met in the house of some neighbours who were his relatives and had sharply rebuffed when he ventured to accost her more familiarly than was seemly for one in bondage.

True, in his childhood this man had lived near Tennis as the son of a free papyrus raiser, but when still a lad was sold into slavery in Alexandria with his father, who had been seized for taking part in an insurrection against the last king.

In the service of Areluas, his present master's uncle, who had given him to his nephew, and as the slave of the impetuous yet anything but cruel sculptor, Hermon, he had become accustomed to bondage, but was still far more strongly attached to his Biamite race than to the Greek, to whom, it is true, his master belonged, but who had robbed him and his family of freedom.

The man of forty did not lack mother wit, and as his hard fate rendered him thoughtful and often led him to use figurative turns of speech, which were by no means intended as jests, he had been called by his first master "Bias" for the sage of Priene.

In the house of Hermon, who associated with the best artists in Alexandria, he had picked up all sorts of knowledge and gladly welcomed instruction. His highest desire was to win esteem, and he often did so.

Hermon prized the useful fellow highly. He had no secrets from him, and was sure of his silence and good will.

Bias had managed to lure many a young beauty in Alexandria, in whom the sculptor had seen a desirable model, to his studio, even under the most difficult circumstances; but he was vexed to find that his master had cast his eye upon the daughter of one of the most distinguished families among his own people. He knew, too, that the Biamites jealously guarded the honour of their women, and had represented to Hermon what a dangerous game he was playing when he began to offer vows of love to Ledscha.

So it was an extremely welcome task to be permitted to inform her that she was awaiting his master in vain.

In reply to her inquiry whether it was the aristocrat who had just arrived who kept Hermon from her, he admitted that she was right, but added that the gods were above even kings, and his master was obliged to yield to the Alexandrian's will.

Ledscha laughed incredulously: "He--obey a woman!"

"He certainly would not submit to a man," replied the slave. "Artists, you must know, would rather oppose ten of the most powerful men than one weak woman, if she is only beautiful. As for the daughter of Archias-- thereby hangs a tale."

"Archias?" interrupted the girl. "The rich Alexandrian who owns the great weaving house?"

"The very man."

"So it is his daughter who is keeping Hermon? And you say he is obliged to serve her?"

"As men serve the Deity, to the utmost, or truth," replied the slave importantly. "Archias, the father, it is true, imposed upon us the debt which is most tardily paid, and which people, even in this country, call 'gratitude.' We are under obligations to the old man--there's no denying it--and therefore also to his only child."

"For what?" Ledscha indignantly exclaimed, and the dark eyebrows which met above her delicate nose contracted suspiciously. "I must know!"

"Must!" repeated the slave. "That word is a ploughshare which suits only loose soil, and mine, now that my master is waiting for me, can not be tilled even by the sharpest. Another time! But if, meanwhile, you have any message for Hermon----"

"Nothing," she replied defiantly; but Bias, in a tone of the most eager assent, exclaimed: "One friendly word, girl. You are the fairest among the daughters of the highest Biamite families, and probably the richest also, and therefore a thousand times too good to yield what adorns you to the Greek, that it may tickle the curiosity of the Alexandrian apes. There are more than enough women in the capital to serve that purpose. Trust the experience of a man not wholly devoid of wisdom, my girl. He will throw you aside like an empty wine bottle when he has used you for a model."

"Used?" interrupted Ledscha disdainfully; but he repeated with firm decision: "Yes, used! What could you learn of life, of art and artists, here in the weaver's nest in the midst of the waves? I know them. A sculptor needs beautiful women as a cobbler wants leather, and the charms he seeks in you he does not conceal from his friend Myrtilus, at least. They are your large almond-shaped eyes and your arms. They make him fairly wild with delight by their curves when, in drawing water, you hold the jug balanced on your head. Your slender arched foot, too, is a welcome morsel to him."

The darkness prevented Bias from seeing Ledscha's features, but it was easy to perceive what was passing in her mind as, hoarse with indignation, she gasped: "How can I know the object of your accusations? but fie upon the servant who would alienate from his own kind master what his soul desires!"

Then Bias changed not only his tone of voice, but his language, and, deeply offended, poured forth a torrent of wrath in the dialect of his people: "If to guard you, and my master with you, from harm, my words had the power to put between you and Hermon the distance which separates yonder rising moon from Tennis, I would make them sound as loud as the lion's roar. Yet perhaps you would not understand them, for you go through life as though you were deaf and blind. Did you ever even ask yourself whether the Greek is not differently constituted from the sons of the Biamite sailors and fishermen, with whom you grew up, and to whom he is an abomination? Yet he is no more like them than poppy juice is like pure water. He and his companions turn life upside down. There is no more distinction between right and wrong in Alexandria than we here in the dark can make between blue and green. To me, the slave, who is already growing old, Hermon is a kind master. I know without your aid what I owe him, and serve him as loyally as any one; but where he threatens to lead to ruin the innocent daughter of the race whose blood flows in my veins as well as yours, and in doing so perhaps finally destroy himself too, conscience commands me to raise my voice as loud as the sentinel crane when danger threatens the flock. Beware, girl, I repeat! Keep your beauty, which is now to be degraded to feast the eyes of gaping Greeks, for the worthiest husband among our people. Though Hermon has vowed, I know not what, your love-dallying will very soon be over; we shall leave Tennis within the next few days. When he has gone there will be one more deceived Biamite who will call down the curse of the gods upon the head of a Greek. You are not the only one who will execrate the destiny that brought us here. Others have been caught in his net too."

"Here?" asked Ledscha in a hollow tone; and the slave eagerly answered: "Where else? And that you may know the truth--among those who visited Hermon in his studio is your own young sister."

"Our Taus? That child?" exclaimed the girl, stretching her hands toward the slave in horror, as if to ward off some impending disaster.

"That child, who, I think, has grown into a very charming girl--and, before her, pretty Gula, the wife of Paseth, who, like your father, is away on his ship."

Here, in a tone of triumphant confidence, the answer rang from the Biamite's lips: "There the slanderer stands revealed! Now you are detected, now I perceive the meaning of your threat. Because, miserable slave, you cherish the mad hope of beguiling me yourself, you do your utmost to estrange me from your master. Gula, you say, visited Hermon in his studio, and it may be true. But though I have been at home only a


Arachne, Volume 1. - 2/8

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