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- Arachne, Volume 6. - 7/7 -
Here she was interrupted by Chrysippus, who asked if Althea had told her neighbour about his Rhodian eye-salve.
He winked at her and made a significant gesture as he spoke, and then informed the blind artist how graciously Arsinoe had remembered him when she heard of the remedy by whose aid many a wonderful cure of blind eyes had been made in Rhodes. The royal lady had inquired about him and his sufferings with almost sisterly interest, and Althea eagerly confirmed the statement.
Hermon listened to the pair in silence.
He had not been able to see them, it is true, yet he had perceived their design as if the loss of sight had sharpened his mental vision. He imagined that he could see the favourite and Althea nudge each other with sneering gestures, and believed that their sole purpose was to render him--he knew not for what object--the obedient tool of the Queen, who had probably also succeeded in persuading his usually cautious uncle to render her great services.
The remembrance of Arsinoe's undignified conduct at the Dionysia, and the shameful stories of her which he had heard returned to his mind. At the same time he saw Daphne rise before him in her aristocratic dignity and kindly goodness, and a smile of satisfaction hovered around his lips as he said to himself: "The spider Althea again! But, in spite of my blindness, I will be caught neither in her net nor in the Queen's. They are the last to bar the way which leads to Daphne and real happiness."
The Rhodian was just beginning to praise Arsinoe also as a special friend and connoisseur of the sculptor's art when Crates, Hermon's fellow- student, asked the blind artist, in behalf of his beautiful companion, why his Demeter was placed upon a pedestal which, to others as well as himself, seemed too high for the size of the statue.
Hermon replied that he had heard several make this criticism, but the priests of the goddess refused to take it into account.
Here he hesitated, for, like a blow from an invisible hand, the thought darted through his mind that perhaps, on the morrow, he would see himself compelled before the whole world to cast aside the crown of fame which he owed to the statue on the lofty pedestal. He did not have even the remotest idea of continuing to deck himself with false renown if his dread was realized; yet he doubtless imagined how this whole aristocratic circle, with the Queen, Althea, and Proclus at its head, would turn with reckless haste from the hapless man who had led them into such a shameful error.
Yet what mattered it, even if these miserable people considered themselves deceived and pointed the finger of scorn at him? Better people would thereby be robbed of the right to accuse him of faithlessness to himself. This thought darted through his heated brain like a flash of lightning, and when, in spite of his silence, the conversation was continued and Althea told the others that only Hermon's blindness had prevented the creation of a work which could have been confidently expected far to surpass the Demeter, since it seemed to have been exactly suited to his special talent, he answered his beautiful companion's remark curtly and absently.
She perceived this with annoyance and perplexity.
A woman who yearns for the regard of all men, and makes love a toy, easily lessens the demands she imposes upon individuals. Only, even though love has wholly disappeared, she still claims consideration, and Althea did not wish to lose Hermon's regard.
When Amyntas, the head of the conspirators, attracted the attention of the company by malicious remarks about the King's sister, the Thracian laid her hand on the blind artist's arm, whispering: "Has the image of the Arachne which, at Tennis, charmed you even in the presence of the angry Zeus, completely vanished from your memory? How indifferent you look! But I tell you"--her deep blue eyes flashed as she spoke--"that so long as you were still a genuine creating artist the case was different. Even while putting the last touches of the file to the Demeter, for which Archias's devout daughter posed as your model, another whom you could not banish from your mind filled your imagination. Though so loud a denial is written on your face, I persist in my conviction, and that no idle delusion ensnares me I can prove!"
Hermon raised his sightless eyes to her inquiringly, but she went on with eager positiveness: "Or, if you did not think of the weaver while carving the goddess, how did you happen to engrave a spider on the ribbon twined around the ears of grain in Demeter's hand? Not the smallest detail of a work produced by the hand of a valued friend escapes my notice, and I perceived it before the Demeter came to the temple and the lofty pedestal. Now I would scarcely be able to discover it in the dusky cella, yet at that time I took pleasure in the sight of the ugly insect, not only because it is cleverly done, but because it reminded me of something"--here she lowered her voice still more--"that pleased me, though probably it would seem less flattering to the daughter of Archias, who perhaps is better suited to act as guide to the blind. How bewildered you look! Eternal gods! Many things are forgotten after long months have passed, but it will be easy for me to sharpen your memory. 'At the time Hermon had just finished the Demeter,' the spider called to me, 'he scratched me on the gold.' But at that very time--yes, my handsome friend, I can reckon accurately--you had met me, Althea, in Tennis, I had brought the spider-woman before your eyes. Was it really nothing but foolish vanity that led me to the conviction that you were thinking of me also when you engraved on the ribbon the despised spider- for which, however, I always felt a certain regard--with the delicate web beneath its slender legs?"
Hitherto Hermon had listened to every word in silence, labouring for breath. He was transported as if by magic to the hour of his return from Pelusium; he saw himself enter Myrtilus's studio and watch his friend scratch something, he did not know what, upon the ribbon which fastened the bunch of golden grain. It was--nay, it could have been nothing else --that very spider. The honoured work was not his, but his dead friend's. How the exchange had occurred he could not now understand, but to disbelieve that it had taken place would have been madness or self- deception.
Now he also understood the doubts of Soteles and the King. Not he-- Myrtilus, and he alone, was the creator of the much-lauded Demeter!
This conviction raised a hundred-pound weight from his soul.
What was applause! What was recognition! What were fame and laurel wreaths! He desired clearness and truth for himself and all the world and, as if frantic, he suddenly sprang from his cushions, shouting to the startled guests: "I myself and this whole great city were deceived! The Demeter is not mine, not the work of Hermon! The dead Myrtilus created it!"
Then pressing his hand to his brow, he called his student friend to his side, and, as the scholar anxiously laid his arm on his shoulder, whispered: "Away, away from here! Only let me get out of doors into the open air!"
Crates, bewildered and prepared for the worst, obeyed his wish; but Althea and the other guests left behind felt more and more impressed by the suddenly awakened conviction that the hapless blind man had now also become the victim of madness.
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