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- Arachne, Volume 2. - 5/9 -
brains over that, and Archias too. Perhaps they will carve her as a girl at work in the house of her father Idmon, the purple dyer of Colophon."
"Never," replied Bias in a tone of dissent. "Just imagine how the loom would look wrought in gold and ivory!"
"I thought so too," said Stephanion, in apology for the foolish idea." Daphne thinks that the two will model her in different ways: Myrtilus, as mistress in the weaving room, showing with proud delight a piece just completed to the nymphs from the Pactolus and other rivers, who sought her at Colophon to admire her work; but Hermon, after she aroused the wrath of Athene because she dared to weave into the hangings the love adventures of the gods with mortal women."
"Father Zeus as a swan toying with Leda," replied Bias as confidently as if Arachne's works were before his eyes, "and in the form of a bull bearing away Europa, the chaste Artemis bending over the sleeping Endymion."
"How that pleases you men!" interrupted the maid, striking him lightly on the arm with the duster which she had brought from the tent. "But ought the virgin Athene to be blamed because she punished the weaver who, with all her skill, was only a mortal woman, for thus exposing her divine kindred?"
"Certainly not," replied Bias, and Stephanion went on eagerly: "And when the great Athene, who invented weaving and protects weavers, condescended to compete with Arachne, and was excelled by her, surely her gall must have overflowed. Whoever is just will scarcely blame her for striking the audacious conqueror on the brow with the weaver's shuttle."
"It is that very thing," replied Bias modestly, "which to a short-sighted fool like myself--may the great goddess not bear me a grudge for it!-- never seemed just in her. Even the mortal who succumbs in a fair fight ought not to be enraged against the victor. At least, so I was taught. But what, I ask myself, when I think of the stones which were flung at Hermon's struggling Maenads, could be less suited for imitation than two women, one of whom strikes the other?"
"The woman who in her desperation at that blow desires to hang herself, must produce a still more horrible impression," replied Stephanion. "Probably she will be represented as Athene releases her from the noose rather than when, as a punishment for her insolence, she transforms Arachne into a spider."
"That she might be permitted, in the form of an insect, to make artistic webs until the end of her life," the slave, now sufficiently well informed, added importantly. "Since that transformation, as you know, the spider has been called by the Greeks Arachne. Perhaps--I always thought so--Hermon will represent her twisting the rope with which she is to kill herself. You have seen many of our works, and know that we love the terrible."
"Oh, let me go into your studio!" the maid now entreated no less urgently than her mistress had done a short time before, but her wish, too, remained ungratified.
"The sculptors," Bias truthfully asserted, "always kept their workrooms carefully locked." They were as inaccessible as the strongest fortress, and it was wise, less on account of curious spectators, from whom there was nothing to fear, than of the thievish propensities of the people. The statues, by Archias's orders, were to be executed in chryselephantine work, and the gold and ivory which this required might only too easily awaken the vice of cupidity in the honest and frugal Biamites. So nothing could be done about it, not to mention the fact that he was forbidden, on pain of being sold to work in a stone quarry, to open the studio to any one without his master's consent.
So the maid, too, was obliged to submit, and the sacrifice was rendered easier for her because, just at that moment, a young female slave called her back to the tent where Chrysilla, Daphne's companion, a matron who belonged to a distinguished Greek family, needed her services.
Bias, rejoicing that he had at last learned, without exposing his own ignorance, the story of the much-discussed Arachne, returned to the house, where he remained until Daphne came back from shooting with her companions. While the latter were talking about the birds they had killed, Bias went out of doors; but he was forced to give up his desire to listen to a conversation which was exactly suited to arrest his attention, for after the first few sentences he perceived behind the thorny acacias in the "garden" his countrywoman Ledscha.
So she was keeping her promise. He recognised her plainly, in spite of the veil which covered the back of her head and the lower portion of her face. Her black eyes were visible, and what a sinister light shone in them as she fixed them sometimes on Daphne, sometimes on Hermon, who stood talking together by the steps!
The evening before Bias had caught a glimpse of this passionate creature's agitated soul. If anything happened here that incensed or wounded her she would be capable of committing some unprecedented act before the very master's honoured guest.
To prevent this was a duty to the master whom he loved, and against whom he had only warned Ledscha because he was reluctant to see a free maiden of his own race placed on a level with the venal Alexandrian models, but still more because any serious love affair between Hermon and the Biamite might bring disastrous consequences upon both, and therefore also on himself. He knew that the free men of his little nation would not suffer an insult offered by a Greek to a virgin daughter of their lineage to pass unavenged.
True, in his bondage he had by no means remained free from all the bad qualities of slaves, but he was faithfully devoted to his master, who had imposed upon him a great debt of gratitude; for though, during the trying period of variance with his rich and generous uncle, Hermon had often been offered so large a sum for him that it would have relieved the artist from want, he could not be induced to yield his "wise and faithful Bias" to another. The slave had sworn to himself that he would never forget this, and he kept his oath.
Freedmen and slaves were moving to and fro in the large open square before him, amid the barking of the dogs and the shouts of the male and female venders of fruit, vegetables, and fish, who hoped to dispose of their wares in the kitchen tent of the wealthy strangers.
The single veiled woman attracted no attention here, but Bias kept his gaze fixed steadily upon her, and as she curved her little slender hand above her brow to shade her watchful eyes from the dazzling sunlight, and set her beautifully arched foot on a stone near one of the trees in order to gain a better view, he thought of the story of the weaver which he had just heard.
Though the stillness of the hot noontide was interrupted by many sounds, it exerted a bewitching influence over him.
Ledscha seemed like the embodiment of some great danger, and when she lowered one arm and raised the other to protect herself again from the radiance of the noonday sun, he started; for through the brain of the usually fearless man darted the thought that now the nimble spiderlegs were moving to draw him toward her, entwine him, and suck his heart's blood.
The illusion lasted only a few brief moments, but when it vanished and the girl had regained the figure of an unusually slender, veiled Biamite woman, he shook his head with a sigh of relief, for never had such a vision appeared to him in broad noonday and while awake, and it must have been sent to warn him and his master against this uncanny maiden.
It positively announced some approaching misfortune which proceeded from this beautiful creature.
The Biamite now advanced hesitatingly toward Hermon and Daphne, who were still a considerable distance from her. But Bias had also quitted his post of observation, and after she had taken a few steps forward, barred her way.
With a curt "Come," he took her hand, whispering, "Hermon is joyously expecting your visit."
Ledscha's veil concealed her mouth, but the expression of her eyes made him think that it curled scornfully.
Yet she silently followed him.
At first he led her by the hand, but on the way he saw at the edge of her upper veil the thick, dark eyebrows which met each other, and her fingers seemed to him so strangely cold and tapering that a shudder ran through his frame and he released them.
Ledscha scarcely seemed to notice it, and, with bowed head, walked beside him through the side entrance to the door of Hermon's studio.
It was a disappointment to her to find it locked, but Bias did not heed her angry complaint, and led her into the artist's sitting room, requesting her to wait for his master there.
Then he hurried to the steps, and by a significant sign informed the sculptor that something important required his attention.
Hermon understood him, and Bias soon had an opportunity to tell the artist who it was that desired to speak to him and where he had taken Ledscha. He also made him aware that he feared some evil from her, and that, in an alarming vision, she had appeared to him as a hideous spider.
Hermon laughed softly. "As a spider? The omen is appropriate. We will make her a woman spider--an Arachne that is worth looking at. But this strange beauty is one of the most obstinate of her sex, and if I let her carry out her bold visit in broad daylight she will get the better of me completely. The blood must first be washed from my hands here. The wounded sea eagle tore the skin with its claw, and I concealed the scratch from Daphne. A strip of linen to bandage it! Meanwhile, let the impatient intruder learn that her sign is not enough to open every door."
Then he entered his sitting room, greeted Ledscha curtly, invited her to go into the studio, unlocked it, and left her there alone while he went to his chamber with the slave and had the slight wound bandaged comfortably.
While Bias was helping his master he repeated with sincere anxiety his warning against the dangerous beauty whose eyebrows, which had grown together, proved that she was possessed by the demons of the nether world.
"Yet they increase the austere beauty of her face," assented the artist. "I should not want to omit them in modelling Arachne while the goddess is transforming her into a spider! What a subject! A bolder one was scarcely ever attempted and, like you, I already see before me the coming spider."
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