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- Arachne, Volume 3. - 2/8 -
she felt her face flush.
Then he tried to clasp her hand, and she dared not withdraw it from the man whom she had chosen for her tool. So she unresistingly permitted him to hold her right hand while he whispered his desire to take the place of the fallen Abus and make her his wife.
Ledscha, in hurried, embarrassed tones, answered that she appreciated the honour of his suit, but before she gave full consent she must discuss an important matter with him.
Then Hanno begged her to go out on the water.
His father and his brother Labaja were sitting in the house by the fire with his grandmother. They had learned, in following the trade of piracy, to hide the glimmer of lights. The old people had approved his choice, but the conversation in the dwelling would soon be over, and then the opportunity of seeing each other alone would be at an end.
Without uttering a word in reply, Ledscha stepped back into the boat, but Hanno plied the oars with the utmost caution and guided the skiff without the slightest sound away from the island to an open part of the water far distant from any shore.
Here he took in the oars and asked her to speak. They had no cause to fear being overheard, for the surrounding mists merely subdued the light of the full moon, and no other boat could have approached them unobserved.
The few night birds, sweeping swiftly on their strong pinions from one island to another, flew past them like flitting shadows. One hawk only, in search of nocturnal booty, circled around the motionless skiff, and sometimes, with expanded wings, swooped down close to the couple who were talking together so eagerly; but both spoke so low that it would have been impossible, even for the bird's keen hearing, to follow the course of their consultation. Merely a few louder words and exclamations reached the height where it hovered.
The young pirate himself was obliged to listen with the most strained attention while Ledscha, in low whispers, accused the Greek sculptor of having basely wronged and deceived her; but the curse with which Hanno received this acknowledgment reached even the bird circling around the boat, and it seemed as if it wished to express its approval to the corsair, for this time its fierce croak, as it suddenly swooped down to the surface of the water behind the boat, sounded shrilly through the silent night. But it soon soared again, and now Ledscha's declaration that she would become Hanno's bride only on condition that he would aid her to punish the Hellenic traitor also reached him.
Then came the words "valuable booty," "slight risk," "thanks and reward."
The girl's whispered allusion to two colossal statues made of pure gold and genuine ivory was followed by a laugh of disagreeable meaning from the pirate.
At last he raised his deep voice to ask whether Ledscha, if the venture in which he would willingly risk his life were successful, would accompany him on board the Hydra, the good ship whose command his father intrusted to him. The firm "Yes" with which she answered, and her indignant exclamation as she repulsed Hanno's premature attempt at tenderness, might have been heard by the hawk even at a greater distance.
Then the pirate's promised bride lowered her voice again, and did not raise her tones until she saw in imagination the fulfilment of the judgment which she was calling down upon the man who had torn her heart with such pitiless cruelty.
Was this the happiness predicted for her on the night of the full moon? It might be, and, radiant with secret joy, her eyes sparkling and her bosom heaving as if her foot was already on the breast of the fallen foe, she assured Hanno that the gold and the ivory should belong to him, and to him alone; but not until he had delivered the base traitor to her alive, and left his punishment in her hands, would she be ready to go with him wherever he wished--not until then, and not one moment earlier.
The pirate, with a proud "I'll capture him!" consented to this condition; but Ledscha, in hurried words, now described how she had planned the attack, while the corsair, at her bidding, plied the oars so as to bring the boat nearer to the scene of the assault.
The vulture followed the skiff; but when it stopped opposite to the large white building, one side of which was washed by the waves, Ledscha pointed to the windows of Hermon's studio, exclaiming hoarsely to the young pirate: "You will seize him there--the Greek with the long, soft black beard, and the slender figure, I mean. Then you will bind and gag him, but, you hear, without killing him, for I can only inflict what he deserves upon the living man. I am not bargaining for a dead one."
Just at that instant the bird of prey, with a shrill, greedy cry, as if it were invited to a delicious banquet, flew far away into the distance and did not return. It flew toward the left; the girl noticed it, and her heavy black eyebrows, which already met, contracted still more. The direction taken by the bird, which soon vanished in the darkness of the night, indicated approaching misfortune; but she was here only to sow destruction, and the more terrible growth it attained the better!
With an acuteness which aroused the admiration of the young corsair, who was trained to similar plots, she explained hers.
That they must wait until after the departure of the Alexandrian with her numerous train, and for the first dark night, was a matter of course.
One signal was to notify Hanno to hold himself in readiness, another to inform him that every one in the white house had gone to rest, and that Hermon was there too. The pirates were to enter the black-bearded Greek's studio. While some were shattering his statues to carry away in sacks the gold and ivory which they contained, others were to force their way into Myrtilus's workroom, which was on the opposite side of the house. There they would find the second statue; but this they must spare, because, on account of the great fame of its creator, it was more valuable than the other. The fair-haired artist was ill, and it would be no difficult matter to take him alive, even if he should put himself on the defensive. Hermon, on the contrary, was a strong fellow, and to bind him without injuring him severely would require both strength and skill. Yet it must be done, for only in case Hanno succeeded in delivering both sculptors to her alive would she consider herself--she could not repeat it often enough--bound to fulfil what she had promised him.
With the exception of the two artists, only Myrtilus's servant, the old doorkeeper, and Bias, Hermon's slave, remained during the night in the house which was to be attacked, and Hanno would undertake the assault with twenty-five sturdy fellows whom he commanded on the Hydra if his brother Labaja consented to share in the assault, this force could be considerably increased.
To take the old corsair into their confidence now would not be advisable, for, on account of his mother's near presence, he would scarcely consent to enter into the peril. Should the venture fail, everything would be over; but if it succeeded, the old man could only praise the courage and skill with which it had been executed.
Nothing was to be feared from the coast guard, for since Abus's death the authorities believed that piracy had vanished from these waters, and the ships commanded by Satabus and his sons had been admitted from Pontus into the Tanite arm of the Nile as trading vessels.
While Hanno was discussing these considerations, he rowed the boat past the landing place from which the "garden" with the Alexandrian's tent could be seen.
The third hour after midnight had begun. Smoking flames were still rising from the pitch pans and blazing torches, and long rows of lanterns also illumined the broad space.
It was as light as day in the vicinity of the tent, and Biamite huntsmen and traders were moving to and fro among the slaves and attendants as though it was market time.
"Your father, too," Hanno remarked in his awkward fashion, "will scarcely make life hard for us. We shall probably find him in Pontus. He is getting a cargo of wood for Egypt there. We have had dealings with him a long time. He thought highly of Abus, and I, too, have already been useful to him. There were handsome young fellows on the Pontine coast, and we captured them. At the peril of our lives we took them to the mart. He may even risk it in Alexandria. So the old man makes over to him a large number of these youths, and often a girl into the bargain, and he does it far too cheaply. One might envy him the profit--if it were not your father! When you are once my wife, I'll make a special contract with him about the slaves. And, besides, since the last great capture, in which the old man allowed me a share of my own, I, too, need not complain of poverty. I shall be ready for the dowry. Do you want to know what you are worth to me?"
But Ledscha's attention was attracted by other things, and even after Hanno, with proud conceit, repeated his momentous question, he waited in vain for a reply.
Then he perceived that the girl was gazing at the brilliantly lighted square as if spellbound, and now he himself saw before the tent a shed with a canopied roof, and beneath it cushioned couches, on which several Greeks--men and women--were half sitting, half lying, watching with eager attention the spectacle which a slender young Hellenic woman was presenting to them.
The tall man with the magnificent black beard, who seemed fairly devouring her with his eyes, must be the sculptor whom Ledscha commanded him to capture.
To the rude pirate the Greek girl, who in a light, half-transparent bombyx robe, was exhibiting herself to the eyes of the men upon a pedestal draped with cloths, seemed bold and shameless.
Behind her stood two female attendants, holding soft white garments ready, and a handsome Pontine boy with black, waving locks, who gazed up at her waiting for her signs.
"Nearer," Ledscha ordered the pirate in a stifled voice, and he rowed the boat noiselessly under the shadow of a willow on the bank. But the skiff had scarcely been brought to a stop there when an elderly matron, who shared the couch of an old Macedonian man of a distinguished, soldierly appearance, called the name "Niobe."
The Hellene on the pedestal took a cloth from the hand of one of the female attendants, and beckoned to the boy, who obediently drew through his girdle the short blue chiton which hung only to his knees, and sprang
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