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- Arachne, Volume 3. - 1/8 -
[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.]
By Georg Ebers
"When the moon is over Pelican Island." How often Ledscha had repeated this sentence to herself while Hermon was detained by Daphne and her Pelusinian guests!
When she entered the boat after nightfall she exclaimed hopefully, sure of her cause, "When the moon is over Pelican Island he will come."
Her goal was quickly reached in the skiff; the place selected for the nocturnal meeting was a familiar one to her.
The pirates had remained absent from it quite two years. Formerly they had often visited the spot to conceal their arms and booty on the densely wooded island. The large papyrus thicket on the shore also hid boats from spying eyes, and near the spot where Ledscha landed was a grassy seat which looked like an ordinary resting place, but beneath it the corsairs had built a long, walled passage, that led to the other side of the island, and had enabled many a fugitive to vanish from the sight of pursuers, as though the earth had swallowed them.
"When the moon is over the island," Ledscha repeated after she had waited more than an hour.
The time had not yet come; the expanse of water lay before her motionless, in hue a dull, leaden gray, and only the dimly illumined air and a glimmering radiance along the edges of the waves that washed the island showed that the moon was already brightening the night.
When its full orb floated above the island Hermon, too, would appear, and the happiness which had been predicted to Ledscha would begin.
A bitter smile hovered around her delicately cut lips as she repeated the word.
Hitherto no feeling was more distant from her; for when love and longing began to stir in her heart, it seemed as though a hideous spider was weaving its web about her, and vague fears, painful memories, and in their train fierce hate would force glad expectation into the shadow.
Yet she yearned with passionate fervour to see Hermon again, and when he was once there all must be well between them. The prediction of old Tabus, who ruled as mistress over so many demons, could not deceive.
After Ledscha had so lately reminded the lover who so vehemently roused her jealous wrath what this night of the full moon meant to her, she could rely upon his appearance in spite of everything.
Various matters undoubtedly held him firmly enough in Tennis--she admitted this to herself after she grew calmer--but he had promised to come; he would surely enter the boat, and she--she would submit to share the night with the Hellene.
Her whole being longed for the bliss awaiting her, and it could come from no one save the man whose lips would seek hers when the moon rose over the Pelican Island.
How tardily and sluggishly the cow-headed goddess who bore the silver orb between her horns rose to-night! how slowly the time passed, yet she did not move forward more certainly that the man whom Ledscha expected must arrive.
Of the possibility of his non-appearance she would not think; but when the fear that she was perhaps looking for him in vain assailed her, the blood crimsoned her face as if she felt the shame of a humiliating insult. Yet why should she make the period of waiting more torturing than it was already?
Surely he must come!
Sometimes she rested on the grassy seat and gazed across the dull gray surface of the water into the distance; sometimes she walked to and fro, stopping at every turn to look across at Tennis and the bright torches and lights which surrounded the Alexandrian's tent.
So one quarter of an hour after another passed away.
A light breeze rose, and gradually the tops of the rushes began to shine, and the leafage before, beside, and above her to glitter in the silvery light.
The water was no longer calm, but furrowed by countless little ripples, on whose crests the rays from above played, sparkling and flashing restlessly. A web of shimmering silvery radiance covered the edges of every island, and suddenly the brilliant full moon was reflected in argent lustre like a magnificent quivering column upon the surface of the water, now rippled by the evening breeze.
The time during which Ledscha could repeat "When the moon is over Pelican Island" was past; already its course had led it beyond.
The island lay behind it, and it continued its pilgrimage before the young girl's eyes.
The glittering column of light upon the water proved that she was not mistaken; the time which she had appointed for Hermon had already expired.
The moon in calm majesty sailed farther and farther onward in its course, and with it minute after minute elapsed, until they became a half hour, then a whole one.
"How long is it since the moon was over Pelican Island?" was the question which now pressed itself upon her again and again, and to which she found an answer at every glance upward, for she had learned to estimate time by the position of the stars.
Rarely was the silence of the night interrupted by the call of a human being or the barking of a dog from the city, or even the hooting of an owl at a still greater distance; but the farther the moon moved on above her the fiercer grew the uproar in Ledscha's proud, cruelly wronged soul. She felt offended, scorned, insulted, and at the same time defrauded of the happiness which this night of the full moon contained for her. Or had the demons who promised happiness meant something else in their prediction than Hermon's love? Was she to owe the bliss they had foretold to hate and pitiless retribution?
When the midnight hour had nearly arrived she prepared to depart, but after she had already set her foot on the edge of the boat she returned to the grassy seat. She would wait a little longer yet. Then there would be nothing which could give Hermon a right to consideration; then she might let loose upon him the avenging powers at her command.
Ledscha again gazed over the calm landscape, but in the wild tumult of her heart she no longer distinguished the details upon which her eyes rested. Doubtless she saw the light mists hovering like ghosts, or the restless shades of the unburied dead, over the shining expanse before her, and the filmy vapours that veiled the brightness of the stars, but she had ceased to question the heavenly bodies about the time.
What did she care for the progress of the hours, since the constellation of Charles's Wain showed her that it was past midnight?
The moon no longer stood forth in sharp outlines against the deep azure of the vaulted sky, but, robbed of its radiance, floated in a circle of dimly illumined mists.
Not only the feelings which stirred Ledscha's soul, but the scene around her, had gained a totally different aspect.
Since every hope of the happiness awaiting her was destroyed, she no longer sought to palliate the wrongs Hermon had inflicted upon her. While dwelling on them, she by no means forgot the trivial purpose for which the artist intended to use her charms; and when she again gazed up at the slightly-clouded sky, the shrouded moon no longer reminded her of the silver orb between the horns of Astarte.
She did not ask herself how the transformation had occurred, but in its place, high above her head, hung a huge gray spider. Its gigantic limbs extended over the whole firmament, and seemed striving to clutch and stifle the world beneath. The enormous monster was weaving its gray net over Tennis, and all the islands in the water, the Pelican Island, and she herself upon the seat of turf, and held them all prisoned in it.
It was a horrible vision, fraught with terrors which, even when she shut her eyes in order to escape it, showed very little change.
Assailed by anxious fears, Ledscha started up, and a few seconds later was urging her boat with steady strokes toward the Owl's Nest.
Even now lights were still shining from the Alexandrian's tent through the sultry, veiled night.
There seemed to be no waking life on the pirates' island. Even old Tabus had probably put out the fire and gone to sleep, for deathlike silence and deep darkness surrounded it.
Had Hanno, who agreed to meet her here after midnight, also failed to come? Had the pirate learned, like the Greek, to break his promise?
Only half conscious what she was doing, she left the boat; but her slender foot had scarcely touched the land when a tall figure emerged from the thicket near the shore and approached her through the darkness.
"Hanno!" she exclaimed, as if relieved from a burden, and the young pirate repeated "Hanno" as if the name was the watchword of the night.
Her own name, uttered in a tone of intense yearning, followed. Not another syllable accompanied it, but the expression with which it fell upon her ear revealed so plainly what the young pirate felt for and expected from her that, in spite of the darkness which concealed her,
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