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- Arachne, Volume 2. - 3/9 -
As soon as Hermon had disappeared behind the door Daphne begged Myrtilus to accompany her into the tent.
After taking their seats there, the anxious exclamation escaped her lips: "How excited he became again! The stay in Tennis does not seem to agree with you--you are coughing, and father expected so much benefit to your ailment from the pure moist air, and to Hermon still more from the lonely life here in your society. But I have rarely seen him more strongly enlisted in behalf of the tendency opposed to beauty."
"Then your father must be satisfied with the good effect which our residence here has exerted upon me," replied Myrtilus. "I know that he was thinking of my illness when he proposed to us to complete his commissions here. Hermon--the good fellow!--could never have been induced to leave his Alexandria, had not the hope of thereby doing me a kindness induced him to follow me. I will add it to the many for which I am already indebted to his friendship. As for art, he will go his own way, and any opposition would be futile. A goddess--he perceives it himself--was certainly the most unfortunate subject possible for his--"
"Is his Demeter a complete failure?" asked Daphne anxiously.
"Certainly not," replied Myrtilus eagerly.
"The head is even one of his very best. Only the figure awakens grave doubts. In the effort to be faithful to reality, the fear of making concessions to beauty, he lapsed into ungraceful angularity and a sturdiness which, in my opinion, would be unpleasing even in a mortal woman. The excess of unbridled power again makes it self visible in the wonderfully gifted man. Many things reached him too late, and others too soon."
Daphne eagerly asked what he meant by these words, and Myrtilus replied: "Surely you know how he became a sculptor. Your father had intended him to be his successor in business, but Hermon felt the vocation to become an artist--probably first in my studio--awake with intense force. While I early placed myself under the instruction of the great Bryaxis, he was being trained for a merchant's life. When he was to guide the reed in the countinghouse, he sketched; when he was sent to the harbour to direct the loading of the ships, he became absorbed in gazing at the statues placed there. In the warehouse he secretly modelled, instead of attending to the bales of goods. You are certainly aware what a sad breach occurred then, and how long Hermon was restrained before he succeeded in turning his back upon trade."
"My father meant so kindly toward him," Daphne protested. "He was appointed guardian to you both. You are rich, and therefore he aided in every possible way your taste for art; but Hermon did not inherit from his parents a single drachm, and so my father saw the most serious struggles awaiting him if he devoted himself to sculpture. And, besides, he had destined his nephew to become his successor, the head of one of the largest commercial houses in the city."
"And in doing so," Myrtilus responded, "he believed he had made the best provision for his happiness. But there is something peculiar in art. I know from your father himself how kind his intentions were when he withdrew his assistance from Hermon, and when he had escaped to the island of Rhodes, left him to make his own way during the first period of apprenticeship through which he passed there. Necessity, he thought, would bring him back to where he had a life free from anxiety awaiting him. But the result was different. Far be it from me to blame the admirable Archias, yet had he permitted his ward to follow his true vocation earlier, it would have been better for him."
"Then you think that he began to study too late?" asked Daphne eagerly.
"Not too late," was the reply, "but with his passionate struggle to advance, an earlier commencement would have been more favourable. While the companions of his own age were already doing independent work, he was still a student, and so it happened that he began for himself too soon."
"Yet," Daphne answered, "can you deny that, directly after Hermon produced his first work which made his talent undeniable, my father again treated him like his own son?"
"On the contrary," replied Myrtilus, "I remember only too well how Archias at that time, probably not entirely without your intercession, fairly showered gold upon his nephew, but unfortunately this abundance was by no means to his advantage."
"What do you mean?" asked Daphne. "Were not you, at that very time, in full possession of the great wealth inherited from your father and mother, and yet did you not work far beyond your strength? Bryaxis--I heard him--was full of your praises, and yet entreated my father to use all his influence, as guardian, to warn you against overwork."
"My kind master!" cried Myrtilus, deeply moved. "He was as anxious about me as a father."
"Because he perceived that you were destined for great achievements."
"And because it did not escape his penetration how much I needed care. My lungs, Daphne, my lungs--surely you know how the malicious disease became fatal to my clear mother, and to my brother and sister also. All three sank prematurely into the grave, and for years the shades of my parents have been beckoning to me too. When the cough shakes my chest, I see Charon raise his oar and invite me also to enter his sable boat."
"But you just assured me that you were doing well," observed the girl. "The cough alone makes me a little anxious. If you could only see for yourself what a beautiful colour the pure air has given your cheeks!"
"This flush," replied Myrtilus gravely, "is the sunset of life's closing day, not the dawn of approaching convalescence. But let us drop the subject. I allude to these sorrowful things only to prevent your praises of me at Hermon's expense. True, even while a student I possessed wealth far beyond my needs, but the early deaths of my brother and sister had taught me even then to be economical of the brief span of life allotted to me. Hermon, on the contrary, was overflowing with manly vigour, and the strongest among the Ephebi in the wrestling school. After three nights' revel he would not even feel weary, and how difficult the women made it for the handsome, black-bearded fellow to commence his work early! Did you ever ask yourself why young steeds are not broken in flowery meadows, but upon sand? Nothing which attracts their attention and awakens their desires must surround them; but your father's gold led Hermon, ere the season of apprenticeship was over, into the most luxuriant clover fields. Honour and respect the handsome, hot-blooded youth that, nevertheless, he allowed himself to be diverted from work only a short time and soon resumed it with ardent zeal, at first in superabundance, and then amid fresh need and privation."
"O Myrtilus," the girl interrupted, "how terribly I suffered in those days! For the first time the gods made me experience that there are black clouds, as well as bright sunshine, in the human soul. For weeks an impassable gulf separated me from my father, with whom I had always had one heart and soul. But I never saw him as he was then. The first prize had been awarded to you for your Aphrodite, radiant in marvellous beauty, and your brow had also been already crowned for your statue of Alexander, when Hermon stepped forward with his works. They were at the same time the first which were to show what he believed to be the true mission of art--a hideous hawker, hide in hand, praising his wares with open mouth, and the struggling Maenads. Surely you know the horrible women who throw one another on the ground, tearing and rending with bestial fury. The spectacle of these fruits of the industry of one dear to me grieved me also, and I could not understand how you and the others saw anything to admire in them. And my father! At the sight of these things the colour faded from his cheeks and lips, and, as if by virtue of his guardianship he had a right to direct Hermon in the paths of art also, he forbade his ward to waste any more time in such horrible scarecrows, and awaken loathing and wrath instead of gratification, exultation, and joy. You know the consequences, but you do not know how my heart ached when Hermon, frantic with wounded pride and indignation, turned his back upon my father and severed every tie that united him to us. In spite of his deep vexation and the unbridled violence with which the nephew had allowed himself to address his uncle, my father did not dream of withholding his assistance from him. But Hermon no longer came to our house, and when I sent for him to bring him to reason, he positively declared that he would not accept another obolus from my father--he would rather starve than permit any one to dictate to him in the choice of his subjects. Liberty was worth more than his uncle's gold. Yet my father sent him his annual allowance."
"But he refused it," added Myrtilus. "I remember that day well, how I tried to persuade him, and, when he persisted in his intention, besought him to accept from my abundance what he needed. But this, too, he resolutely refused, though at that time I was already so deeply in his debt that I could not repay him at all with paltry money."
"You are thinking of the devotion with which he nursed you when you were so ill?" asked Daphne.
"Certainly; yet not of that alone," was the reply. "You do not know how he stood by me in the worst days. Who was it that after my first great successes, when base envy clouded many an hour of my life, rejoiced with me as though he himself had won the laurel? It was he, the ambitious artist, though recognition held even farther aloof from his creations than success. And when, just at that time, the insidious disease attacked me more cruelly than ever, he devoted himself to me like a loving brother. While formerly, in the overflowing joy of existence, he had revelled all day and caroused all night, how often he paused in the rush of gaiety to exchange the festal hall for a place beside my couch, frequently remaining there until Eos dyed the east, that he might hold my fevered hand and support my shaken frame! Frequently too, when already garlanded for some gay banquet, he took the flowers from his head and devoted the night to his friend, that he might not leave him to the attendance of the slaves. It is owing to him, and the care and skill of the great leech Erasistratus, that I am still standing before you alive and can praise what my Hermon was and proved himself to me in those days. Yet I must also accuse him of a wrong; to this hour I bear him a grudge for having, in those sorrowful hours, refused to share my property with me fraternally. What manly pride would have cheerfully permitted him to accept was opposed by the defiant desire to show me, your father, you, the whole world, that he would depend upon himself, and needed assistance neither from human beings nor even the gods. In the same way, while working, he obstinately rejected my counsel and my help, though the Muse grants me some things which he unfortunately lacks. Great as his talent is, firmly as I believe that he will yet succeed some day in creating something grand, nay, perhaps something mighty, the unbelieving disciple of Straton lacks the power of comprehending the august dignity, the superhuman majesty of the divine nature, and he does not succeed in representing the bewitching charm of woman, because he hates it as the bull hates a red rag. Only once hitherto has he been successful, and that was with your bust."
Daphne's cheeks suddenly flamed with a burning flush, and feeling it she raised her feather fan to her eyes, and with forced indifference murmured: "We were good friends from our earliest childhood. And, besides, how small is the charm with which the artist who chooses me for a model has to deal!"
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