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- Arachne, Volume 4. - 1/10 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By Georg Ebers
Outside the door of the tent Hermon was trying to banish Althea's image from his mind. How foolishly he had overestimated last night the value of this miserable actress, who as a woman had lost all charm for him-- even as a model for his Arachne!
He would rather have appeared before his pure friend with unsightly stains on his robe than while mastered by yearning for the Thracian.
The first glance at Daphne's beloved face, the first words of her greeting, taught him that he should find with her everything for which he longed.
In simple, truthful words she reproached him for having neglected her to the verge of incivility the evening before, but there was no trace of bitterness or resentment in the accusation, and she gave Hermon little time for apology, but quickly gladdened him with words of forgiveness.
In the opinion of her companion Chrysilla, Daphne ought to have kept the capricious artist waiting much longer for pardon. True, the cautious woman took no part in the conversation afterward, but she kept her charge in sight while she was skilfully knotting the fringe into a cloth which she had woven herself. On account of her favourite Philotas, it was well for Daphne to be aware that she was watched.
Chrysilla was acquainted with life, and knew that Eros never mingles more arbitrarily in the intercourse of a young couple than when, after a long separation, there is anything whatever to forgive.
Besides, many words which the two exchanged escaped her hearing, for they talked in low tones, and it was hot in the tent. Often the fatigue she felt after the sleepless night bowed her head, still comely with its unwrinkled face, though she was no longer young; then she quickly raised it again.
Neither Daphne nor Hermon noticed her. The former at once perceived that something was weighing on the sculptor's mind, but he did not need any long inquiry. He had come to confide his troubles to her, and she kindly lightened the task for him by asking why he had not gone to breakfast with the Pelusinians.
"Because I am not fit for gay company today," was the reply.
"Again dissatisfied with Fate?"
"True, it has given me small cause for contentment of late."
"Put in place of Fate the far-seeing care of the gods, and you will accept what befalls you less unkindly."
"Let us stick to us mortals, I entreat you."
"Very well, then. Your Demeter does not fully satisfy you."
A discontented shrug of the shoulders was the reply.
"Then work with twofold zeal upon the Arachne."
"Although one model I hoped to obtain forsook me, and my soul is estranged from the other."
"Althea?" she asked eagerly, and he nodded assent.
Daphne clapped her hands joyfully, exclaiming so loudly that Chrysilla's head sprang up with a jerk. "It could not help being so! O Hermon! how anxious I have been! Now, I thought, when this horrible woman represented the transformation into the spider with such repulsive accuracy, Hermon will believe that this is the true, and therefore the right, ideal; nay, I was deceived myself while gazing. But, eternal gods! as soon as I imagined this Arachne in marble or chryselephantine work, what a painful feeling overpowered me!"
"Of course!" he replied in an irritated tone. "The thirst for beauty, to which you all succumb, would not have much satisfaction to expect from this work."
"No, no, no!" Daphne interrupted in a louder tone than usual, and with the earnest desire to convince him. "Precisely because I transported myself into your tendency, your aspirations, I recognised the danger. O Hermon! what produced so sinister an effect by the wavering light of the lamps and torches, while the thunderstorm was rising--the strands of hair, the outspread fingers, the bewildered, staring blue eyes--do you not feel yourself how artificial, how unnatural it all was? This transformation was only a clever trick of acting, nothing more. Before a quiet spectator, in the pure, truthful light of Apollo, the foe of all deception, what would this Arachne probably become? Even now--I have already said so--when I imagine her executed in marble or in gold and ivory! Beauty? Who would expect to find in the active, constantly toiling weaver, the mortal daughter of an industrious dyer in purple, the calm, refreshing charm of divine women? I at least am neither foolish nor unjust enough to do so. The degree of beauty Althea possesses would entirely satisfy me for the Arachne. But when I imagine a plastic work faithful to the model of yesterday evening--though I have seen a great deal with my own eyes, and am always ready to defer to riper judgment-- I would think, while looking at it: This statue came to the artist from the stage, but never from Nature. Such would be my view, and I am not one of the initiated. But the adepts! The King, with his thorough connoisseurship and fine taste, my father, and the other famous judges, how much more keenly they would perceive and define it!"
Here she hesitated, for the blood had left Hermon's cheeks, and she saw with surprise the deep impression which the candid expression of her opinion had produced upon the artist, usually so independent and disposed to contradiction. Her judgment had undoubtedly disturbed, nay, perhaps convinced him; but at the same time his features revealed such deep depression that, far from rejoicing in so rare a success, she patted his arm like an affectionate sister, saying: "You have not yet found time to realize calmly what yesterday dazzled us all--and you," she added in a lower tone, "the most strongly."
"But now," he murmured sadly, half to himself, half to, her, "my vision is doubly clear. Close before the success of which I dreamed failure and bitter disappointment."
"If this 'doubly' refers to your completed work, and also to the Arachne," cried Daphne in the affectionate desire to soothe him, "a pleasant surprise will perhaps soon await you, for Myrtilus judges your Demeter much more favourably than you yourself do, and he also betrayed to me whom it resembles."
She blushed slightly as she spoke, and, as her companion's gloomy face brightened for a short time, went on eagerly: "And now for the Arachne. You will and must succeed in what you so ardently strive to accomplish, a subject so exactly adapted to your magnificent virile genius and so strangely suited to the course which your art has once entered upon. And you can not fail to secure the right model. You had not found it in Althea, no, certainly not! O Hermon! if I could only make you see clearly how ill suited she, in whom everything is false, is to you--your art, your only too powerful strength, your aspiration after truth--"
"You hate her," he broke in here in a repellent tone; but Daphne dropped her quiet composure, and her gray eyes, usually so gentle, flashed fiercely as she exclaimed: "Yes, and again yes! From my inmost soul I do, and I rejoice in it. I have long disliked her, but since yesterday I abhor her like the spider which she can simulate, like snakes and toads, falsehood and vice."
Hermon had never seen his uncle's peaceful daughter in this mood. The emotions that rendered this kindly soul so unlike itself could only be the one powerful couple, love and jealousy; and while gazing intently at her face, which in this moment seemed to him as beautiful as Dallas Athene armed for battle, he listened breathlessly as she continued: "Already the murderous spider had half entangled you in her net. She drew you out into the tempest--our steward Gras saw it--in order, while Zeus was raging, to deliver you to the wrath of the other gods also and the contempt of all good men; for whoever yields himself to her she destroys, sucks the marrow from his bones like the greedy harpies, and all that is noble from his soul."
"Why, Daphne," interrupted Chrysilla, raising herself from her cushions in alarm, "must I remind you of the moderation which distinguishes the Greeks from the barbarians, and especially the Hellenic woman--"
Here Daphne indignantly broke in: "Whoever practises moderation in the conflict against vice has already gone halfway over to evil. She utterly ruined--how long ago is it?--the unfortunate Menander, my poor Ismene's young husband. You know them both, Hermon. Here, of course, you scarcely heard how she lured him from his wife and the lovely little girl who bears my name. She tempted the poor fellow to her ship, only to cast him off at the end of a month for another. Now he is at home again, but he thinks Ismene is the statue from the Temple of Isis, which has gained life and speech; for he has lost his mind, and when I saw him I felt as if I should die of horror and pity. Now she is coming home with Proclus, and, as the way led through Pelusium, she attached herself to our friends and forces herself in here with them. What does she care about her elderly travelling companion? But you--yes, you, Hermon--are the next person whom she means to capture. Just now, when my eyes closed But no! It is not only in my dreams; the hideous gray threads which proceed from this greedy spider are continually floating before me and dim the light." Here she paused, for the maid Stephanion announced the coming of visitors, and at the same time loud voices were heard outside, and the merry party who had been attending the breakfast given by the commandant of Pelusium entered the tent.
Althea was among the guests, but she took little notice of Hermon.
Proclus, her associate in Queen Arsinoe's favour, was again asserting his rights as her travelling companion, and she showed him plainly that the attention which he paid her was acceptable.
Meanwhile her eager, bright blue eyes were roving everywhere, and nothing that was passing around her escaped her notice.
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