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- Arachne, Volume 4. - 2/10 -
As she greeted Daphne she perceived that her cheeks had flushed during her conversation with Hermon.
How reserved and embarrassed the sculptor's manner was now to his uncle's daughter, whom only yesterday he had treated with as much freedom as though she were his sister! What a bungler in dissimulation! how short- sighted was this big, strong man and remarkable artist! He had carried her, Althea, in his arms like a child for a whole quarter of an hour at the festival of Dionysus, and, in spite of the sculptor's keen eye, he did not recognise her again!
What would not dyes and a change of manner accomplish!
Or had the memory of those mad hours revived and caused his embarrassment? If he should know that her companion, the Milesian Nanno, whom he had feasted with her on oyster pasties at Canopus after she had given the slip to her handsome young companion was Queen Arsinoe! Perhaps she would inform him of it some day if he recognised her.
Yet that could scarcely have happened. He had only been told what she betrayed to him yesterday, and was now neglecting her for Daphne's sake. That was undoubtedly the way the matter stood. How the girl's cheeks were glowing when she entered!
The obstacle that stood between her and Hermon was the daughter of Archias, and she, fool that she was, had attracted Hermon's attention to her.
He would want her for the Arachne, and she needed only to stretch out her hand to draw him to her again if she found no better amusement in Alexandria. Now she would awaken his fears that the best of models would recall her favour. Besides, it would not do to resume the pleasant game with him under the eyes of Philippus and his wife, who was a follower of the manners of old times. The right course now was to keep him until later.
Standing at Proclus's side, she took part gaily in the general conversation; but when Myrtilus and Philemon had joined the others, and Daphne had consented to go with Philippus and Thyone that evening, in order, after offering sacrifice together to Selene, to sail for Pelusium, Althea requested the grammateus to take her, into the open air.
Before leaving the tent, however, she dropped her ostrich-feather fan as she passed Hermon, and, when he picked it up, whispered with a significant glance at Daphne, "I see that what was learned of her heart is turned to account promptly enough."
Then, laughing gaily, she continued loudly enough to be heard by her companion also: "Yesterday our young artist maintained that the Muse shunned abundance; but the works of his wealthy friend Myrtilus contradicted him, and he changed his view with the speed of lightning."
"Would that this swift alteration had concerned the direction of his art," replied Proclus in a tone audible to her alone.
Both left the tent as he spoke, and Hermon uttered a sigh of relief as he looked after them. She attributed the basest motives to him, and Daphne's opinion of her was scarcely too severe.
He no longer needed to fear her power of attraction, though, now that he had seen her again, he better understood the spell which she had exerted over him. Every movement of her lithe figure had an exquisite grace, whose charm was soothing to the artist's eye. Only there was something piercing in her gaze when it did not woo love, and, while making the base charge, her extremely thin lips had showed her sharp teeth in a manner that reminded him of the way the she-wolf among the King's wild beasts in the Paneum gardens raised her lips when any one went near her cage.
Daphne was right. Ledscha would have been infinitely better as a model for the Arachne. Everything in this proud creature was genuine and original, which was certainly not the case with Althea. Besides, stern austerity was as much a part of the Biamite as her hair and her hands, yet what ardent passion he had seen glow in her eyes! The model so long sought in vain he had found in Ledscha, who in so many respects resembled Arachne. Fool that he was to have yielded to a swift and false ebullition of feeling!
Since Myrtilus was again near him Hermon had devoted himself with fresh eagerness to his artistic task, while a voice within cried more and more loudly that the success of his new work depended entirely upon Ledscha. He must try to regain her as a model for the Arachne! But while pondering over the "how," he felt a rare sense of pleasure when Daphne spoke to him or her glance met his.
At first he had devoted himself eagerly to his father's old friends, and especially to Thyone, and had not found it quite easy to remain firm when, in her frank, kindly, cordial manner, she tried to persuade him to accompany her and the others to Pelusium. Yet he had succeeded in refusing the worthy couple's invitation. But when he saw Philotas, whose resemblance to the King, his cousin, had just been mentioned by one of the officers, become more and more eager in his attentions to Daphne, and heard him also invited by Philippus to share the nocturnal voyage, he felt disturbed, and could not conceal from himself that the uneasiness which constantly obtained a greater mastery over him arose from the fear of losing his friend to the young aristocrat.
This was jealousy, and where it flamed so hotly love could scarcely be absent. Yet, had the shaft of Eros really struck him, how was it possible that the longing to win Ledscha back stirred so strongly within him that he finally reached a resolution concerning her?
As soon as the guests left Tennis he would approach the Biamite again. He had already whispered this intention to Myrtilus, when he heard Daphne's companion say to Thyone, "Philotas will accompany us, and on this voyage they will plight their troth if Aphrodite's powerful son accepts my sacrifice."
He involuntarily looked at the pair who were intended for each other, and saw Daphne lower her eyes, blushing, at a whisper from the young Macedonian.
His blood also crimsoned his cheeks, and when, soon after, he asked his friend whether she cared for his companionship, and Daphne assented in the most eager way, he said that he would share the voyage to Pelusium. Daphne's eyes had never yet beamed upon him so gladly and graciously. Althea was right. She must love him, and it seemed as if this conviction awoke a new star of happiness in his troubled soul.
If Philotas imagined that he could pluck the daughter of Archias like a ripe fruit from a tree, he would find himself mistaken.
Hermon did not yet exactly understand himself, only he felt certain that it would be impossible to surrender Daphne to another, and that for her sake he would give up twenty Ledschas, though he cherished infinitely great expectations from the Biamite for his art, which hitherto had been more to him than all else.
Everything that he still had to do in Tennis he could intrust to his conscientious Bias, to Myrtilus, and his slaves.
If he returned to the city of weavers, he would earnestly endeavour to palliate the offence which he had inflicted on Ledscha, and, if possible, obtain her forgiveness. Only one thing detained him--anxiety about his friend, who positively refused to share the night voyage.
He had promised his uncle Archias to care for him like a brother, and his own kind heart bade him stay with Myrtilus, and not leave him to the nursing of his very skilful but utterly unreliable body-servant, after the last night had proved to what severe attacks of his disease he was still liable.
Myrtilus, however, earnestly entreated him not to deprive himself on his account of a pleasure which he would gladly have shared. There was plenty of time to pack the statues. As for himself, nothing would do him more good just now than complete rest in his beloved solitude, which, as Hermon knew, was more welcome to him than the gayest society. Nothing was to be feared for him now. The thunderstorm had purified the air, and another one was not to be expected soon in this dry region. He had always been well here in sunny weather. Storms, which were especially harmful to him, never came at this season of the year.
Myrtilus secretly thought that Hermon's departure would be desirable, because the slave Bias had confided to him what dangers threatened his friend from the incensed Biamite husbands.
Finally, Myrtilus turned to the others and begged them not to let Hermon leave Pelusium quickly.
When, at parting, he was alone with him, he embraced him and said more tenderly than usual: "You know how easy it will be for me to depart from life; but it would be easier still if I could leave you behind without anxiety, and that would happen if the hymeneal hymns at your marriage to Daphne preceded the dirges which will soon resound above my coffin. Yesterday I first became sure that she loves you, and, much good as you have in your nature, you owe the best to her."
Hermon clasped him in his arms with passionate affection, and after confessing that he, too, felt drawn with the utmost power toward Daphne, and urging him to anticipate complete recovery instead of an early death, he held out his hand to his friend; but Myrtilus clasped it a long time in his own, saying earnestly: "Only this one frank warning: An Arachne like the model which Althea presented yesterday evening would deal the past of your art a blow in the face. No one at Rhodes--and this is just what I prize in you--hated imitation more, yet what would using the Arachne on the pedestal for a model be except showing the world not how Hermon, but how Althea imagines the hapless transformed mortal? Even if Ledscha withdraws from you, hold fast to her image. It will live on in your soul. Recall it there, free it from whatever is superfluous, supply whatever it lacks, animate it with the idea of the tireless artist, the mocking, defiant mortal woman who ended her life as the weaver of weavers in the insect world, as you have so often vividly described her to me. Then, my dear fellow, you will remain loyal to yourself, and therefore also to the higher truth, toward which every one of us who labours earnestly strives, and, myself included, there is no one who wields hammer and chisel in Greece who could contest the prize with you."
When the sun was approaching the western horizon the travellers started.
Light mists veiled the radiant right eye of the goddess of heaven. The blood of the contending spirits of light and darkness, which usually dyed the west of Egypt crimson at the departure of the great sun god, to-day vanished from sight.
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