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- Arachne, Volume 1. - 6/8 -
Here she again bowed her head silently, but the old dame nodded encouragingly, saying eagerly; "Well, well! I understand all that, and I shall learn what more is coming, for whatever appears in the mirror of the wine is infallible--but it must become still more distinct. Let me-- first conjure up the seventy-seven great and the seven hundred and seventy-seven little demons. They will do their duty, if you open your heart to us without reserve."
This demand sounded urgent enough, and Ledscha pressed her head against the old woman's shoulder as if seeking assistance, exclaiming: "I can not--no, I can not! As if the spirits who obey you did not know already what had happened and will happen in the future! Let them search the depths of my soul. There they will see, with their own eyes, what I should never, never succeed in describing. I could not tell even you, grandmother, for who among the Biamites ever found such lofty, heart- bewitching words as Hermon? And what looks, what language he had at command, when he desired to put an end to my jealous complaints! Could I still be angry with him, when he confessed that there were other beauties here whom he admired, and then gazed deep into my eyes and said that when I appeared they all vanished like the stars at sunrise? Then every reproach was forgotten, and resentment was transformed into doubly ardent longing. This, however, by no means escaped his keen glance, which detects everything, and so he urged me with touching, ardent entreaties to go with him to his studio, though but for one poor, brief hour."
"And you granted his wish?" Tabus anxiously interrupted.
"Yes," she answered frankly, "but it was the evening of the day before yesterday--that was the only time. Secrecy--nothing, Grand mother, was more hateful to me from childhood."
"But he," the old woman again interrupted, "he--I know it--he praised it to you as the noblest virtue."
A silent nod from Ledscha confirmed this conjecture, and she added hesitatingly: "'Only far from the haunts of men,' he said, 'when the light had vanished, did we hear the nightingale trill in the dark thickets. Those are his own words, and though it angers you, Grandmother, they are true."
"Until the secrecy is over, and the sun shines upon misery," the sorceress answered in her faltering speech, with menacing severity.
"And beneath the tempter's roof you enjoyed the lauded secret love until the cock roused you?"
"No," replied Ledscha firmly. "Did I ever tell you a lie, that you look at me so incredulously?"
"Incredulously?" replied the old woman in protest. "I only trembled at the danger into which you plunged."
"There could be no greater peril," the girl admitted. "I foresaw it clearly enough, and yet--this is the most terrible part of it--yet my feet moved as if obeying a will of their own, instead of mine, and when I crossed his threshold, resistance was silenced, for I was received like a princess. The lofty, spacious apartment was brilliantly illuminated, and the door was garlanded with flowers.
"It was magnificent! Then, in a manner as respectful as if welcoming an illustrious guest, he invited me to take my place opposite to him, that he might form a goddess after my model. This was the highest flattery of all, and I willingly assumed the position he directed, but he looked at me from every side, with sparkling eyes, and asked me to let down my hair and remove the veil from the back of my head. Then--need I assure you of it?--my blood boiled with righteous indignation; but instead of being ashamed of the outrage, he raised his hand to my head and pulled the veil. Resentment and wrath suddenly flamed in my soul, and before he could detain me I had left the room. In spite of his representations and entreaties, I did not enter it again."
"Yet," asked the sorceress in perplexity, "you once more obeyed his summons?"
"Yesterday also I could not help it," Ledscha answered softly.
"Fool!" cried Tabus indignantly, but the girl exclaimed, in a tone of sincere shame: "You do well to call me that. Perhaps I deserve still harsher names, for, in spite of the sternness with which I forbade him ever to remind me of the studio by even a single word, I soon listened to him willingly when he besought me, if I really loved him, not to refuse what would make him happy. If I allowed him to model my figure, his renown and greatness would be secured. And how clearly he made me understand this! I could not help believing it, and at last promised that, in spite of my father and the women of Tennis, I would grant all, all, and accompany him again to the work room if he would have patience until the night of the next day but one, when the moon would be at the full."
"And he?" asked Tabus anxiously.
"He called the brief hours which I required him to wait an eternity," replied the girl, "and they seemed no less long to me--but neither entreaties nor urgency availed; what you predicted for me from the cords last year strengthened my courage. I should wantonly throw away-- I constantly reminded myself--whatever great good fortune Fate destined for me if I yielded to my longing and took prematurely what was already so close at hand; for--do you remember?--at that time it was promised that on a night when the moon was at the full a new period of the utmost happiness would begin for me. And now--unless everything deceives me-- now it awaits me. Whether it will come with the full moon of to-morrow night, or the next, or the following one, your spirits alone can know; but yesterday was surely too soon to expect the new happiness."
"And he?" asked the old dame.
"He certainly did not make it easy for me," was the reply, "but as I remained firm, he was obliged to yield. I granted only his earnest desire to see me again this evening. I fancy I can still hear him exclaim, with loving impetuosity, that he hated every day and every night which kept him from me. And now? Now? For another's sake he lets me wait for him in vain, and if his slave does not lie, this is only the beginning of his infamous, treacherous game."
She had uttered the last words in a hoarse cry, but Tabus answered soothingly: "Hush, child, hush! The first thing is to see clearly, if I am to interpret correctly what is shown me here. The demons are to be fully informed they have required it. But you? Did you come to hear whether the spirits still intend to keep the promise they made then?"
Ledscha eagerly assented to this question, and the old woman continued urgently: "Then tell me first what suddenly incenses you so violently against the man whom you have so highly praised?"
The girl related what had formerly been rumoured in Tennis, and which she had just heard from the slave.
He had lured other women--even her innocent young sister--to his studio. Now he wanted to induce Ledscha to go there, not from love, but merely to model her limbs so far as he considered them useful for his work. He was in haste to do so because he intended to return to the capital immediately. Whether he meant to leave her in the lurch after using her for his selfish purposes, she also desired to learn from the sorceress. But she would ask him that question herself to-morrow. Woe betide him if the spirits recognised in him the deceiver she now believed him.
Hitherto Tabus had listened quietly, but when she closed her passionate threats with the exclamation that he also deserved punishment for alienating Gula, the sailor's wife, from her absent husband, the enchantress also lost her composure and cried out angrily: "If that is true, if the Greek really committed that crime--then certainly. The foreigners destroy, with their laughing levity, much that is good among us. We must endure it; but whoever broke the Biamite's marriage bond, from the earliest times, forfeited his life, and so, the gods be thanked, it has remained. This very last year the fisherman Phabis killed with a hammer the Alexandrian clerk who had stolen into his house, and drowned his faithless wife. But your lover--though you should weep for sorrow till your eyes are red--"
"I would denounce the traitor, if he made himself worthy of death," Ledscha passionately interrupted, with flashing eyes. "What portion of the slave's charge is true will appear at once--and if it proves correct, to morrow's full moon shall indeed bring me the greatest bliss; for though, when I was younger and happier, I contradicted Abus when he declared that one thing surpassed even the raptures of love--satisfied vengeance--now I would agree with him."
A loud cry of "Right! right!" from the old crone's lips expressed the gray-haired Biamite's pleasure in this worthy daughter of her race.
Then she again gazed at the wine in the vessel, and this time she did so silently, as if spellbound by the mirror on its bottom.
At last, raising her aged head, she said in a tone of the most sincere compassion: "Poor child! Yes, you would be cruelly and shamefully deceived. Tear your love for this man from your heart, like poisonous hemlock. But the full moon which is to bring you great happiness is scarcely the next, perhaps not even the one which follows it, but surely and certainly a later one will rise, by whose light the utmost bliss awaits you. True, I see it come from another man than the Greek."
The girl had listened with panting breath. She believed as firmly in the infallibility of the knowledge which the witch received from the demons who obeyed her as she did in her own existence.
All her happiness, all that had filled her joyous soul with freshly awakened hopes, now lay shattered at her feet, and sobbing aloud she threw herself down beside the old woman and buried her beautiful face in her lap.
Completely overwhelmed by the great misfortune which had come upon her, without thinking of the vengeance which had just made her hold her head so proudly erect, or the rare delight which a later full moon was to bring, she remained motionless, while the old woman, who loved her and who remembered an hour in the distant past when she herself had been dissolved in tears at the prediction of another prophetess, laid her trembling hand upon her head.
Let the child weep her fill.
Time, perhaps vengeance also, cured many a heartache, and when they had accomplished this office upon the girl who had once been betrothed to her grandson, perhaps the full moon bringing happiness, whose appearance first the cords, then the wine mirror in the bottom of the vessel had predicted, would come to Ledscha, and she believed she knew at whose side the girl could regain what she had twice lost--satisfaction for the young heart that yearned for love.
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