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- Arachne, Volume 3. - 8/8 -


He said nothing about anxiety concerning his own safety, but he had good reason to fear being regarded as a go-between and called to account for it.

But his warnings and entreaties seemed to find deaf ears in Hermon. True, he intended to leave Tennis as soon as possible, for what advantage could he now find here? First, however, he must attend to the packing of the statues, and then try to appease Ledscha, and make Gula's husband understand that he was casting off his pretty wife unjustly.

He would not think of making a hasty departure, he told the slave, especially as he was to meet Althea, Queen Arsinoe's art-appreciating relative, in whom he had gained a friend, later in Alexandria.

Then Bias informed him of a discovery to which one of the Thracian's slave women had helped him, and what he carelessly told his master drove the blood from his cheeks, and, though his voice was almost stifled by surprise and shame, made him assail him with questions.

What great thing had he revealed? There had been reckless gaiety at every festival of Dionysus since he had been in the artist's service, and the slaves had indulged in the festal mirth no less freely than the masters. To intoxicate themselves with wine, the gift of the god to whom they were paying homage, was not only permitted, but commanded, and the juice of the grape proved its all-equalizing power.

There had been no lack of pretty companions even for him, the bondman, and the most beautiful of all had made eyes at his master, the tall, slender man with the splendid black beard.

The reckless Lesbian who had favoured Hermon at the last Dionysia had played pranks with him madly enough, but then had suddenly vanished. By his master's orders Bias had tried to find her again, but, in spite of honest search, in vain.

Just now he had met, as Althea's maid, the little Syrian Margula, who had been in her company, and raced along in the procession of bacchanals in his, Bias's, arms. True, she could not be persuaded to make a frank confession, but he, Bias, would let his right hand wither if Hermon's companion at the Dionysia was any other than Althea. His master would own that he was right if he imagined her with black hair instead of red. Plenty of people in Alexandria practised the art of dyeing, and it was well known that Queen Arsinoe herself willingly mingled in the throng at the Dionysia with a handsome Ephebi, who did not suspect the identity of his companion.

This was the information which had so deeply agitated Hermon, and then led him, after pacing to and fro a short time, to go first to Myrtilus and then to Daphne.

He had found his friend sleeping, and though every fibre of his being urged him to speak to him, he forced himself to leave the sufferer undisturbed.

Yet so torturing a sense of dissatisfaction with himself, so keen a resentment against his own adverse destiny had awaked within him, that he could no longer endure to remain in the presence of his work, with which he was more and more dissatisfied.

Away from the studio!

There was a gay party on board the galley of his parents' old friends. Wine should bring him forgetfulness, too, bless him again with the sense of joyous existence which he knew so well, and which he now seemed on the point of losing.

When he had once talked and drunk himself into the right mood, life would wear a less gloomy face.

No! It should once more be a gay and reckless one.

And Althea?

He would meet her, with whom he had once caroused and revelled madly enough in the intoxication of the last Dionysia, and, instead of allowing himself to be fooled any longer and continuing to bow respectfully before her, would assert all the rights she had formerly so liberally granted.

He would enjoy to-day, forget to-morrow, and be gay with the gay.

Eager for new pleasure, he drew a long breath as he went out into the open air, pressed his hands upon his broad chest, and with his eyes fixed upon the commandant of Pelusium's galley, bedecked with flags, walked swiftly toward the landing place.

Suddenly from the deck, shaded by an awning, the loud laugh of a woman's shrill voice reached his ear, blended with the deeper tones of the grammateus, whose attacks on the previous night Hermon had not forgotten.

He stopped as if the laugh had pierced him to the heart. Proclus appeared to be on the most familiar terms with Althea, and to meet him with the Thracian now seemed impossible. He longed for mirth and pleasure, but was unwilling to share it with these two. As he dared not disturb Myrtilus, there was only one place where he could find what he needed, and this was--he had said so to himself when he turned his back on his sleeping friend--in Daphne's society.

Only yesterday he would have sought her without a second thought, but to-day Althea's declaration that he was the only man whom the daughter of Archias loved stood between him and his friend.

He knew that from childhood she had watched his every step with sisterly affection. A hundred times she had proved her loyalty; yet, dear as she was to him, willingly as he would have risked his life to save her from a danger, it had never entered his mind to give the tie that united them the name of love.

An older relative of both in Alexandria had once advised him, when he was complaining of his poverty, to seek her hand, but his pride of manhood rebelled against having the wealth which fate denied flung into his lap by a woman. When she looked at him with her honest eyes, he could never have brought himself to feign anything, least of all a passion of which, tenderly attached to her though he had been for years, hitherto he had known nothing.

"Do you love her?" Hermon asked himself as he walked toward Daphne's tent, and the anticipated "No" had pressed itself upon him far less quickly than he expected.

One thing was undeniably certain: whoever won her for a wife--even though she were the poorest of the poor--must be numbered among the most enviable of men. And should he not recognise in his aversion to every one of her suitors, and now to the aristocratic young Philotas, a feeling which resembled jealousy?

No! He did not and would not love Daphne. If she were really his, and whatever concerned him had become hers, with whom could he have sought in hours like these soothing, kind, and sensible counsel, comfort that calmed the heart, and the refreshing dew which his fading courage and faltering creative power required?

The bare thought of touching clay and wax with his fingers, or taking hammer, chisel, and file in his hands, was now repulsive; and when, just outside of the tent, a Biamite woman who was bringing fish to the cook reminded him of Ledscha, and that he had lost in her the right model for his Arachne, he scarcely regretted it.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Secluded monotony of his life as a scar over memory


Arachne, Volume 3. - 8/8

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