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- Arachne, Volume 3. - 6/8 -
Holding her breath, she nestled close to the trunk of the ancient tree to listen, and the first word she heard was the name "Nemesis," which had just reached her from the tent.
She knew its meaning, for Tennis also had a little temple dedicated to the terrible goddess, which was visited by the Egyptians and Biamites as well as the Greeks.
A triumphant smile flitted over her unveiled features, for there was no other divinity on whose aid she could more confidently rely. She could unchain the vengeance which threatened Hermon with a far more terrible danger than the thunder clouds above, under the protection--nay, as it were at the behest of Nemesis.
To-morrow she would be the first to anoint her altar.
Now she rejoiced that her wealthy father imposed no restriction upon her in the management of household affairs, for she need spare no expense in choosing the animal she intended to offer as a sacrifice.
This reflection flashed through her mind with the speed of lightning while she was listening to Althea's conversation with the sculptor.
"The question here can be no clever play upon the name and the nature of the daughter of Erebus and Night," said the Thracian gravely. "I will remind you that there is another Nemesis besides the just being who drives from his stolen ease the unworthy mortal who suns himself in good fortune. The Nemesis whom I will recall to-day, while angry Zeus is hurling his thunderbolts, is the other, who chastises sacrilege--Ate, the swiftest and most terrible of the Erinyes. I will invoke her wrath upon you in this hour if you do not confess the truth to me fully and entirely."
"Ask," Hermon interrupted in a hollow tone. "Only, you strange woman--"
"Only," she hastily broke in, "whatever the answer may be, I must pose to you as the model for your Arachne--and perhaps it may come to that-- but first I must know, briefly and quickly, for they will be looking for me immediately. Do you love Daphne?"
"No," he answered positively. "True, she has been dear to me from childhood--"
"And," Althea added, completing the sentence, "you owe her father a debt of gratitude. But that is not new to me; I know also how little reason you gave her for loving you. Yet her heart belongs neither to Philotas, the great lord with the little brain, nor to the famous sculptor Myrtilus, whose body is really too delicate to bear all the laurels with which he is overloaded, but to you, and you alone--I know it."
Hermon tried to contradict her, but Althea, without allowing him to speak, went on hurriedly: "No matter! I wished to know whether you loved her. True, according to appearances, your heart does not glow for her, and hitherto you have disdained to transform by her aid, at a single stroke, the poverty which ill suits you into wealth. But it was not merely to speak of the daughter of Archias that I accompanied you into this tempest, from which I would fain escape as quickly as possible. So speak quickly. I am to serve you in your art, and yet, if I understood you correctly, you have already found here another excellent model."
"A native of the country," answered Hermon in an embarrassed tone.
"And for my sake you allowed her to wait for you in vain?"
"It is as you say."
"And you had promised to seek her?"
"Certainly; but before the appointed hour came I met you. You rose before me like a new sun, shedding a new light that was full of promise. Everything else sank into darkness, and, if you will fulfil the hope which you awakened in this heart--"
Just at that moment another flash of lightning blazed, and, while the thunder still shook the air, Althea continued his interrupted protestation: "Then you will give yourself to me, body and soul--but Zeus, who hears oaths, is reminding us of his presence--and what will await you if the Biamite whom you betrayed invokes the wrath of Nemesis against you?"
"The Nemesis of the barbarians!" he retorted contemptuously. "She only placed herself at the service of my art reluctantly; but you, Althea, if you will loan yourself to me as a model, I shall succeed in doing my very best; for you have just permitted me to behold a miracle, Arachne herself, whom you became, you enchantress. It was real, actual life, and that--that is the highest goal."
"The highest?" she asked hesitatingly. "You will have to represent the female form, and beauty, Hermon, beauty?"
"Will be there, allied with truth," flamed Hermon, "if you, you peerless, more than beautiful creature, keep your word to me. But you will! Let me be sure of it. Is a little love also blended with the wish to serve the artist?"
"A little love?" she repeated scornfully.
"This matter concerns love complete and full--or none. We will see each other again to-morrow. Then show me what the model Althea is worth to you."
With these words she vanished in the darkness, while the call of her name again rang from the tents.
"Althea!" he cried in a tone of mournful reproach as he perceived her disappearance, hurrying after her; but the dense gloom soon forced him to give up the pursuit.
Ledscha, too, left her place beneath the sycamore.
She had seen and heard enough.
Duty now commanded her to execute vengeance, and the bold Hanno was ready to risk his life for her.
The following day the sun shone radiantly, with scorching brilliancy, upon Tennis and the archipelago, which at this season of the year surrounded the little city of weavers.
Young Philotas, without going to rest, had set out at dawn in pursuit of game, accompanied by a numerous hunting party, to which several of the Pelusinian officers belonged. He, too, had brought home a great quantity of booty, with which he had expected to awaken Daphne's admiration, and to lay as a token of homage at her feet. He had intended to lead before her garlanded slaves bearing, tied by ropes, bunches of slaughtered wild fowl, but his reception was very different from what he had anticipated.
Instead of praising his exploit, he had been indignantly requested to remove the poor, easily killed victims from her presence; and, wounded and disappointed, he had retired to his magnificent Nile boat, where, spent by his sleepless night, he slumbered so soundly on his soft cushions that he did not appear at the breakfast which the gray-haired commander of Pelusium had invited him to attend on his galley.
While the others were still feasting there, Daphne was enjoying an hour alone with her companion Chrysilla.
She had remained absent from Philippus's banquet, and her pale cheeks showed the ill effects produced by the excitement of the previous night.
A little before noon Hermon came to see her. He, too, had not gone to the Pelusinian's breakfast.
After Althea had left him the evening before he went directly back to the white house, and, instead of going to rest, devoted himself to Myrtilus; for the difficulty of breathing, which during his industrious life in quiet seclusion had not troubled him for several months, attacked him with twofold violence after the gaiety of the previous night. Hermon had not left him an instant until day brought the sufferer relief, and he no longer needed the supporting hand of his kind nurse.
While Hermon, in his own sleeping room, ordered Bias to anoint his hair and beard and put on festal garments, the slave told him certain things that destroyed the last remnant of composure in his easily agitated soul.
With the firm resolution to keep the appointment on Pelican Island, Hermon had gone at sunset, in response to the Alexandrian's invitation, to attend her banquet, and by no means unwillingly, for his parents' old friends were dear to him, and he knew by experience the beneficial influence Daphne's sunny, warmhearted nature exerted upon him.
Yet this time he did not find what he expected.
In the first place, he had been obliged to witness how earnestly Philotas was pressing his suit, and perceived that her companion Chrysilla was most eagerly assisting him. As she saw in the young aristocrat a suitable husband for the daughter of Archias, and it was her duty to assign the guests their seats at the banquet, she had given the cushion beside Daphne to Philotas, and also willingly fulfilled Althea's desire to have Hermon for her neighbour.
When Chrysilla presented the black-bearded artist to the Thracian, she would have sworn that Althea found an old acquaintance in the sculptor; but Hermon treated the far-famed relative of Queen Arsinoe as coldly and distantly as if he now saw her for the first time, and with little pleasure.
In truth, he was glad to avoid women of Althea's stamp. For some time he had preferred to associate with the common people, among whom he found his best subjects, and kept far aloof from the court circles to which Althea belonged, and which, thanks to his birth and his ability as an artist, would easily have been accessible to him also.
The over-refined women who gave themselves airs of avoiding everything which imposes a restraint upon Nature, and therefore, in their transparent robes, treated with contempt all that modest Macedonian dames deemed worthy of a genuine woman's consideration, were repulsive to him-- perhaps because they formed so rude a contrast to his noble dead mother and to Daphne.
Although he had been very frequently in feminine society, Althea's manner at first caused him a certain degree of embarrassment; for, in spite of the fact that he believed he met her here for the first time, there was something familiar about her, especially in the tone of her voice, and he
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