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- Arachne, Volume 4. - 6/10 -
But if the votive stones, the little altars and statues of the gods, the bushes and single trees along the sides of the dike road were overflowed while the travellers were in the region of the marsh, they would be obliged to interrupt their journey, for the danger of sinking into the morass with their horses would then threaten them.
Even at the brick-kiln travellers, soldiers, and trains of merchandise had stopped to wait for the end of the cloud-burst.
In front of the farmhouse, too, which Hermon and his companion next reached, they saw dozens of people seeking shelter, and the Midianite urged his master to join them for a short time at least. The wisest course here was probably to yield, and Hermon was already turning his horse's head toward the house when a Greek messenger dashed past the beckoning refuge and also by him.
"Do you dare to ride farther?" the artist shouted in a tone of warning inquiry to the man on the dripping bay, and the latter, without pausing, answered: "Duty! On business for the King!"
Then Hermon turned his steed back toward the road, beat the water from his soaked beard with the edge of his hand, and with a curt "Forward!" announced his decision to his companion. Duty summoned him also, and what another risked for the King he would not fail to do for his friend.
The Midianite, shaking his head, rode angrily after him; but, though the violence of the rain was lessening, the wind began to blow with redoubled force, beating and lashing the boundless expanse of the quickly formed lake with such savage fury that it rolled in surges like the sea, and sweeping over it dense clouds of foam like the sand waves tossed by the desert tempests.
Sometimes moaning, sometimes whistling, the gusts of the hurricane drove the water and the travellers before it, while the rain poured from the sky to the earth, and wherever it struck splashed upward, making little whirlpools and swiftly breaking bubbles.
What might not Myrtilus suffer in this storm! This thought strengthened Hermon's courage to twice ride past other farmhouses which offered shelter. At the third the horse refused to wade farther in such a tempest, so there was nothing to be done except spring off and lead it to the higher ground which the water had not yet reached.
The interior of the peasant hut was filled with people who had sought shelter there, and the stifling atmosphere which the artist felt at the door induced him to remain outside.
He had stood there dripping barely fifteen minutes when loud shouts and yells were heard on the road from Pelusium by which he had come, and upon the flooded dike appeared a body of men rushing forward with marvellous speed.
The nearer they came the fiercer and more bewildering sounded the loud, shrill medley of their frantic cries, mingled with hoarse laughter, and the spectacle presented to the eyes was no less rough and bold.
The majority seemed to be powerful men. Their complexions were as light as the Macedonians; their fair, red, and brown locks were thick, unkempt, and bristling. Most of the reckless, defiantly bold faces were smooth- shaven, with only a mustache on the upper lip, and sometimes a short imperial. All carried weapons, and a fleece covered the shoulders of many, while chains, ornamented with the teeth of animals, hung on their white muscular chests.
"Galatians," Hermon heard one man near him call to another. "They came to the fortress as auxiliary troops. Philippus forbade them to plunder on pain of death, and showed them--the gods be thanked!--that he was in earnest. Otherwise it would soon look here as though the plagues of locusts, flood, and fire had visited us at once. Red-haired men are not the only sons of Typhon!"
And Hermon thought that he had indeed never seen any human beings equally fierce, bold to the verge of reckless madness, as these Gallic warriors. The tempest which swept them forward, and the water through which they waded, only seemed to increase their enjoyment, for sheer delight rang in their exulting shouts and yells.
Oh, yes! To march amid this uproar of the elements was a pleasure to the healthy men. It afforded them the rarest, most enlivening delight. For a long time nothing had so strongly reminded them of the roaring of the wind and the rushing of the rain in their northern home. It seemed a delicious relief, after the heat and dryness of the south, which they had endured with groans.
When they perceived the eyes fixed upon them they swung their weapons, arched their breasts with conscious vanity, distorted their faces into terrible threatening grimaces, or raised bugle horns to their lips, drew from them shrill, ear-piercing notes and gloated, with childish delight, in the terror of the gaping crowd, on whom the restraint of authority sternly forbade them to show their mettle.
Lust of rapine and greed for booty glittered in many a fiery, longing look, but their leaders kept them in check with the sword. So they rushed on without stopping, like a thunderstorm pregnant with destruction which the wind drives over a terrified village.
Hermon also had to take the road they followed, and, after giving the Gauls a long start, he set out again.
But though he succeeded in passing the marshy region without injury, there had been delay after delay; here the horses had left the flooded dike road and floundered up to their knees in the morass, there trees from the roadside, uprooted by the storm, barred the way.
As night closed in the rain ceased and the wind began to subside, but dark clouds covered the sky, and the horsemen were still an hour's ride from the place where the road ended at the little harbour from which travellers entered the boat which conveyed them to Tennis.
The way no longer led through the marsh, but through tilled lands, and crossed the ditches which irrigated the fields on wooden bridges.
On their account, in the dense darkness which prevailed, caution was necessary, and this the guide certainly did not lack. He rode at a slow walk in front of the artist, and had just pointed out to him the light at the landing place of the boat which went to Tennis, when Hermon was suddenly startled by a loud cry, followed by clattering and splashing.
With swift presence of mind he sprang from his horse and found his conjecture verified. The bridge had broken down, and horse and rider had fallen into the broad canal.
"The Galatians!" reached Hermon from the dark depths, and the exclamation relieved him concerning the fate of the Midianite.
The latter soon struggled up to the road uninjured. The bridge must have given way under the feet of the savage horde, unless the Gallic monsters, with brutal malice, had intentionally shattered it.
The first supposition, however, seemed to be the correct one, for as Hermon approached the canal he heard moans of pain. One of the Gauls had apparently met with an accident in the fall of the bridge and been deserted by his comrades. With the skill acquired in the wrestling school, Hermon descended into the canal to look for the wounded man, while his guide undertook to get the horses ashore.
The deep darkness considerably increased the difficulty of carrying out his purpose, but the young Greek went up to his neck in the water he could not become wetter than he was already. So he remained in the ditch until he found the injured man whose groans of suffering pierced his compassionate heart.
He was obliged to release the luckless Gaul from the broken timbers of the bridge, and, when Hermon had dragged him out on the opposite bank of the canal, he made no answer to any question. A falling beam had probably struck him senseless.
His hair, which Hermon's groping fingers informed him was thick and rough, seemed to denote a Gaul, but a full, long beard was very rarely seen in this nation, and the wounded man wore one. Nor could anything be discovered from the ornaments or weapons of this fierce barbarian.
But to whatever people he might belong, he certainly was not a Greek. The thoroughly un-Hellenic wrapping up of the legs proved that.
No matter! Hermon at any rate was dealing with some one who was severely injured, and the self-sacrificing pity with which even suffering animals inspired him, and which in his boyhood had drawn upon him the jeers of the companions of his own age, did not abandon him now.
Reluctantly obeying his command, the Midianite helped him bandage the sufferer's head, in which a wound could be felt, as well as it could be done in the darkness, and lift him on the artist's horse. During this time fresh groans issued from the bearded lips of the injured warrior, and Hermon walked by his side, guarding the senseless man from the danger of falling from the back of the horse as it slowly followed the Midianite's.
This tiresome walk, however, did not last long; the landing place was reached sooner than Hermon expected, and the ferryboat bore the travellers and the horses to Tennis.
By the flickering light of the captain's lantern it was ascertained that the wounded man, in spite of his long dark beard, was probably a Gaul. The stupor was to be attributed to the fall of a beam on his head, and the shock, rather than to the wound. The great loss of blood sustained by the young and powerful soldier had probably caused the duration of the swoon.
During the attempts at resuscitation a sailor boy offered his assistance. He carefully held the lantern, and, as its flickering light fell for brief moments upon the artist's face, the lad of thirteen or fourteen asked if he was Hermon of Alexandria.
A curt "If you will permit," answered the question, considered by the Hellenes an unseemly one, especially from such a youth; but the sculptor paid no further attention to him, for, while devoting himself honestly to the wounded man, his anxiety about his invalid friend increased, and Ledscha's image also rose again before him.
At last the ferryboat touched the land, and when Hermon looked around for the lad he had already leaped ashore, and was just vanishing in the darkness.
It was probably within an hour of midnight.
The gale was still blowing fiercely over the water, driving the black clouds across the dark sky, sometimes with long-drawn, wailing sounds, sometimes with sharp, whistling ones. The rain had wholly ceased, and seemed to have exhausted itself here in the afternoon.
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