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- Arachne, Volume 5. - 4/10 -
After the grammateus had retired, Daphne insisted upon leaving Tennis the next day.
The desire to see Hermon's masterpiece drew her back to Alexandria even more strongly than the knowledge of being missed by her father.
Only the separation from Thyone rendered the departure difficult, for the motherless girl had found in her something for which she had long yearned, and most sorely missed in her companion Chrysilla, who from expediency approved of everything she did or said.
The matron, too, had become warmly attached to Daphne, and would gladly have done all that lay in her power to lighten Hermon's sad fate, yet she persisted in her determination to return speedily to her old husband in Pelusium.
But she did not fully realize how difficult this departure would be for her until the blind man, after a long silence, asked whether it was night, if the stars were in the sky, and if she really intended to leave him.
Then burning sympathy filled her compassionate soul, and she could no longer restrain her tears. Daphne, too, covered her face, and imposed the strongest restraint upon herself that she might not sob aloud.
So it seemed a boon to both when Hermon expressed the desire to spend part of the night on deck.
This desire contained a summons to action, and to be able to bestir themselves in useful service appeared like a favour to Thyone and Daphne.
Without calling upon a slave, a female servant, or even Chrysilla for the smallest office, the two prepared a couch on deck for the blind man, and, leaning on the girl's stronger arm, he went up into the open air.
There he stretched both arms heavenward, inhaled deep breaths of the cool night breeze, and thirstily emptied the goblet of wine which Daphne mixed and gave him with her own hand.
Then, with a sigh of relief, he said: "Everything has not grown black yet. A delightful feeling of pleasure takes possession even of the blind man when the open air refreshes him and the wine warms his blood in the sunshine of your kindness."
"And much better things are still in prospect," Daphne assured him. "Just think what rapture it will be when you are permitted to see the light again after so long a period of darkness!"
"When--" repeated Hermon, his head drooping as he spoke.
"It must, it must be so!" rang with confident assurance from Thyone's lips.
"And then," added Daphne, gazing sometimes upward to the firmament strewn with shining stars, sometimes across the broad, rippling expanse of the water, in which the reflection of the heavenly bodies shimmered in glittering, silvery radiance, "yes, Hermon, who would not be glad to exchange with you then? You may shake your head, but I would take your place quickly and with joyous courage. There is a proof of the existence of the gods, which so exactly suits the hour when you will again see, enjoy, admire what this dreary darkness now hides from you. It was a philosopher who used it; I no longer know which one. How often I have thought of it since this cruel misfortune befell you! And now--"
"Go on," Hermon interrupted with a smile of superiority. "You are thinking of Aristotle's man who grew up in a dark cave. The conditions which must precede the devout astonishment of the liberated youth when he first emerged into the light and the verdant world would certainly exist in me."
"Oh, not in that way," pleaded the wounded girl; and Thyone exclaimed: "What is the story of the man you mention? We don't talk about Aristotle and such subjects in Pelusium."
"Perhaps they are only too much discussed in Alexandria," said the blind artist. "The Stagirite, as you have just heard, seeks to prove the existence of the gods by the man of whom I spoke."
"No, he does prove it," protested Daphne. "Just listen, Mother Thyone. A little boy grows up from earliest childhood into a youth in a dark cave. Then suddenly its doors are opened to him. For the first time he sees the sun, moon, and stars, flowers and trees, perhaps even a beautiful human face. But at the moment when all these things rush upon him like so many incomprehensible marvels, must he not ask himself who created all this magnificence? And the answer which comes to him--"
"There is only one," cried the matron; "the omnipotent gods. Do you shrug your shoulders at that, son of the pious Erigone? Why, of course! The child who still feels the blows probably rebels against his earthly father. But if I see aright, the resentment will not last when you, like the man, go out of the cave and your darkness also passes away. Then the power from which you turned defiantly will force itself upon you, and you will raise your hands in grateful prayer to the rescuing divinity. As to us women, we need not be drawn out of a cave to recognise it. A mother who reared three stalwart sons--I will say nothing of the daughters--can not live without them. Why are they so necessary to her? Because we love our children twice as much as ourselves, and the danger which threatens them alarms the poor mother's heart thrice as much as her own. Then it needs the helping powers. Even though they often refuse their aid, we may still be grateful for the expectation of relief. I have poured forth many prayers for the three, I assure you, and after doing so with my whole soul, then, my son, no matter how wildly the storm had raged within my breast, calmness returned, and Hope again took her place at the helm. In the school of the denier of the gods, you forgot the immortals above and depended on yourself alone. Now you need a guide, or even two or three of them, in order to find the way. If your mother were still alive, you would run back to her to hide your face in her lap. But she is dead, and if I were as proud as you, before clasping the sustaining hand of another mortal I would first try whether one would not be voluntarily extended from among the Olympians. If I were you, I would begin with Demeter, whom you honoured by so marvellous a work."
Hermon waved his hand as if brushing away a troublesome fly, exclaiming impatiently: "The gods, always the gods! I know by my own mother, Thyone, what you women are, though I was only seven years old when I was bereft of her by the same powers that you call good and wise, and who have also robbed me of my eyesight, my friend, and all else that was dear. I thank you for your kind intention, and you, too, Daphne, for recalling the beautiful allegory. How often we have argued over its meaning! If we continued the discussion, perhaps it might pleasantly shorten the next few hours, which I dread as I do my whole future existence, but I should be obliged in the outset to yield the victory to you. The great Herophilus is right when he transfers the seat of thought from the heart to the head. What a wild tumult is raging here behind my brow, and how one voice drowns another! The medley baffles description. I could more easily count with my blind eyes the cells in a honeycomb than refute with my bewildered brain even one shrewd objection. It seems to me that we need our eyes to understand things. We certainly do to taste. Whatever I eat and drink--langustae and melons, light Mareotic wine and the dark liquor of Byblus my tongue can scarcely distinguish it. The leech assures me that this will pass away, but until the chaos within merges into endurable order there is nothing better for me than solitude and rest, rest, rest."
"We will not deny them to you," replied Thyone, glancing significantly at Daphne. "Proclus's enthusiastic judgment was sincerely meant. Begin by rejoicing over it in the inmost depths of your heart, and vividly imagining what a wealth of exquisite joys will be yours through your last masterpiece."
"Willingly, if I can," replied the blind man, gratefully extending his hand. "If I could only escape the doubt whether the most cruel tyrant could devise anything baser than to rob the artist, the very person to whom it is everything, of his sight."
"Yes, it is terrible," Daphne assented. "Yet it seems to me that a richer compensation for the lost gift is at the disposal of you artists than of us other mortals, for you understand how to look with the eyes of the soul. With them you retain what you have seen, and illumine it with a special radiance. Homer was blind, and for that very reason, I think, the world and life became clear and transfigured for him though a veil concealed both from his physical vision."
"The poet!" Hermon exclaimed. "He draws from his own soul what sight, and sight alone, brings to us sculptors. And, besides, his spirit remained free from the horrible darkness that assailed mine. Joy itself, Daphne, has lost its illuminating power within. What, girl, what is to become of the heart in which even hope was destroyed?"
"Defend it manfully and keep up your courage," she answered softly; but he pressed her hand firmly, and, in order not to betray how self- compassion was melting his own soul, burst forth impetuously: "Say rather: Crush the wish whose fulfilment is self-humiliation! I will go back to Alexandria. Even the blind and crippled can find ways to earn their bread there. Now grant me rest, and leave me alone!"
Thyone drew the girl away with her into the ship's cabin.
A short time after, the steward Gras went to Hermon to entreat him to yield to Thyone's entreaties and leave the deck.
The leech had directed the sufferer to protect himself from draughts and dampness, and the cool night mists were rising more and more densely from the water.
Hermon doubtless felt them, but the thought of returning to the close cabin was unendurable. He fancied that his torturing thoughts would stifle him in the gloom where even fresh air was denied him.
He allowed the careful Bithynian to throw a coverlet over him and draw the hood of his cloak over his head, but his entreaties and warnings were futile.
The steward's watchful nursing reminded Hermon of his own solicitude for his friend and of his faithful slave Bias, both of whom he had lost. Then he remembered the eulogy of the grammateus, and it brought up the question whether Myrtilus would have agreed with him. Like Proclus, his keen-sighted and honest friend had called Daphne the best model for the kindly goddess. He, too, had given to his statue the features of the daughter of Archias, and admitted that he had been less successful. But the figure! Perhaps he, Hermon, in his perpetual dissatisfaction with himself had condemned his own work too severely, but that it lacked the proper harmony had escaped neither Myrtilus nor himself. Now he recalled the whole creation to his remembrance, and its weaknesses forced themselves upon him so strongly and objectionably that the extravagant praise of the stern critic awakened fresh doubts in his mind.
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