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- Arachne, Volume 1. - 5/8 -
rough Satabus can be. He would be your father now, girl, if we could have kept our Abus--he was the best of all--longer. It is fortunate that you are here, for they must see you, and it would have been hard for me to fetch the other things: the salt, the Indian pepper, and the jug of Pelusinian zythus, which Satabus is always so fond of drinking."
Then Ledscha went into the ruinous left wing of the house, where she took from a covered hole in the floor what the old woman had kept for the last of her race, and she performed her task gladly and with rare skill.
Next she prepared the fish and the pan, and while her hands were moving busily she earnestly entreated the old woman to gratify her wish and look into the future for her.
Tabus, however, persisted in her refusal, until Ledscha again called her "grandmother," and entreated her, by the heads of the three beloved ones whom she expected, to fulfil her desire.
Then the old dame rose, and while the girl, panting for breath, took the roasted ducks from the spit, the former, with her own trembling hands, drew from the little chest which she kept concealed behind a heap of dry reeds, branches, and straw, a shining copper dish, tossed the gold coins which had been in it back into the box, and moistened the bottom with the blackish-red juice of the grape from the wine jar.
After carefully making these preparations she called Ledscha and repeated that the cords possessed the power of prophecy only on nights when the moon was full, and that she would use another means of looking into the future.
Then she commanded the girl to let her hands rest now and to think of nothing except the questions whose answer she had at heart. Lastly, she muttered into the vessel a series of incantations, which Ledscha repeated after her, and gazed as if spellbound at the dark liquid which covered the bottom.
The girl, panting for breath, watched every movement of the sorceress, but some time elapsed ere the latter suddenly exclaimed, "There he is!" and then, without removing her eyes from the bottom of the vessel, she went on, with faltering accents, as though she was describing a scene close before her eyes. "Two young men-both Greeks, if the dress does not deceive--one is at your right hand, the other at your left. The former is fair-haired; the glance of his eyes is deep and constant. It is he, I think--But no! His image is fading, and you are turning your back upon him. You do it intentionally. No, no, you two are not destined for each other. You think of the one with the waving black hair and beard--of him alone. He is growing more and more distinct--a handsome man, and how his brow shines! Yet his glance--it sees more than that of many others, but, like the rest of his nature, it lacks steadfastness."
Here she paused, raised her shaking head, looked at Ledscha's flushed face, and in a grave, warning tone, said: "Many signs of happiness, but also many dark shadows and black spots. If he is the one, child, you must be on your guard."
"He is," murmured the girl softly, as if speaking to herself.
But the deaf old crone had read the words from her lips, and while gazing intently at the wine, went on impatiently: "If the picture would only grow more distinct! As it was, so it has remained. And now! The image of the fair man with the deep-blue eyes melts away entirely, and a gray cloud flutters between you and the other one with the black beard. If it would only scatter! But we shall never make any progress in this way. Now pay attention, girl."
The words had an imperious tone, and with outstretched head and throbbing heart Ledscha awaited the old woman's further commands.
They came at once and ordered her to confess, as freely and openly as though she was talking to herself, where she had met the man whom she loved, how he had succeeded in snaring her heart, and how he repaid her for the passion which he had awakened.
These commands were so confused and mingled in utterance that any one less familiar with the speaker would scarcely have comprehended what they required of her, but Ledscha understood and was ready to obey.
This reserved, thoroughly self-reliant creature would never have betrayed to any human being what moved her soul and filled it some times with inspiring hope, sometimes with a consuming desire for vengeance; but Ledscha did not shrink from confiding it to the demons who were to help her to regain her composure.
So, obeying a swift impulse, she threw herself on her knees by the old woman's side. Then, supporting her head with her hands, she gazed at the still glimmering fire, and, as if one memory after another received new life from it, she began the difficult confession:
"I returned from my sister's brick-kiln a fortnight ago," she commenced, while the sorceress leaned her deaf ear nearer to her lips.
"During my absence something--I know not what it was--had saddened the cheerful spirits of my young sister Taus. At the recent festival of Astarte she regained them, and obtained some beautiful bright flowers to make wreaths for herself and me. So we joined the procession of the Tennis maidens and, as the fairest, they placed us directly behind the daughters of Hiram.
"When we were about to go home after the sacrifice, two young Greeks approached us and greeted Hiram's daughters and my sister also.
"One was a quiet young man, with narrow shoulders and light, curling hair; the other towered above him in stature. His powerful figure was magnificently formed, and he carried his head with its splendid black beard proudly.
"Since the gods snatched Abus from me, though so many men had wooed me, I had cared for no one; but the fair-haired Greek with the sparkling light in his blue eyes and the faint flush on his cheeks pleased me, and his name, 'Myrtilus,' fell upon my ear like music. I was glad when he joined me and asked, as simply as though he were merely inquiring the way, why he had never seen me, the loveliest among the beauties in the temple, in Tennis.
"I scarcely noticed the other. Besides, he seemed to have eyes only for Taus and the daughters of Hiram. He played all sorts of pranks with them, and they laughed so heartily that, fearing the strangers, of whom there was no lack, might class them with the Hieroduli who followed the sailors and young men in the temple grottoes, I motioned to Taus to restrain herself.
"Hermon--this was the name of the tall, bearded man--noticed it and turned toward me. In doing so his eyes met mine, and it seemed as though sweet wine flowed through my veins, for I perceived that my appearance paralyzed his reckless tongue. Yet he did not accost me; but Myrtilus, the fair one, entreated me not to lessen for the beautiful children the pleasure to which we are all born.
"I thought this remark foolish--how much sorrow and how little pleasure I had experienced from childhood!--so I only shrugged my shoulders disdainfully.
"Then the black-bearded man asked if, young and beautiful as I was, I had forgotten to believe in mirth and joy. My reply was intended to tell him that, though this was not the case, I did not belong to those who spent their lives in loud laughing and extravagant jests.
"The answer was aimed at the black-bearded man's reckless conduct; but the fair-haired one parried the attack in his stead, and retorted that I seemed to misunderstand his friend. Pleasure belonged to a festival, as light belonged to the sun; but usually Hermon laboured earnestly, and only a short time before he had saved the little daughter of Gula, the sailor's wife, from a burning house.
"The other did not let Myrtilus finish, but exclaimed that this would only confirm my opinion of him, for this very leap into the flames had afforded him the utmost joy.
"The words fell from his bearded lips as if the affair was very simple, a mere matter of course, yet I knew that the bold deed had nearly cost him his life--I said to myself that no one but our Abus would have done it, and then I may have looked at him more kindly, for he cried out that I, too, understood how to smile, and would never cease doing so if I knew how it became me.
"As he spoke he turned away from the girls to my side, while Myrtilus joined them. Hermon's handsome face had become grave and thoughtful, and when our eyes met I could have wished that they would never part again. But on account of the others I soon looked down at the ground and we walked on in this way, side by side, for some distance; but as he did not address a word to me, only sometimes gazed into my face as if seeking or examining, I grew vexed and asked him why he, who had just entertained the others gaily enough, had suddenly become so silent.
"He shook his head and answered--every word impressed itself firmly upon my memory: 'Because speech fails even the eloquent when confronted with a miracle.'
"What, except me and my beauty, could be meant by that? But he probably perceived how strangely his words confused me, for he suddenly seized my hand, pressing it so firmly that it hurt me, and while I tried to withdraw it he whispered, 'How the immortals must love you, that they lend you so large a share of their own divine beauty!'"
"Greek honey," interposed the sorceress, "but strong enough to turn such a poor young head. And what more happened? The demons desire to hear all--all--down to the least detail--all!"
"The least detail?" repeated Ledscha reluctantly, gazing into vacancy as if seeking aid. Then, pressing her hand on her brow, she indignantly exclaimed: "Ah, if I only knew myself how it conquered me so quickly! If I could understand and put it into intelligible words, I should need no stranger's counsel to regain my peace of mind. But as it is! I was driven by my anxiety from temple to temple, and now to you and your demons. I went from hour to hour as though in a burning fever. If I left the house firmly resolved to bethink myself and, as I had bidden my sister, avoid danger and the gossip of the people, my feet still led me only where he desired to meet me. Oh, and how well he understood how to flatter, to describe my beauty! Surely it was impossible not to believe in it and trust its power!"
Here she hesitated, and while gazing silently into vacancy a sunny light flitted over her grave face, and, drawing a long breath, she began again: "I could curse those days of weakness and ecstasy which now--at least I hope so--are over. Yet they were wonderfuly beautiful, and never can I
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