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- Arachne, Volume 5. - 5/10 -


Yet a man like the grammateus, who on the morrow or the day following it would be obliged to repeat his opinion before the King and the judges, certainly would not have allowed himself to be carried away by mere compassion to so great a falsification of his judgment.

Or was he himself sharing the experience of many a fellow-artist? How often the creator deceived himself concerning the value of his own work! He had expected the greatest success from his Polyphemus hurling the rock at Odysseus escaping in the boat, and a gigantic smith had posed for a model. Yet the judges had condemned it in the severest manner as a work far exceeding the bounds of moderation, and arousing positive dislike. The clay figure had not been executed in stone or metal, and crumbled away. The opposite would probably now happen with the Demeter. Her bending attitude had seemed to him daring, nay, hazardous; but the acute critic Proclus had perceived that it was in accord with one of Daphne's habits, and therefore numbered it among the excellences of the statue.

If the judges who awarded the prize agreed with the verdict of the grammateus, he must accustom himself to value his own work higher, perhaps even above that of Myrtilus.

But was this possible?

He saw his friend's Demeter as though it was standing before him, and again he recognised in it the noblest masterpiece its maker had ever created. What praise this marvellous work would have deserved if his own really merited such high encomiums!

Suddenly an idea came to him, which at first he rejected as inconceivable; but it would not allow itself to be thrust aside, and its consideration made his breath fail.

What if his own Demeter had been destroyed and Myrtilus's statue saved? If the latter was falsely believed to be his work, then Proclus's judgment was explained--then--then---

Seized by a torturing anguish, he groaned aloud, and the steward Gras inquired what he wanted.

Hermon hastily grasped the Bithynian's arm, and asked what he knew about the rescue of his statue.

The answer was by no means satisfying. Gras had only heard that, after being found uninjured in his studio, it had been dragged with great exertion into the open air. The goldsmith Chello had directed the work.

Hermon remembered all this himself, yet, with an imperious curtness in marked contrast to his usual pleasant manner to this worthy servant, he hoarsely commanded him to bring Chello to him early the next morning, and then again relapsed into his solitary meditations.

If the terrible conjecture which had just entered his mind should be confirmed, no course remained save to extinguish the only new light which now illumined the darkness of his night, or to become a cheat.

Yet his resolution was instantly formed. If the goldsmith corroborated his fear, he would publicly attribute the rescued work to the man who created it. And he persisted in this intention, indignantly silencing the secret voice which strove to shake it. It temptingly urged that Myrtilus, so rich in successes, needed no new garland. His lost sight would permit him, Hermon, from reaping fresh laurels, and his friend would so gladly bestow this one upon him. But he angrily closed his ears to these enticements, and felt it a humiliation that they dared to approach him.

With proud self-reliance he threw back his head, saying to himself that, though Myrtilus should permit him ten times over to deck him self with his feathers, he would reject them. He would remain himself, and was conscious of possessing powers which perhaps surpassed his friend's. He was as well qualified to create a genuine work of art as the best sculptor, only hitherto the Muse had denied him success in awakening pleasure, and blindness would put an end to creating anything of his own.

The more vividly he recalled to memory his own work and his friend's, the more probable appeared his disquieting supposition.

He also saw Myrtilus's figure before him, and in imagination heard his friend again promise that, with the Arachne, he would wrest the prize even from him.

During the terrible events of the last hours he had thought but seldom and briefly of the weaver, whom it had seemed a rare piece of good fortune to be permitted to represent. Now the remembrance of her took possession of his soul with fresh power.

The image of Arachne illumined by the lamplight, which Althea had showed him, appeared like worthless jugglery, and he soon drove it back into the darkness which surrounded him. Ledscha's figure, however, rose before him all the more radiantly. The desire to possess her had flown to the four winds; but he thought he had never before beheld anything more peculiar, more powerful, or better worth modelling than the Biamite girl as he saw her in the Temple of Nemesis, with uplifted hand, invoking the vengeance of the goddess upon him, and there--he discovered it now-- Daphne was not at all mistaken. Images never presented themselves as distinctly to those who could see as to the blind man in his darkness. If he was ever permitted to receive his sight, what a statue of the avenging goddess he could create from this greatest event in the history of his vision!

After this work--of that he was sure--he would no longer need the borrowed fame which, moreover, he rejected with honest indignation.

CHAPTER III.

It must be late, for Hermon felt the cool breeze, which in this region rose between midnight and sunrise, on his burned face and, shivering, drew his mantle closer round him.

Yet it seemed impossible to return to the cabin; the memory of Ledscha imploring vengeance, and the stern image of the avenging goddess in the cella of the little Temple of Nemesis, completely mastered him. In the close cabin these terrible visions, united with the fear of having reaped undeserved praise, would have crouched upon his breast like harpies and stifled or driven him mad. After what had happened, to number the swift granting of the insulted Biamite's prayer among the freaks of chance was probably a more arbitrary and foolish proceeding than, with so many others, to recognise the incomprehensible power of Nemesis. Ledscha had loosed it against him and his health, perhaps even his life, and he imagined that she was standing before him with the bridle and wheel, threatening him afresh.

Shivering, as if chilled to the bone, overwhelmed by intense horror, he turned his blinded eyes upward to the blackness above and raised his hand, for the first time since he had joined the pupils of Straton in the Museum, to pray. He besought Nemesis to be content, and not add to blindness new tortures to augment the terrible ones which rent his soul, and he did so with all the ardour of his passionate nature.

The steward Gras had received orders to wake the Lady Thyone if anything unusual happened to the blind man, and when he heard the unfortunate artist groan so pitifully that it would have moved a stone, and saw him raise his hand despairingly to his head, he thought it was time to utter words of consolation, and a short time after the anxious matron followed him.

Her low exclamation startled Hermon. To be disturbed in the first prayer after so long a time, in the midst of the cries of distress of a despairing soul, is scarcely endurable, and the blind man imposed little restraint upon himself when his old friend asked what had occurred, and urged him not to expose himself longer to the damp night air.

At first he resolutely resisted, declaring that he should lose his senses alone in the close cabin.

Then, in her cordial, simple way, she offered to bear him company in the cabin. She could not sleep longer, at any rate; she must leave him early in the morning, and they still had many things to confide to each other.

Touched by so much kindness, he yielded and, leaning on the Bithynian's arm, followed her, not into his little cabin, but into the captain's spacious sitting room.

Only a single lamp dimly lighted the wainscoting, composed of ebony, ivory, and tortoise shell, the gay rug carpet, and the giraffe and panther skins hung on the walls and doors and flung on the couches and the floor.

Thyone needed no brilliant illumination for this conversation, and the blinded man was ordered to avoid it.

The matron was glad to be permitted to communicate to Hermon so speedily all that filled her own heart.

While he remained on deck, she had gone to Daphne's cabin.

She had already retired, and when Thyone went to the side of the couch she found the girl, with her cheeks wet with tears, still weeping, and easily succeeded in leading the motherless maiden to make a frank confession.

Both cousins had been dear to her from childhood; but while Myrtilus, though often impeded by his pitiable sufferings, had reached by a smooth pathway the highest recognition, Hermon's impetuous toiling and striving had constantly compelled her to watch his course with anxious solicitude and, often unobserved, extend a helping hand.

Sympathy, disapproval, and fear, which, however, was always blended with admiration of his transcendent powers, had merged into love. Though he had disdained to return it, it had nevertheless been perfectly evident that he needed her, and valued her and her opinion. Often as their views differed, the obstinate boy and youth had never allowed any one except herself a strong influence over his acts and conduct. But, far as he seemed to wander from the paths which she believed the right ones, she had always held fast to the conviction that he was a man of noble nature, and an artist who, if he only once fixed his eyes upon the true goal, would far surpass by his mighty power the other Alexandrian sculptors, whatever names they bore, and perhaps even Myrtilus.

To the great vexation of her father who, after her mother's death, in an hour when his heart was softened, had promised that he would never impose any constraint upon her in the choice of a husband, she had hitherto rejected every suitor. She had showed even the distinguished Philotas in Pelusium, without the least reserve, that he was seeking her in vain; for just at that time she thought she had perceived that Hermon returned her love, and after his abrupt departure it had become perfectly evident that the happiness of her life depended upon him.


Arachne, Volume 5. - 5/10

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