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- Arachne, Volume 2. - 4/9 -
"It is rather an unusually fascinating one," Myrtilus asserted resolutely. "I have no idea of flattering you, and you are certainly aware that I do not number you among the beauties of Alexandria. But instead of the delicate, symmetrical features which artists need, the gods bestowed upon you a face which wins all hearts, even those of women, because it is a mirror of genuine, helpful, womanly kindness, a sincere disposition, and a healthy, receptive mind. To reproduce such a face, not exactly beautiful, and yet bewitching, is the hardest possible task, and Hermon, I repeat it, has succeeded. You are the only one of your noble sex who inspires the motherless man with respect, and for whom he feels more than a fleeting fancy. What does he not owe you? After the bridge which united him to his uncle and paternal friend had been so suddenly broken, it was you who rebuilt it. Now, I think, it is stronger than ever. I could not imagine anything that would induce him to give you up; and all honour to your father, who, instead of bearing the insubordinate fellow a grudge, only drew him more warmly to his heart, and gave us two commissions which will permit each to do his best. If I see clearly, the daughter of Archias is closely connected with this admirable deed."
"Of course," replied Daphne, "my father discussed his intention with me, but the thought was entirely his own. True, Hermon's Street-Boy eating Figs was not exactly according to his taste, but it pleased him better than his former works, and I agree with Euphranor, it is remarkably true to nature. My father perceived this too. Besides, he is a merchant who sets a high value upon what he has earned, and Hermon's refusal of his gold startled him. Then the good man also saw how nobly, in spite of his wild life, his obstinacy, and the work so unpleasing to him, his nephew always showed the noble impulses inherited from his brave father, and thus Hermon gained the day."
"But what would have become of him last year, after the mortifying rejection of his model of The Happy Return Home for the harbour of Eunostus," asked Myrtilus, "if you and your encouragement had not cheered him?"
"That verdict, too, was abominable!" exclaimed Daphne indignantly. "The mother opening her arms to the returning son was unlovely, it is true, and did not please me either; but the youth with the travelling hat and staff is magnificent in his vigour and natural action."
"That opinion, as you know, is mine also," replied Myrtilus. "In the mother the expression was intended to take the place of beauty. For the returning son, as well as for the fig-eater, he found a suitable model. True, the best was at his disposal for his Demeter."
Here he hesitated; but Daphne so urgently asked to know what he, who had already denied her admission to the studios, was now again withholding from her, that, smiling indulgently, he added: "Then I must probably consent to tell in advance the secret with which you were to be surprised. Before him, as well as before me, hovered--since you wish to know it--in Alexandria, when we first began to model the head of the goddess, a certain charming face which is as dear to one as to the other."
Daphne, joyously excited, held out her hand to the artist, exclaiming: "Oh, how kind that is! Yet how was it possible, since I posed neither to him nor to you?"
"Hermon had finished your bust only a short time before, and you permitted me to use your head for my statue of the goddess of Peace, which went down with the ship on the voyage to Ostia. This was at the disposal of us both in three or four reproductions, and, besides, it hovered before our mental vision clearly enough. When the time to show you our work arrives, you will be surprised to discover how differently two persons see and copy the same object."
"Now that I know so much, and have a certain share in your works, I insist upon seeing them!" cried Daphne with far greater impetuosity than usual. "Tell Hermon so, and remind him that I shall at any rate expect him to meet the Pelusinian guests at the banquet. Threaten him seriously with my grave displeasure if he persists in leaving it speedily."
"I will not fail to do my part," replied Myrtilus; "but as to your wish to see the two Demeters--"
"That will come to pass," interrupted Daphne, "as soon as we three are together again like a clover leaf." She returned the sculptor's farewell greeting as she spoke, but before he reached the entrance to the tent she again detained him with the exclamation: "Only this one thing more: Does Hermon deceive himself when he hopes so confidently for success with the weaver, Arachne?"
"Hardly--if the model whom he desires does not fail him."
"Is she beautiful, and did he find her here in Tennis?" asked Daphne, trying to assume an indifferent manner; but Myrtilus was not deceived, and answered gaily: "That's the way people question children to find out things. Farewell until the banquet, fair curiosity!"
The slave Bias had not gone to the hunting party with his master. He had never been fit for such expeditions, since the Egyptian guard who took him to the slave market for sale crippled the arch-traitor's son's left leg by a blow, but he was all the more useful in the house, and even the keenest eye could scarcely now perceive the injury which lessened his commercial value.
He had prepared everything his master would need to shoot the birds very early in the morning, and after helping the men push the boats into the water, he, too, remained out of doors.
The old Nubian doorkeeper's little badger dog ran to meet him, as usual, barking loudly, and startled a flock of sparrows, which flew up directly in front of Bias and fluttered to and fro in confusion.
The slave regarded this as an infallible omen, and when Stephanion, Daphne's maid, who had grown gray in the household of Archias, and though a freed woman still worked in the old way, came out of the tent, he called to her the gay Greek greeting, "Rejoice!" pointed to the sparrows, and eagerly continued: "How one flies above another! how they flutter and chirp and twitter! It will be a busy day."
Stephanion thought this interpretation of the ordinary action of the birds very consistent with Bias's wisdom, which was highly esteemed in the household of Archias, and it also just suited her inclination to chat with him for a while, especially as she had brought a great deal of news from Alexandria.
By way of introduction she mentioned the marriages and deaths in their circle of acquaintances, bond and free, and then confided to the slave what had induced her mistress to remain so long absent from her father, whom she usually left alone for only a few hours at the utmost.
Archias himself had sent her here, after young Philotas, who was now apparently wooing her with better success than other suitors, had spoken of the enormous booty which one of his friends had brought from a shooting expedition at Tennis, and Daphne had expressed a wish to empty her quiver there too.
True, Philotas himself had been eager to guide the hunting party, but Daphne declined his escort because--so the maid asserted--she cared far more about meeting her cousins, the sculptors, than for the chase. Her mistress had frankly told her so, but her father was delighted to hear her express a wish, because for several months she had been so quiet and listless that she, Stephanion, had become anxious about her. Meanwhile, Daphne had tried honestly to conceal her feelings from the old man, but such games of hide and seek were useless against the master's keen penetration. He spared no pains in the preparations for the journey, and the girl now seemed already transformed. This was caused solely by meeting her cousins again; but if any one should ask her whether Daphne preferred Myrtilus or Hermon, she could not give a positive answer.
"Cautious inquiry saves recantation," replied Bias importantly. "Yet you may believe my experience, it is Myrtilus. Fame inspires love, and what the world will not grant my master, in spite of his great talent, it conceded to the other long ago. And, besides, we are not starving; but Myrtilus is as rich as King Croesus of Sardis. Not that Daphne, who is stifling in gold herself, would care about that, but whoever knows life knows--where doves are, doves will fly."
Stephanion, however, was of a different opinion, not only because Daphne talked far more about the black-bearded cousin than the fair one, but because she knew the girl, and was seldom mistaken in such matters. She would not deny that Daphne was also fond of Myrtilus. Yet probably neither of the artists, but Philotas, would lead home the bride, for he was related to the royal family--a fine, handsome man; and, besides, her father preferred him to the other suitors who hovered around her as flies buzzed about honey. Of course, matters would be more favourable to Philotas in any other household. Who else in Alexandria would consult the daughter long, when he was choosing her future husband? But Archias was a white raven among fathers, and would never force his only child to do anything.
Marrying and loving, however, were two different affairs. If Eros had the final decision, her choice might perhaps fall on one of the artists.
Here she was interrupted by the slave's indignant exclamation: "What contradictions! 'Woman's hair is long, but her wit is short,' says the proverb. 'Waiting is the merchant's wisdom,' I have heard your master say more than once, and to obey the words of shrewd people is the best plan for those who are not so wise. Meanwhile, I am of the opinion that curiosity alone brought Daphne--who, after all, is only a woman--to this place. She wants to see the statues of Demeter which her father ordered from us."
"And the Arachne?" asked the maid. This was an opportune question to the slave--how often he had heard the artists utter the word "Arachne!"--and his pride of education had suffered from the consciousness that he knew nothing about her except the name, which in Greek meant "the spider."
Some special story must surely be associated with this Arachne, for which his master desired to use his young countrywoman, Ledscha, as a model, and whose statues Archias intended to place in his house in Alexandria and in the great weaving establishment at Tennis beside the statue of Demeter.
Stephanion, a Greek woman who grew up in a Macedonian household, must know something about her.
So he cautiously turned the conversation to the spinner Arachne, and when Stephanion entered into it, admitted that he, too, was curious to learn in what way the sculptors would represent her.
"Yes," replied the maid, "my mistress has more than once racked her
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