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- Arachne, Volume 5. - 6/10 -

The terrible misfortune which had now befallen him had only bound her more firmly to the man she loved. She felt that she belonged to him indissolubly, and the leech's positive assurance that his blindness was incurable had only increased the magic of the thought of being and affording tenfold more to the man bereft of sight than when, possessing his vision, the world, life, and art belonged to him. To be able to lavish everything upon the most beloved of mortals, and do whatever her warm, ever-helpful heart prompted, seemed to her a special favour of the gods in whom she believed.

That it was Demeter, to the ranks of whose priestesses she belonged, who was so closely associated with his blinding, also seemed to her no mere work of chance. The goddess on whom Hermon had bestowed the features of her own face had deprived him of sight to confer upon her the happiness of brightening and beautifying the darkness of his life.

If she saw aright, and it was only the fear of obtaining, with herself, her wealth, that still kept him from her, the path which would finally unite them must be found at last. She hoped to conquer also her father's reluctance to give his only child in marriage to a blind man, especially as Hermon's last work promised to give him the right to rank with the best artists of his age.

The matron had listened to this confession with an agitated heart. She had transported herself in imagination into the soul of the girl's mother, and brought before her mind what objections the dead woman would have made to her daughter's union with a man deprived of sight; but Daphne had firmly insisted upon her wish, and supported it by many a sensible and surprising answer. She was beyond childhood, and her three- and-twenty years enabled her to realize the consequences which so unusual a marriage threatened to entail.

As for Thyone herself, she was always disposed to look on the bright side, and the thought that this vigorous young man, this artist crowned with the highest success, must remain in darkness to the end of his life, was utterly incompatible with her belief in the goodness of the gods. But if Hermon was cured, a rare wealth of the greatest happiness awaited him in the union with Daphne.

The mood in which she found the blind man had wounded and troubled her. Now she renewed the bandage, saying: "How gladly I would continue to use my old hands for you, but this will be the last time in a long while that I am permitted to do this for the son of my Erigone; I must leave you to-morrow."

Hermon clasped her hand closely, exclaiming with affectionate warmth: "You must not go, Thyone! Stay here, even if it is only a few days longer."

What pleasure these words gave her, and how gladly she would have fulfilled his wish! But it could not be, and he did not venture to detain her by fresh entreaties after she had described how her aged husband was suffering from her absence.

"I often ask myself what he still finds in me," she said. "True, so long a period of wedded life is a firm tie. If I am gone and he does not find me when he returns home from inspections, he wanders about as if lost, and does not even relish his food, though the same cook has prepared it for years. And he, who forgets nothing and knows by name a large number of the many thousand men he commands, would very probably, when I am away, join the troops with only sandals on his feet. To miss my ugly old face really can not be so difficult! When he wooed me, of course I looked very different. And so--he confessed it himself--so he always sees me, and most plainly when I am absent from his sight. But that, Hermon, will be your good fortune also. All you now know as young and beautiful will continue so to you as long as this sorrowful blindness lasts, and on that very account you must not remain alone, my boy--that is, if your heart has already decided in favour of any one--and that is the case, unless these old eyes deceive me."

"Daphne," he answered dejectedly, "why should I deny that she is dear to me? And yet, how dare the blind man take upon himself the sin of binding her young life--"

"Stop! stop!" Thyone interrupted with eager warmth. "She loves you, and to be everything to you is the greatest happiness she can imagine."

"Until repentance awakes, and it is too late," he answered gravely. "But even were her love strong enough to share her husband's misfortune patiently--nay, perhaps with joyous courage--it would still be contemptible baseness were I to profit by that love and seek her hand."

"Hermon!" the matron now exclaimed reproachfully; but he repeated with strong emphasis: "Yes, it would be baseness so great that even her most ardent love could not save me from the reproach of having committed it. I will not speak of her father, to whom I am so greatly indebted. It may be that it might satisfy Daphne, full of kindness as she is, to devote herself, body and soul, to the service of her helpless companion. But I? Far from thinking constantly, like her, solely of others and their welfare, I should only too often, selfish as I now am, be mindful of myself. But when I realize who I am, I see before me a blind man who is poorer than a beggar, because the scorching flames melted even the gold which was to help him pay his debts."

"Folly!" cried the matron. "For what did Archias gather his boundless treasures? And when his daughter is once yours--"

"Then," Hermon went on bitterly, "the blinded artist's poverty will be over. That is your opinion, and the majority of people will share it. But I have my peculiarities, and the thought of being rescued from hunger and thirst by the woman I love, and who ought to see in me the man from whom she receives the best gifts--to be dependent on her as the recipient of her alms--seems to me worse than if I were once more to lose my sight. I could not endure it at all! Every mouthful would choke me. Just because she is so dear to me, I can not seek her hand; for, in return for her great self-sacrificing love, I could give her nothing save the keen discontent which seizes the proud soul that is forced constantly to accept benefits, as surely as the ringing sound follows the blow upon the brass. My whole future life would become a chain of humiliations, and do you know whither this unfortunate marriage would lead? My teacher Straton once said that a man learns to hate no one more easily than the person from whom he receives benefits which it is out of his power to repay. That is wise, and before I will see my great love for Daphne transformed to hate, I will again try the starving which, while I was a sculptor at Rhodes, I learned tolerably well."

"But would not a great love," asked Thyone, "suffice to repay tenfold the perishable gifts that can be bought with gold and silver?"

"No, and again no!" Hermon answered in an agitated tone. "Something else would blend with the love I brought to the marriage, something that must destroy all the compensation it might offer; for I see myself becoming a resentful misanthrope if I am compelled to relinquish the pleasure of creating and, condemned to dull inaction, can do nothing except allow myself to be tended, drink, eat, and sleep. The gloomy mood of her unfortunate husband would sadden Daphne's existence even more than my own; for, Thyone, though I should strive with all my strength to bear patiently, with her dear aid, the burden imposed upon me, and move on through the darkness with joyous courage, like many another blind man, I could not succeed."

"You are a man," the matron exclaimed indignantly, "and what thousands have done before you--"

"There," he loudly protested, "I should surely fail; for, you dear woman, who mean so kindly by me, my fate is worse than theirs. Do you know what just forced from my lips the exclamation of pain which alarmed you? I, the only child of the devout Erigone, for whose sake you are so well disposed toward me, am doomed to misfortune as surely as the victim dragged to the altar is certain of death. Of all the goddesses, there is only one in whose power I believe, and to whom I just raised my hands in prayer. It is the terrible one to whom I was delivered by hate and the deceived love which is now dragging me by the hair, and will rob and torture me till I despair of life. I mean the gray daughter of Night, whom no one escapes, dread Nemesis."

Thyone sank down into the chair by the blind artist's side, asking softly, "And what gave you into her avenging hands, hapless boy?"

"My own abominable folly," he answered mournfully and, with the feeling that it would relieve his heart to pour out to this true friend what he would usually have confided only to his Myrtilus, he hurriedly related how he had recognised in Ledscha the best model for his Arachne, how he had sought her love, and then, detained by Althea, left her in the lurch and most deeply offended and insulted her. Lastly, he gave a brief but vivid description of his meeting with the vengeful barbarian girl in the Temple of Nemesis, how Ledscha had invoked upon him the wrath of the terrible goddess, and how the most horrible punishment had fallen upon him directly after the harsh accusation of the Biamite.

The matron had listened to this confession in breathless suspense. Now she fixed her eyes on the floor, shook her gray head gently, and said anxiously: "Is that it? It certainly puts things in a different light. As the son of your never-to-be-forgotten mother, you are indeed dear to my heart; but Daphne is not less dear to me, and though in your marriage I just saw happiness for you both, that is now past. What is poverty, what is blindness! Eros would reconcile far more difficult problems, but his arrows are shattered on the armour of Nemesis. Where there is a pair of lovers, and she raises her scourge against one of them, the other will also be struck. Until you feel that you are freed from this persecutor, it would be criminal to bind a loving woman to you and your destiny. It is not easy to find the right path for you both, for even Nemesis and her power do not make the slightest change in the fact that you need faithful care and watching in your blindness. Daylight brings wisdom, and we will talk further to-morrow."

She rose as she spoke; but Hermon detained her, while from his lips escaped the anxious question, "So you will take Daphne away from me, and leave me alone in my blindness?"

"You in your blindness?" cried Thyone, and the mere reproachful tone of the question banished the fear. "I would as quickly deprive my own son of my support as I would you just at this time, my poor boy; but whether my conscience will permit me to let Daphne remain near you only grant me, I repeat it, until sunrise to-morrow for reflection. My old heart will then find the right way."

"Yet whatever you may decide concerning us," pleaded the blind man, "tell Daphne that, on the eve of losing her, I first felt in its full power how warmly I love her. Even without Nemesis, the joy of making her mine would have been denied me. Fate will never permit me to possess her; yet never again to hear her gentle voice, never more to feel her dear presence, would be blinding me a second time."

"It need not be imposed upon you long," said the matron soothingly.

Then she went close to him, laid her hand on his shoulder, and said: "The power of the goddess who punishes the misdeeds of the reckless is called irresistible and uncontrollable; but one thing softens even her, and checks her usually resistless wheel: it is a mother's prayer. I heard

Arachne, Volume 5. - 6/10

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