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- Arachne, Volume 3. - 5/8 -
women assembled here, took advantage of this opportunity to assert himself in a manner suited to his aristocratic birth. "This artistic yet hapless Arachne, if any one, teaches the lesson how the lofty Olympians punish those who venture to place themselves on the same level; so let artists beware. We stepchildren of the Muse can lull ourselves comfortably in the assurance of not giving the jealous gods the slightest cause for the doom which overtook the pitiable weaver."
Not a word of this declaration of the Macedonian aristocrat escaped the listening Ledscha. Scales seemed to fall from her eves. Hermon had won her love in order to use her for the model of his statue of Arachne, and, now that he had met Althea, who perhaps suited his purpose even better, he no longer needed the barbarian. He had cast her aside like a tight shoe as soon as he found a more acceptable one in this female juggler.
The girl had already asked herself, with a slight thrill of horror, whether she had not prematurely called down so terrible a punishment upon her lover; now she rejoiced in her swift action. If anything else remained for her to do, it was to make the vengeance with which she intended to requite him still more severe.
There he stood beside the woman she hated. Could he bestow even one poor thought upon the Biamite girl and the wrong he had inflicted?
Oh, no! His heart was filled to overflowing by the Greek--every look revealed it.
What was the shameless creature probably whispering to him now?
Perhaps a meeting was just being granted. The rapture which had been predicted to her for this moonlight night, and of which Hermon had robbed her, was mirrored in his features. He could think of everything except her and her poor, crushed heart.
But Ledscha was mistaken. Althea had asked the sculptor whether he still regretted having been detained by her before midnight, and he had confessed that his remaining at the banquet had been connected with a great sacrifice--nay, with an offence which weighed heavily on his mind. Yet he was grateful to the favour of the gods that had guided his decision, for Althea had it in her power to compensate him richly for what he had lost.
A glance full of promise flashed upon him from her eloquent eyes, and, turning toward the pedestal at the same instant, she asked softly, "Is the compensation I must and will bestow connected with the Arachne?"
An eager "Yes" confirmed this question, and a swift movement of her expressive lips showed him that his boldest anticipations were to be surpassed.
How gladly he would have detained her longer!--but she was already the object of all eyes, and his, too, followed her in expectant suspense as she gave an order to the female attendant and then stood thoughtfully for some time before the platform.
When she at last ascended it, the spectators supposed that she would again use a cloth; but, instead of asking anything more from the assistants, she cast aside even the peplos that covered her shoulders.
Now, almost lean in her slenderness, she stood with downcast eyes; but suddenly she loosed the double chain, adorned with flashing gems, from her neck, the circlets from her upper arms and wrists, and, lastly, even the diadem, a gift bestowed by her relative, Queen Arsinoe, from her narrow brow.
The female slaves received them, and then with swift movements Althea divided her thick long tresses of red hair into narrower strands, which she flung over her back, bosom, and shoulders.
Next, as if delirious, she threw her head so far on one side that it almost touched her left shoulder, and stared wildly upward toward the right, at the same time raising her bare arms so high that they extended far above her head.
It was again her purpose to present the appearance of defending herself against a viewless power, yet she was wholly unlike the Niobe whom she had formerly personated, for not only anguish, horror, and defiance, but deep despair and inexpressible astonishment were portrayed by her features, which obediently expressed the slightest emotion.
Something unprecedented, incomprehensible even to herself, was occurring, and to Ledscha, who watched her with an expectation as passionate as if her own weal and woe depended upon Althea's every movement, it seemed as if an unintelligible marvel was happening before her eyes, and a still greater one was impending; for was the woman up there really a woman like herself and the others whose eyes were now fixed upon the hated actress no less intently than her own?
Did her keen senses deceive her, or was not what was occurring actually a mysterious transformation?
As Althea stood there, her delicate arms seemed to have lengthened and lost even their slight roundness, her figure to have become even more slender and incorporeal, and how strangely her thin fingers spread apart! How stiffly the strands of the parted, wholly uncurled locks stood out in the air!
Did it not seem as if they were to help her move?
The black shadow which Althea's figure and limbs cast upon the surface of the brightly lighted pedestal-no, it was no deception, it not only resembled the spinner among insects, it presented the exact picture of a spider.
The Greek's slender body had contracted, her delicate arms and narrow braids of hair changed into spider legs, and the many-jointed hands were already grasping for their prey like a spider, or preparing to wind the murderous threads around another living creature.
"Arachne, the spider!" fell almost inaudibly from her quivering lips, and, overpowered by torturing fear, she was already turning away from the frightful image, when the storm of applause which burst from the Alexandrian guests soothed her excited imagination.
Instead of the spider, a slender, lank woman, with long, outstretched bare arms, and fingers spread wide apart, fluttering hair, and wandering eyes again stood before Ledscha.
But no peace was yet granted to her throbbing heart, for while Althea, with perspiring brow and quivering lips, descended from the pedestal, and was received with loud demonstrations of astonishment and delight, the glare of a flash of lightning burst through the clouds, and a loud peal of thunder shook the night air and reverberated a long time over the water.
At the same instant a loud cry rang from beneath the canopy.
Thyone, the wife of Alexander the Great's comrade, though absolutely fearless in the presence of human foes, dreaded the thunder by which Zeus announced his anger. Seized with sudden terror, she commanded a slave to obtain a black lamb for a sacrifice, and earnestly entreated her husband and her other companions to go on board the ship with her and seek shelter in its safe, rain-proof cabin, for already heavy drops were beginning to fall upon the tensely drawn awning.
"Nemesis!" exclaimed the grammateus.
"Nemesis!" whispered young Philotas to Daphne in a confidential murmur, throwing his own costly purple cloak around her to shield her from the rain. "Nowhere that we mortals overstep the bounds allotted to us do we await her in vain."
Then bending down to her again, he added, by way of explanation: "The winged daughter of Night would prove herself negligent if she allowed me to enjoy wholly without drawback the overwhelming happiness of being with you once more."
"Nemesis!" remarked Thoas, an aristocratic young hipparch of the guards of the Diadochi, who had studied in Athens and belonged to the Peripatetics there. "The master sees in the figure of this goddess the indignation which the good fortune of the base or the unworthy use of good fortune inspires in us. She keeps the happy mean between envy and malicious satisfaction." The young soldier looked around him, expecting applause, but no one was listening; the tempest was spreading terror among most of the freedmen and slaves.
Philotas and Myrtilus were following Daphne and her companion Chrysilla as they hurried into the tent. The deep, commanding tones of old Philippus vainly shouted the name of Althea, whom, as he had bestowed his hospitality upon her in Pelusium, he regarded as his charge, while at intervals he reprimanded the black slaves who were to carry his wife to the ship, but at another heavy peal of thunder set down the litter to throw themselves on their knees and beseech the angry god for mercy.
Gras, the steward whom Archias had given to his daughter, a Bithynian who had attached himself to one school of philosophy after an other, and thereby ceased to believe in the power of the Olympians, lost his quiet composure in this confusion, and even his usual good nature deserted him. With harsh words, and no less harsh blows, he rushed upon the servants, who, instead of carrying the costly household utensils and embroidered cushions into the tent, drew out their amulets and idols to confide their own imperilled lives to the protection of higher powers.
Meanwhile the gusts of wind which accompanied the outbreak of the storm extinguished the lamps and pitch-pans. The awning was torn from the posts, and amid the wild confusion rang the commandant of Pelusium's shouts for Althea and the screams of two Egyptian slave women, who, with their foreheads pressed to the ground, were praying, while the angry Gras was trying, by kicks and blows, to compel them to rise and go to work.
The officers were holding a whispered consultation whether they should accept the invitation of Proclus and spend the short remnant of the night on his galley over the wine, or first, according to the counsel of their pious commandant, wait in the neighbouring temple of Zeus until the storm was over.
The tempest had completely scattered Daphne's guests. Even Ledscha glanced very rarely toward the tents. She had thrown her self on the ground under the sycamore to beseech the angry deity for mercy, but, deeply as fear moved her agitated soul, she could not pray, but listened anxiously whenever an unexpected noise came from the meeting place of the Greeks.
Then the tones of a familiar voice reached her. It was Hermon's, and the person to whom he was speaking could be no one but the uncanny spider- woman, Althea.
They were coming to have a secret conversation under the shade of the dense foliage of the sycamore. That was easily perceived, and in an instant Ledscha's fear yielded to a different feeling.
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