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- Arachne, Volume 2. - 1/9 -


[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]

ARACHNE

By Georg Ebers

Volume 2.

In the extreme northern portion of the little city of Tennis a large, perfectly plain whitewashed building stood on an open, grass-grown square.

The side facing the north rested upon a solid substructure of hard blocks of hewn stone washed by the waves.

This protecting wall extended along both sides of the long, plain edifice, and prevented the water from overflowing the open space which belonged to it.

Archias, the owner of the largest weaving establishment in Tennis, the father of the Alexandrian aristocrat who had arrived the evening before, was the owner of the house, as well as of the broad plain on which he had had it built, with the indestructible sea wall, to serve as a storehouse to receive the supplies of linen, flax, and wool which were manufactured in his factories.

It was favourably situated for this purpose, for the raw materials could be moved from the ships which brought them to Tennis directly into the building. But as the factories were at a considerable distance, the transportation required much time and expense, and therefore Archias had had a canal dug connecting the workshops with the water, and at its end erected a new storehouse, which rendered a second transportation of the ships' cargoes unnecessary.

The white mansion had not yet been devoted to any other purpose when the owner determined to offer the spacious empty rooms of the ware house to his nephews, the sculptors Hermon and Myrtilus, for the production of two works with whose completion he associated expectations of good fortune both for the young artists, who were his nephews and wards, and himself.

The very extensive building which now contained the studios and spacious living apartments for the sculptors and their slaves would also have afforded ample room for his daughter and her attendants, but Daphne had learned from the reports of the artists that rats, mice, and other disagreeable vermin shared the former storehouse with them, so she had preferred to have tents pitched in the large open space which belonged it.

True, the broad field was exposed to the burning sun, and its soil was covered only with sand and pitiably scorched turf, but three palm trees, a few sunt acacias, two carob trees, a small clump of fig trees, and the superb, wide-branched sycamore on the extreme outer edge had won for it the proud name of a "garden."

Now a great change in its favour had taken place, for Daphne's beautiful tent, with walls and top of blue and white striped sail-cloth, and the small adjoining tents of the same colours, gave it a brighter aspect.

The very roomy main tent contained the splendidly furnished sitting and dining rooms. The beds occupied by Daphne and her companion, Chrysilla, had been placed in an adjoining one, which was nearly as large, and the cook, with his assistants, was quartered in a third.

The head keeper, the master of the hounds, and most of the slaves remained in the transports which had followed the state galley. Some had slept under the open sky beside the dog kennel hastily erected for Daphne's pack of hounds.

So, on the morning after the wholly unexpected arrival of the owner's daughter, the "garden" in front of the white house, but yesterday a desolate field, resembled an encampment, whose busy life was varied and noisy enough.

Slaves and freedmen had been astir before sunrise, for Daphne was up betimes in order to begin the hunt in the early hour when the birds left their secret nooks on the islands.

Her cousins, the young sculptors, to please her, had gone out, too, but the sport did not last long; for when the market place of Tennis, just between the morning and noontide hours, was most crowded, the little boats which the hunters had used again touched the shore.

With them and Daphne's servants seafaring men also left the boats-- Biamite fishermen and boatmen, who knew the breeding places and nests of the feathered prey--and before them, barking loudly and shaking their dripping bodies, the young huntress's brown and white spotted dogs ran toward the tents.

Dark-skinned slaves carried the game, which had been tied in bunches while in the boats, to the white house, where they laid three rows of large water fowl, upon the steps leading to the entrance.

Daphne's arrows were supposed to have killed all these, but the master of the hunt had taken care to place among his mistress's booty some of the largest pelicans and vultures which had been shot by the others.

Before retiring to her tent, she inspected the result of the shooting expedition and was satisfied.

She had been told of the numbers of birds in this archipelago, but the quantity of game which had been killed far exceeded her greatest expectations, and her pleasant blue eyes sparkled with joy as she began to examine the birds which had been slaughtered in so short a time.

Yet, ere she had finished the task, a slight shadow flitted over her well-formed and attractive though not beautiful features.

The odour emanating from so many dead fowls, on which the sun, already high in the heavens, was shining, became disagreeable to her, and a strong sense of discomfort, whose cause, however, she did not seek, made her turn from them.

The movement with which she did so was full of quiet, stately grace, and the admiring glance with which Hermon, a tall, black-bearded young man, watched it, showed that he knew how to value the exquisite symmetry of her figure.

The somewhat full outlines of her form and the self-possession of her bearing would have led every one to think her a young matron rather than a girl; but the two artists who accompanied her on the shooting party had been intimate with her from childhood, and knew how much modesty and genuine kindness of heart were united with the resolute nature of this maiden, who numbered two and twenty years.

Fair-haired Myrtilus seemed to pay little heed to the game which Gras, Archias's Bithynian house steward, was counting, but black-bearded Hermon had given it more attention, and when Daphne drew back he nodded approvingly, and pointing to the heap of motionless inhabitants of the air, exclaimed with sincere regret: "Fie upon us human wretches! Would the most bloodthirsty hyena destroy such a number of living creatures in a few hours? Other beasts of prey do not kill even one wretched sparrow more than they need to appease their hunger. But we and you, tender- hearted priestess of a gracious goddess--leading us friends of the Muse-- we pursue a different course! What a mound of corpses! And what will become of it? Perhaps a few geese and ducks will go into the kitchen; but the rest--the red flamingoes and the brave pelicans who feed their young with their own blood? They are only fit to throw away, for the Biamites eat no game that is shot, and your black slaves, too, would refuse to taste it. So we destroy hundreds of lives for pastime. Base word! As if we had so many superfluous hours at our disposal ere we descend into Hades. A philosopher among brutes would be entitled to cry out, 'Shame upon you, raging monster!'"

"Shame on you, you perpetual grumbler," interrupted Daphne in an offended tone. "Who would ever have thought it cruel to test the steady hand and the keen eye upon senseless animals in the joyous chase? But what shall we call the fault-finder, who spoils his friend's innocent enjoyment of a happy morning by his sharp reproaches?"

Hermon shrugged his shoulders, and, in a voice which expressed far more compassion than resentment, answered: "If this pile of dead birds pleases you, go on with the slaughter. You can sometimes save the arrows and catch the swarming game with your hands. If your lifeless victims yonder were human beings, after all, they would have cause to thank you; for what is existence?"

"To these creatures, everything," said Myrtilus, the Alexandrian's other cousin, beckoning to Daphne, who had summoned him to her aid by a beseeching glance, to draw nearer. "Gladly as I would always and everywhere uphold your cause, I can not do so this time. Only look here! Your arrow merely broke the wing of yonder sea eagle, and he is just recovering from the shock. What a magnificent fellow! How wrathfully and vengefully his eyes sparkle! How fiercely he stretches his brave head toward us in helpless fury, and--step back!--how vigorously, spite of the pain of his poor, wounded, drooping pinion, he flaps the other, and raises his yellow claws to punish his foes! His plumage glistens and shines exquisitely where it lies smooth, and how savagely he puffs out the feathers on his neck! A wonderful spectacle! The embodiment of powerful life! And the others by his side. We transformed the poor creatures into a motionless, miserable mass, and just now they were cleaving the air with their strong wings, proclaiming by proud, glad cries to their families among the reeds their approach with an abundant store of prey. Every one was a feast to the eyes before our arrows struck it, and now? When Hermon, with his pitying heart, condemns this kind of hunting, he is right. It deprives free, harmless creatures of their best possession--life--and us thereby of a pleasant sight. In general, a bird's existence seems to me also of little value, but beauty, to me as to you, transcends everything else. What would existence be without it? and wherever it appears, to injure it is infamous."

Here a slight cough interrupted the young artist, and the moist glitter of his blue eyes also betrayed that he was suffering from an attack of severe pain in his lungs; but Daphne nodded assent to him, and to Hermon also, and commanded the steward Gras to take the birds out of her sight.

"But," said the Bithynian, "our mistress will doubtless allow us at least to take the hard lower part of the pelicans' beaks, and the wing feathers of the flamingoes and birds of prey, to show our master on our return as trophies."

"Trophies?" repeated the girl scornfully. "Hermon, you are better


Arachne, Volume 2. - 1/9

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