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- Arachne, Volume 3. - 4/8 -
that he might rest in the shade, and from this spot the girl could obtain the best view of what she desired to see.
How gay and animated it was under the awning!
A throng of companions had arrived with the Pelusinians, and some also had probably been on the ship which--she knew it from Bias--had come to Tennis directly from Alexandria that afternoon. The galley was said to belong to Philotas, an aristocratic relative of King Ptolemy. If she was not mistaken, he was the stately young Greek who was just picking up the ostrich-feather fan that had slipped from Daphne's lap.
The performance was over.
Young slaves in gay garments, and nimble female servants with glittering gold circlets round their upper arms and on their ankles, were passing from couch to couch, and from one guest to another, offering refreshments. Hermon had risen from his knees, and the wreath of bright flowers again adorned his black curls. He held himself as proudly erect as if the goddess of Victory herself had crowned him, while Althea was reaping applause and thanks. Ledscha gazed past her and the others to watch every movement of the sculptor.
It was scarcely the daughter of Archias who had detained Hermon, for he made only a brief answer--Ledscha could not hear what it was--when she accosted him pleasantly, to devote himself to Althea, and--this could be perceived even at a distance--thank her with ardent devotion.
And now--now he even raised the hem of her peplos to his lips.
A scornful smile hovered around Ledscha's mouth; but Daphne's guests also noticed this mark of homage--an unusual one in their circle--and young Philotas, who had followed Daphne from Alexandria, cast a significant glance at a man with a smooth, thin, birdlike face, whose hair was already turning gray. His name was Proclus, and, as grammateus of the Dionysian games and high priest of Apollo, he was one of the most influential men in Alexandria, especially as he was one of the favoured courtiers of Queen Arsinoe.
He had gone by her command to the Syrian court, had enjoyed on his return, at Pelusium, with his travelling companion Althea, the hospitality of Philippus, and accompanied the venerable officer to Tennis in order to win him over to certain plans. In spite of his advanced age, he still strove to gain the favour of fair women, and the sculptor's excessive ardour had displeased him.
So he let his somewhat mocking glance wander from Althea to Hermon, and called to the latter: "My congratulations, young master; but I need scarcely remind you that Nike suffers no one--not even goodness and grace personified--to take from her hand what it is her sole duty to bestow."
While speaking he adjusted the laurel on his own thin hair; but Thyone, the wife of Philippus, answered eagerly: "If I were a young man like Hermon, instead of an old woman, noble Proclus, I think the wreath which Beauty bestows would render me scarcely less happy than stern Nike's crown of victory."
While making this pleasant reply the matron's wrinkled face wore an expression of such cordial kindness, and her deep voice was so winning in its melody, that Hermon forced himself to heed the glance of urgent warning Daphne cast at him, and leave the sharp retort that hovered on his lips unuttered. Turning half to the grammateus, half to the matron, he merely said, in a cold, self-conscious tone, that Thyone was right. In this gay circle, the wreath of bright flowers proffered by the hands of a beautiful woman was the dearest of all gifts, and he would know how to value it.
"Until other more precious ones cast it into oblivion," observed Althea. "Let me see, Hermon: ivy and roses. The former is lasting, but the roses--" She shook her finger in roguish menace at the sculptor as she spoke.
"The roses," Proclus broke in again, "are of course the most welcome to our young friend from such a hand; yet these flowers of the goddess of Beauty have little in common with his art, which is hostile to beauty. Still, I do not know what wreath will be offered to the new tendency with which he surprised us."
At this Hermon raised his head higher, and answered sharply: "Doubtless there must have been few of them, since you, who are so often among the judges, do not know them. At any rate, those which justice bestows have hitherto been lacking."
"I should deplore that," replied Proclus, stroking his sharp chin with his thumb and forefinger; "but I fear that our beautiful Nike also cared little for this lofty virtue of the judge in the last coronation. However, her immortal model lacks it often enough."
"Because she is a woman," said one of the young officers, laughing; and another added gaily: "That very thing may be acceptable to us soldiers. For my part, I think everything about the goddess of Victory is beautiful and just, that she may remain graciously disposed toward us. Nay, I accuse the noble Althea of withholding from Nike, in her personation, her special ornament--her swift, powerful wings."
"She gave those to Eros, to speed his flight," laughed Proclus, casting a meaning look at Althea and Hermon.
No one failed to notice that this jest alluded to the love which seemed to have been awakened in the sculptor as quickly as in the personator of the goddess of Victory, and, while it excited the merriment of the others, the blood mounted into Hermon's cheeks; but Myrtilus perceived what was passing in the mind of his irritable friend, and, as the grammateus praised Nike because in this coronation she had omitted the laurel, the fair-haired Greek interrupted him with the exclamation:
"Quite right, noble Proclus, the grave laurel does not suit our gay pastime; but roses belong to the artist everywhere, and are always welcome to him. The more, the better!"
"Then we will wait till the laurel is distributed in some other place," replied the grammateus; and Myrtilus quickly added, "I will answer for it that Hermon does not leave it empty-handed."
"No one will greet the work which brings your friend the wreath of victory with warmer joy," Proclus protested. "But, if I am correctly informed, yonder house hides completed treasures whose inspection would give the fitting consecration to this happy meeting. Do you know what an exquisite effect gold and ivory statues produce in a full glow of lamplight? I first learned it a short time ago at the court of King Antiochus. There is no lack of lights here. What do you say, gentlemen? Will you not have the studios lighted till the rooms are as bright as day, and add a noble enjoyment of art to the pleasures of this wonderful night?"
But Hermon and Myrtilus opposed this proposal with equal decision.
Their refusal awakened keen regret, and the old commandant of Pelusium would not willingly yield to it.
Angrily shaking his large head, around which, in spite of his advanced age, thick snowwhite locks floated like a lion's mane, he exclaimed, "Must we then really return to our Pelusium, where Ares restricts the native rights of the Muses, without having admired the noble works which arose in such mysterious secrecy here, where Arachne rules and swings the weaver's shuttle?"
"But my two cruel cousins have closed their doors even upon me, who came here for the sake of their works," Daphne interrupted, "and, as rather Zeus is threatening a storm--just see what black clouds are rising!--we ought not to urge our artists further; a solemn oath forbids them to show their creations now to any one."
This earnest assurance silenced the curious, and, while the conversation took another turn, the gray-haired general's wife drew Myrtilus aside.
Hermon's parents had been intimate friends of her own, as well as of her husband's, and with the interest of sincere affection she desired to know whether the young sculptor could really hope for the success of which Myrtilus had just spoken.
It was years since she had visited Alexandria, but what she heard of Hermon's artistic work from many guests, and now again through Proclus, filled her with anxiety.
He had succeeded, it was said, in attracting attention, and his great talent was beyond question; but in this age, to which beauty was as much one of the necessities of life as bread and wine, and which could not separate it from art, he ventured to deny it recognition. He headed a current in art which was striving to destroy what had been proved and acknowledged, yet, though his creations were undeniably powerful, and even showed many other admirable qualities, instead of pleasing, satisfying, and ennobling, they repelled.
These opinions had troubled the matron, who understood men, and was the more disposed to credit them the more distinctly she perceived traces of discontent and instability in Hermon's manner during the present meeting.
So it afforded her special pleasure to learn from Myrtilus his firm conviction that, in Arachne, Hermon would produce a masterpiece which could scarcely be excelled.
During this conversation Althea had come to Thyone's side, and, as Hermon had already spoken to her of the Arachne, she eagerly expressed her belief that this work seemed as if it were specially created for him.
The Greek matron leaned back comfortably upon her cushions, her wrinkled, owl-like face assumed a cheerful expression, and, with the easy confidence conferred by aristocratic birth, a distinguished social position, and a light heart, she exclaimed: "Lucifer is probably already behind yonder clouds, preparing to announce day, and this exquisite banquet ought to have a close worthy of it. What do you say, you wonder- working darling of the Muses"--she held out her hand to Althea as she spoke--" to showing us and the two competing artists yonder the model of the Arachne they are to represent in gold and ivory?"
Althea fixed her eyes upon the ground, and, after a short period of reflection, answered hesitatingly: "The task which you set before me is certainly no easy one, but I shall rely upon your indulgence."
"She will!" cried the matron to the others.
Then, clapping her hands, she continued gaily, in the tone of the director of an entertainment issuing invitations to a performance: "Your attention is requested! In this city of weavers the noble Thracian, Althea, will depict before you all the weaver of weavers, Arachne, in person."
"Take heed and follow my advice to sharpen your eyes," added Philotas, who, conscious of his inferiority in intellect and talents to the men and
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