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- Arachne, Volume 7. - 1/9 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By Georg Ebers
Without a word of explanation, Hermon dragged his guide along in breathless haste. No one stopped them.
The atrium, usually swarming with guards, servants, and officials until a far later hour, was completely deserted when the blind man hurried through it with his friend.
The door leading into the outer air stood open, but Hermon, leaning on the scholar's arm, had scarcely crossed the threshold and entered the little courtyard encircled with ornamental plants, which separated this portion of the palace from the street, when both were surrounded by a band of armed Macedonian soldiers, whose commander exclaimed: "In the name of the King! Not a sound, if you value your lives!"
Incensed, and believing that there was some mistake, Hermon announced himself as a sculptor and Crates as a member of the Museum, but this statement did not produce the slightest effect upon the warrior; nay, when the friends answered the officer's inquiry whether they were coming from Proclus's banquet in the affirmative; he curtly commanded them to be put in chains.
To offer resistance would have been madness, for even Hermon perceived, by the loud clanking of weapons around them, the greatly superior power of the enemy, and they were acting by the orders of the King. "To the prison near the place of execution!" cried the officer; and now not only the mythograph, but Hermon also was startled--this dungeon opened only to those sentenced to death.
Was he to be led to the executioner's block? A cold shudder ran through his frame; but the next moment he threw back his waving locks, and his chest heaved with a long breath.
What pleasure had life to offer him, the blind man, who was already dead to his art? Ought he not to greet this sudden end as a boon from the immortals?
Did it not spare him a humiliation as great and painful as could be imagined?
He had already taken care that the false renown should not follow him to the grave, and Myrtilus should have his just due, and he would do whatever else lay in his power to further this object. Wherever the beloved dead might be, he desired to go there also. Whatever might await him, he desired no better fate. If he had passed into annihilation, he, Hermon, wished to follow him thither, and annihilation certainly meant redemption from pain and misery. But if he were destined to meet his Myrtilus and his mother in the world beyond the grave, what had he not to tell them, how sure he was of finding a joyful reception there from both! The power which delivered him over to death just at that moment was not Nemesis--no, it was a kindly deity.
Only his heart grew heavy at the thought of leaving Daphne to the tireless wooer Philotas or some other--everything else from which it is usually hard to part seemed like a burden that we gladly cast aside.
"Forward!" he called blithely and boldly to the officer; while Crates, with loud lamentations, was protesting his innocence to the warrior who was putting fetters upon him.
A chain was just being clasped around Hermon's wrists also when he suddenly started. His keen ear could not deceive him, and yet a demon must be mocking him, for the voice that had called his name was the girl's of whom, in the presence of welcome death, he had thought with longing regret.
Yet it was no illusion that deceived him. Again he heard the beloved voice, and this time it addressed not only him, but with the utmost haste the commander of the soldiers.
Sometimes with touching entreaty, sometimes with imperious command, she protested, after giving him her name, that this matter could be nothing but an unfortunate mistake. Lastly, with earnest warmth, she besought him, before taking the prisoners away, to permit her to speak to the commanding general, Philippus, her father's guest, who, she was certain, was in the palace. The blood of these innocent men would be on his head if he did not listen to her representations.
"Daphne!" cried Hermon in grateful agitation; but she would not listen to him, and followed the soldier whom the captain detailed to guide her into the palace.
After a few moments, which the blind artist used to inspire the despairing scholar with courage, the girl returned, and she did not come alone. The gray-haired comrade of Alexander accompanied her, and after a few minutes both prisoners were released from their fetters. Philippus hastily refused their thanks and, after addressing a few words to the officer, he changed his tone, and his deep voice sounded paternally cordial as he exclaimed to Daphne: "Fifteen minutes more, you dear, foolhardy girl, and it would have been too late. To-morrow you shall confess to me who treacherously directed you to this dangerous path."
Lastly, he turned to the prisoners to explain that they would be conducted to the adjacent barracks of the Diadochi, and spend the night there.
Early the next morning they should be examined, and, if they could clear themselves from the suspicion of belonging to the ranks of the conspirators, released.
Daphne again pleaded for the liberation of the prisoners, but Philippus silenced her with the grave exclamation, "The order of the King!"
The old commander offered no objection to her wish to accompany Hermon to prison. Daphne now slipped her arm through her cousin's, and commanded the steward Gras, who had brought her here, to follow them.
The goal of the nocturnal walk, which was close at hand, was reached at the end of a few minutes, and the prisoners were delivered to the commander of the Diadochi. This kindly disposed officer had served under Hermon's father, and when the names of the prisoners were given, and the officer reported to him that General Philippus recommended them to his care as innocent men, he had a special room opened for the sculptor and his fair guide, and ordered Crates to enter another.
He could permit the beautiful daughter of the honoured Archias to remain with Hermon for half an hour, then he must beg her to allow herself to be escorted to her home, as the barracks were closed at that time.
As soon as the captive artist was alone with the woman he loved, he clasped her hand, pouring forth incoherent words of the most ardent gratitude, and when he felt her warmly return the pressure, he could not restrain the desire to clasp her to his heart. For the first time his lips met hers, he confessed his love, and that he had just regarded death as a deliverer; but his life was now gaining new charm through her affection.
Then Daphne herself threw her arms around his neck with fervent devotion.
The love that resistlessly drew his heart to her was returned with equal strength and ardour. In spite of his deep mental distress, he could have shouted aloud in his delight and gratitude. He might now have been permitted to bind forever to his life the woman who had just rescued him from the greatest danger, but the confession he must make to his fellow- artists in the palaestra the following morning still sealed his lips. Yet in this hour he felt that he was united to her, and ought not to conceal what awaited him; so, obeying a strong impulse, he exclaimed: "You know that I love you! Words can not express the strength of my devotion, but for that very reason I must do what duty commands before I ask the question, 'Will you join your fate to mine?'"
"I love you and have loved you always!" Daphne exclaimed tenderly. "What more is needed?"
But Hermon, with drooping head, murmured: "To-morrow I shall no longer be what I am now. Wait until I have done what duty enjoins; when that is accomplished, you shall ask yourself what worth the blind artist still possesses who bartered spurious fame for mockery and disgrace in order not to become a hypocrite."
Then Daphne raised her face to his, asking, "So the Demeter is the work of Myrtilus?"
"Certainly," he answered firmly. "It is the work of Myrtilus."
"Oh, my poor, deceived love!" cried Daphne, strongly agitated, in a tone of the deepest sorrow. "What a terrible ordeal again awaits you! It must indeed distress me--and yet Do not misunderstand me! It seems nevertheless as if I ought to rejoice, for you and your art have not spoken to me even a single moment from this much-lauded work."
"And therefore," he interrupted with passionate delight, "therefore alone you withheld the enthusiastic praise with which the others intoxicated me? And I, fool, blinded also in mind, could be vexed with you for it! But only wait, wait! Soon-to-morrow even--there will be no one in Alexandria who can accuse me of deserting my own honest aspiration, and, if the gods will only restore my sight and the ability to use my hands as a sculptor, then, girl, then--"
Here he was interrupted by a loud knocking at the door.
The time allowed had expired.
Hermon again warmly embraced Daphne, saying: "Then go! Nothing can cloud what these brief moments have bestowed. I must remain blind; but you have restored the lost sight to my poor darkened soul. To-morrow I shall stand in the palaestra before my comrades, and explain to them what a malicious accident deceived me, and with me this whole great city. Many will not believe me, and even your father will perhaps consider it a disgrace to give his arm to his scorned, calumniated nephew to guide him home. Bring this before your mind, and everything else that you must accept with it, if you consent, when the time arrives, to become mine.
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