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- Arachne, Volume 2. - 6/9 -
Then, without the slightest haste, he exchanged the huntsman's chiton for the white chlamys, which was extremely becoming to his long, waving beard, and at last, exclaiming gaily, "If I stay any longer, she will transform herself into empty air instead of the spider," he went to her.
While waiting in the studio Ledscha had used the time to satisfy her curiosity.
What was there not to be seen!
On pedestals and upon the boards of the floor, on boxes, racks, and along the wall, stood, lay, or hung the greatest variety of articles: plaster casts of human limbs and parts of the bodies of animals, male and female, of clay and wax, withered garlands, all sorts of sculptor's tools, a ladder, vases, cups and jars for wine and water, a frame over which linen and soft woollen materials were spread, a lute and a zither, several seats, an armchair, and in one corner a small table with three dilapidated book rolls, writing tablets, metal styluses, and reed pens.
All these articles were arranged haphazard, and showed that Bias possessed more wisdom than care in the use of duster and broom.
It would have been difficult to count the number of things brought together here, but the unusually long, wide room was by no means crowded.
Ledscha cast a wondering glance sometimes at one object, sometimes at another, but without understanding its meaning or its use.
The huge figure on the pedestal in the middle of the studio, upon which the full glare of light fell through the open windows, was certainly the statue of the goddess on which Hermon was working; but a large gray cloth concealed it from her gaze.
How tall it was!
When she looked at it more closely she felt small and oppressed by comparison.
A passionate longing urged her to remove the cloth, but the boldness of the act restrained her. After she had taken another survey of the spacious apartment, which she was visiting for the first time by daylight, the torturing feeling of being neglected gained possession of her.
She clinched her white teeth more firmly, and when there was a noise at the door that died away again without bringing the man she expected, she went up to the statue which she had already walked past quietly several times and, obeying an impatient impulse, freed it from its covering.
The goddess, now illumined by the sunlight, shone before her in gleaming yellow gold and snowy ivory.
She had never seen such a statue, and drew back dazzled.
What a master was the man who had deceived her trusting heart!
He had created a Demeter; the wheat in her hand showed it.
How beautiful this work was--and how valuable! It produced a powerful impression upon her mind, wholly unaccustomed to the estimate of such things.
The goddess before her was the very one whose statue stood in the temple of Demeter, and to whom she also sacrificed, with the Greeks in Tennis, when danger threatened the harvest. Involuntarily she removed the lower veil from her face and raised her hand in prayer.
Meanwhile she gazed into the pallid face, carved from ivory, of the immortal dispenser of blessings, and suddenly the blood crimsoned her cheeks, the nostrils of her delicate, slightly arched nose rose and fell more swiftly, for the countenance of the goddess--she was not mistaken-- was that of the Alexandrian whom she had just watched so intently, and for whose sake Hermon had left her in the lurch the evening before.
Now, too, she remembered for what purpose the sculptor was said to have lured Gula, the sailor's wife, and her own young sister Taus, to his studio, and in increasing excitement she drew the cloth also from the bust beside the Demeter.
Again the Alexandrian's face--the likeness was even more unmistakable than in the goddess.
The Greek girl alone occupied his thoughts. Hermon had disdained to model the Biamite's head.
What could the others, or she herself, be to him, since he loved the rich foreigner in the tent outside, and her alone? How firmly her image must have been impressed upon his soul, that he could reproduce the features of the absent one with such lifelike fidelity!
Yet with what bold assurance he had protested that his heart belonged solely to her. But she thought that she now perceived his purpose. If the slave was right, it was done that she might permit him to model what he admired in her figure, only not the head and face, whose beauty, nevertheless, he praised so extravagantly.
Had he attracted Gula and her sister with similar sweet flatteries? Had the promise to bestow their charms upon a goddess been made to them also?
The swift throbbing of her indignant heart made it impossible for her to think calmly, but its vehement pulsation reminded her of the object of her presence here.
She had come to obtain a clear understanding between him and herself.
She stood here as a judge.
She must know whether she had been betrayed or deceived.
He should confess what his intentions toward her were. The next moments must decide the fate of her life, and she added, drawing a long breath, perhaps of his also.
Suddenly Ledscha started. She had not heard Hermon enter the studio, and was now startled by his greeting.
It was not positively unkind, but certainly not a lover's.
Perhaps the words might have been warmer, but for his annoyance at the insolent boldness with which she had removed the coverings from his works. He restrained himself from openly blaming her, it is true, but he exclaimed, with a tinge of gay sarcasm: "You seem to feel very much at home here already, fairest of the fair. Or was it the goddess herself who removed the curtain from her image in order to show herself to her successor upon this pedestal?"
But the question was to remain unanswered, for under the spell of the resentment which filled her heart, and in the effort not to lose sight of the object that brought her here, Ledscha had only half understood its meaning, and pointing her slender forefinger at the face of his completed work, she demanded to know whom she recognised in this statue.
"The goddess Demeter," he answered quietly; "but if it pleases you better, as you seem to be on the right track, also the daughter of Archias."
Then, angered by the wrathful glance she cast at him, he added more sternly: "She is kind-hearted, free from disagreeable whims and the disposition to torture others who are kindly disposed toward her. So I adorned the goddess with her pleasant features."
"Mine, you mean to say," Ledscha answered bitterly, "would be less suitable for this purpose. Yet they, too, can wear a different expression from the present one. You, I think, have learned this. Only I shall never acquire the art of dissimulation, not even in your society."
"You seem to be angry on account of my absence yesterday evening? "Hermon asked in an altered tone, clasping her hand; but Ledscha snatched it from him, exclaiming: "The model of the Demeter, the daughter of the wealthy Archias, detained you, you were going to tell me, and you think that ought to satisfy the barbarian maiden."
"Folly!" he answered angrily. "I owe a debt of gratitude to her father, who was my guardian, and custom commands you also to honour a guest. But your obstinacy and jealousy are unbearable. What great thing is it that I ask of your love? A little patience. Practise it. Then your turn will come too."
"Of course, the second and third will follow the first," she answered bitterly. "After Gula, the sailor's wife, you lured my innocent young sister, Taus, to this apartment; or am I mistaken in the order, and was Gula the second?"
"So that's it!" cried Hermon, who was surprised rather than alarmed by this betrayal of his secret. "If you want confirmation of the fact, very well--both were here."
"Because you deluded them with false vows of love."
"By no means. My heart has nothing what ever to do with these visits. Gula came to thank me because I rendered her a service--you know it-- which to every mother seems greater than it is."
"But you certainly did not underestimate it," Ledscha impetuously interrupted, "for you demanded her honour in return."
"Guard your tongue!" the artist burst forth angrily. "The woman visited me unasked, and I let her leave me as faithful or as unfaithful to her husband as she came. If I used her as a model--"
"Gula, whom the sculptor transforms into a goddess," Ledscha interrupted, with a sneering laugh.
"Into a fish-seller, if you wish to know it," cried Hermon indignantly. "I saw in the market a young woman selling shad. I took the subject, and found in Gula a suitable model. Unfortunately, she ventured here far too seldom. But I can finish it with the help of the sketch--it stands in yonder cupboard."
"A fish-seller," Ledscha repeated contemptuously. "And for what did my Taus, poor lovely child, seem desirable?"
"Over opposite," Hermon answered quickly, as if he wished to get rid of a troublesome duty, pointing through the window out of doors, "the free
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