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- Arachne, Volume 6. - 2/7 -

Then the captain's shouts of command fell imperiously upon his ears, the strokes of the oars ceased, their blades sank with a loud splash into the water, and at the same instant from the temple steps Hermon was greeted by the solemn notes of the chorus, from whose rhythm his own name rang forth again and again like so many shouts of victory.

He thought his heart would fairly burst through his arched chest, and the passionate violence of its throbbing did not lessen when Gras exclaimed: "Half Alexandria has assembled to greet you. Ah, if you could only see it! How the kerchiefs are waving! Laurel after laurel in every hand! All the distinguished people in the capital have gathered on the sacred soil of the Temple of Poseidon. There is Archias, too; there are the artists and the famous gentlemen of the Museum, the members of the Ephebi, and the priests of the great gods."

Hermon listened with his hand pressed on his breast, and while doing so the power of his imagination showed the vast, harmoniously noble structure of the many-pillared Temple of Poseidon, surrounded by as many thousands as there were in reality hundreds. From all parts of the sanctuary, even from the tops of the roofs, he beheld laurel branches and kerchiefs waving and tossing, and wreaths flung on the ground before him. If this picture was correct, the whole city was greeting him, headed by the men whom he honoured as great and meritorious, and in front of them all Daphne, with drooping head, full of feminine grace and heart-winning goodness.

While the chorus continued their song, and the welcoming shouts grew louder, the brilliant picture faded away, but in return he felt friendly arms clasp him. First Archias, then Proclus, and after him a succession of fellow-artists-the greatest of all--drew him into a warm embrace.

Finally he felt himself led away, placed his feet as his Uncle Archias whispered directions, and as they gropingly obeyed them ascended the temple steps and stood in utter darkness upon the platform listening to the speeches which so many had prepared.

All the distinguished men in the city expressed their sympathy, their pity, their admiration, their hopes, or sent assurances of them to him. The Rhodian Chrysippus, despatched by the Queen, delivered the wreath which the monarch bestowed, and informed Hermon, with her greetings, that Arsinoe deemed his Demeter worthy of the laurel.

The most famous masters of his art, the great scholars from the Museum, the whole priesthood of Demeter, which included Daphne, the servants of Apollo, his dear Ephebi, the comrades of his physical exercises--all whom he honoured, admired, loved-loaded him with praises and good wishes, as well as the assurance of their pride in numbering him among them.

No form, no colour from the visible world, penetrated the darkness surrounding him, not even the image of the woman he loved. Only his ears enabled him to receive the praises, honours, congratulations lavished here and, though he sometimes thought he had received enough, he again listened willingly and intently when a new speaker addressed him in warm words of eulogy. What share compassion for his unprecedentedly sorrowful fate had in this extravagantly laudatory and cordial greeting, he did not ask; he only felt with a throbbing heart that he now stood upon a summit which he had scarcely ventured to hope ever to attain. His dreams of outward success which had not been realized, because he deemed it treason to his art to deviate from the course which he believed right and best adapted to it, he now, without having yielded to the demands of the old school, heard praised as his well-earned possessions.

He felt as if he breathed the lighter, purer air of the realms of the blessed, and the laurel crown which the Queen's envoy pressed upon his brow, the wreaths which his fellow-artists presented to him by hands no less distinguished than those of the great sculptor Protogenes, and Nicias, the most admired artist after the death of Apelles, seemed, like the wings on the hat and shoes of Hermes, messenger of the gods, to raise him out of himself and into the air.

Darkness surrounded him, yet a bright dazzling light issued from his soul and illuminated his whole being with the warm golden radiance of the sun.

Not even the faintest shadow dimmed it until Soteles, his fellow-student at Rhodes, who sustained him with ardent earnestness in the struggle to prefer truth to beauty, greeted him.

He welcomed him and wished that he might recover his lost sight as warmly as his predecessors. He praised the Demeter, too, but added that this was not the place to say what he missed in her. Yet that she did lack it awakened in him an emotion of pain, for this, Hermon's last work, apparently gave the followers of the ancients a right to number him in their ranks.

His cautious expression of regret must refer to the head of his Demeter. Yet surely it was not his fault that Daphne's features bore the impress of that gentle, winning kindness which he himself and Soteles, imitating him, had often condemned as weak and characterless.

The correctness of his belief was instantly proved to him by the address of gray-haired, highly praised Euphranor, who spoke of the Demeter's countenance with warm admiration. And how ardently the poets Theocritus and Zenodotus extolled his work to the skies!

Amid so much laudation, one faint word of dissatisfaction vanished like a drop of blood that falls into a clear stream.

The welcome concluded with a final chant by the chorus, and continued to echo in Hermon's ears as he entered his uncle's chariot and drove away with him, crowned with laurel and intoxicated as if by fiery wine.

Oh, if he could only have seen his fellow-citizens who so eagerly expressed their good will, their sympathy, their admiration! But the black and coloured mist before his eyes revealed no human figure, not even that of the woman he loved, who, he now learned for the first time from her father, had appeared among the priestesses of Demeter to greet him.

Doubtless he was gladdened by the sound of her voice, the clasp of her hand, the faint fragrance of violets exhaling from her fair hair, which he had often remembered with so much pleasure when alone in Tennis; but the time to devote himself to her fully and completely had not yet come, for what manifold and powerful impressions, how much that was elevating, delightful, and entertaining awaited him immediately!

The Queen's envoy had expressed his mistress's desire to receive the creator of the Demeter, the Ephebi and his fellow-artists had invited him to a festival which they desired to give in his honour, and on the way Archias informed him that many of his wealthy friends in the Macedonian Council expected that he, the honoured hero of the day, would adorn with his presence a banquet in their houses.

What a rich, brilliant life awaited him in spite of his blindness! When he entered his uncle's magnificent city home, and not only all the servants and clients of the family, but also a select party of ladies and gentlemen greeted him with flowers and hundreds of other tokens of affection and appreciation, he gave himself up without reserve to this novel excess of fame and admiration.

Notwithstanding his blindness, he felt, after the burns on his face had healed, thoroughly well, as strong as a giant--nay, more vigorous and capable of enjoyment than ever. What prevented him from revelling to the full in the superabundant gifts which Fate, recently so cruel, now suddenly cast into his lap with lavish kindness?

Yet many flattering and pleasant things as he had experienced that day, he was far from feeling satiety. On entering the hall of the men in his uncle's dwelling, the names of famous men and proud beauties had been repeated to him. Formerly they had taken little notice of him, yet now even the most renowned received him like an Olympian victor.

What did all these vain women really care for him? Yet their favour was part of the triumph whose celebration he must permit to-day. His heart held but one being for whom it yearned, and with whom thus far he had been able only to exchange a few tender greetings.

The time for a long conversation had not yet arrived, but he asked Thyone to lead him to her and, while she listened anxiously, described with feverish animation the incidents of the last few days. But he soon lowered his voice to assure her that he had not ceased to think of her even for a single hour, and the feeling of happiness which, in spite of his misfortune, had filled and lent wings to his soul, was not least due to the knowledge of being near her again.

And her presence really benefited him almost as much as he had anticipated during the hours of solitary yearning in Tennis; he felt it a great favour of Fate to be permitted to strive to possess her, felt even during the delirium of this reception that he loved her. What a tremendous longing to clasp her at once in his arms as his betrothed bride overwhelmed him; but her father's opposition to the union of his only child with a blind man must first be conquered, and the great agitation in his soul, as well as the tumult around him, seemed like a mockery of the quiet happiness which hovered before him when he thought of his marriage with Daphne. Not until everything was calmer would the time come to woo her. Until then both must be satisfied with knowing from each other's lips their mutual love, and he thought he perceived in the tone of her voice the deep emotion of her heart.

Perhaps this had prevented Daphne's expressing her congratulations upon the success of his Demeter as eagerly and fully as he had expected. Painfully disturbed by her reserve, he had just attempted to induce her to give a less superficial opinion of his work, when the curtains of the dining room parted-the music of flutes, singing, and pleasant odours greeted him and the guests. Archias summoned them to breakfast, and a band of beautiful boys, with flowers and garlands of ivy, obeyed the command to crown them.

Then Thyone approached the newly united pair and, after exchanging a few words with Daphne, whispered in an agitated voice to the blind sculptor, over whose breast a brown-locked young slave was just twining a garland of roses: "Poverty no longer stands between you and the object of your love; is it Nemesis who even now still seals your lips?"

Hermon stretched out his hand to draw her nearer to him and murmur softly that her counsel had aided him to break the power of the terrible goddess, but he grasped the empty air. At the same time the deep voice of his love's father, whose opposition threatened to cloud his new happiness, singing, flute-playing, and the laughter of fair women greeted him and, only half master of his own will, he assented, by a slight bend of the head, to the matron's question. A light shiver ran through his frame with the speed of lightning, and the Epicurean's maxim that fear and cold are companions darted through his brain. But what should he fear? He had endured severe trials, it is true, for the sake of remaining faithful to truth in art and life; but who probably ever reached the age of manhood without once deviating from it? Besides, he was surely aware that, had he been obliged to answer Thyone in words, he would not have been guilty of the falsehood. His reply had consisted of a slight motion of the head, and it negatived nothing; it was merely intended to defer for a short time the thing he most desired.

Arachne, Volume 6. - 2/7

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