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- Arachne, Volume 7. - 2/9 -
Conceal and palliate nothing! But should the Lady Thyone speak of the Eumenides who pursued me, tell her that they had probably again extended their arms toward me, but when I return to-morrow from the palaestra I shall be freed from the terrible beings."
Lastly, he asked to be told quickly how she had happened to come to the palace at the right time at so late an hour, and Daphne informed him as briefly and modestly as if the hazardous venture which, in strong opposition to her retiring, womanly nature, she had undertaken, was a mere matter of course.
When Thyone in her presence heard from Gras that Hermon intended to go to Proclus's banquet, she started up in horror, exclaiming, "Then the unfortunate man is lost!"
Her husband, who had long trusted even the gravest secrets to his discreet old wife, had informed her of the terrible office the King had confided to him. All the male guests of Proclus were to be executed; the women--the Queen at their head--would be sent into exile.
Then Daphne, on her knees, besought the matron to tell her what threatened Hermon, and succeeded in persuading her to speak.
The terrified girl, accompanied by Gras, went first to her lover's house and, when she did not find him there, hastened to the King's palace.
If Hermon could have seen her with her fluttering hair, dishevelled by the night breeze, and checks blanched by excitement and terror, if he had been told how she struggled with Thyone, who tried to detain her and lock her up before she left her father's house, he would have perceived with still prouder joy, had that been possible, what he possessed in the devoted love of this true woman.
Grateful and moved by joyous hopes, he informed Daphne of the words of the oracle, which had imprinted themselves upon his memory.
She, too, quickly retained them, and murmured softly:
"Noise and dazzling radiance are hostile to the purer light, Morning and day will rise quietly from the starving sand."
What could the verse mean except that the blind man would regain the power to behold the light of clay amid the sands of the silent desert?
Perhaps it would be well for him to leave Alexandria now, and she described how much benefit she had received while hunting from the silence of the wilderness, when she had left the noise of the city behind her. But before she had quite finished, the knocking at the door was repeated.
The lovers took leave of each other with one last kiss, and the final words of the departing girl echoed consolingly in the blind man's heart, "The more they take from you, the more closely I will cling to you."
Hermon spent the latter portion of the night rejoicing in the consciousness of a great happiness, yet also troubled by the difficult task which he could not escape.
When the market place was filling, gray-haired Philippus visited him.
He desired before the examination, for which every preparation had been made, to understand personally the relation of his dead comrade's son to the defeated conspiracy, and he soon perceived that Hermon's presence at the banquet was due solely to an unlucky accident or in consequence of the Queen's desire to win him over to her plot.
Yet he was forced to advise the blind sculptor to leave Alexandria. The suspicion that he had been associated with the conspirators was the more difficult to refute, because his Uncle Archias had imprudently allowed himself to be persuaded by Proclus and Arsinoe to lend the Queen large sums, which had undoubtedly been used to promote her abominable plans.
Philippus also informed him that he had just come from Archias, whom he had earnestly urged to fly as quickly as possible from the persecution which was inevitable; for, secure as Hermon's uncle felt in his innocence, the receipts for the large sums loaned by him, which had just been found in Proclus's possession, would bear witness against him. Envy and ill will would also have a share in this affair, and the usually benevolent King knew no mercy where crime against his own person was concerned. So Archias intended to leave the city on one of his own ships that very day. Daphne, of course, would accompany him.
The prisoner listened in surprise and anxiety.
His uncle driven from his secure possessions to distant lands! Daphne taken from him, he knew not whither nor for how long a time, after he had just been assured of her great love! He himself on the way to expose himself to the malice and mockery of the whole city!
His heart contracted painfully, and his solicitude about his uncle's fate increased when Philippus informed him that the conspirators had been arrested at the banquet and, headed by Amyntas, the Rhodian, Chrysippus, and Proclus, had perished by the executioner's sword at sunrise.
The Queen, Althea, and the other ladies were already on the way to Coptos, in Upper Egypt, whither the King had exiled them.
Ptolemy had intrusted the execution of this severe punishment to Alexander's former comrade as the most trustworthy and discreet of his subjects, but rejected, with angry curtness, Philippus's attempt to uphold the innocence of his friend Archias.
The old man's conversation with Hermon was interrupted by the functionaries who subjected him and Crates to the examination. It lasted a long time, and referred to every incident in the artist's life since his return to Alexandria. The result was favourable, and the prisoner was dismissed from confinement with the learned companion of his fate.
When, accompanied by Philippus, Hermon reached his house, it was so late that the artists' festival in honour of the sculptor Euphranor, who entered his seventieth year of life that day, must have already commenced.
On the way the blind man told the general what a severe trial awaited him, and the latter approved his course and, on bidding him farewell, with sincere emotion urged Hermon to take courage.
After hastily strengthening himself with a few mouthfuls of food and a draught of wine, his slave Patran, who understood writing, wished to put on the full laurel wreath; but Hermon was seized with a painful sense of dissatisfaction, and angrily waved it back.
Without a single green leaf on his head, he walked, leaning on the Egyptian's arm, into the palaestra, which was diagonally opposite to his house.
Doubtless he longed to hasten at once to Daphne, but he felt that he could not take leave of her until he had first cast off, as his heart and mind dictated, the terrible burden which oppressed his soul. Besides, he knew that the object of his love would not part from him without granting him one last word.
On the way his heart throbbed almost to bursting.
Even Daphne's image, and what threatened her father, and her with him, receded far into the background. He could think only of his design, and how he was to execute it.
Yet ought he not to have the laurel wreath put on, in order, after removing it, to bestow it on the genius of Myrtilus?
Did he still possess the right to award this noble branch to any one? He was appearing before his companions only to give truth its just due. It was repulsive to endow this explanation of an unfortunate error with a captivating aspect by any theatrical adornment. To be honest, even for the porter, was a simple requirement of duty, and no praiseworthy merit.
The guide forced a path for him through carriages, litters, and whole throngs of slaves and common people, who had assembled before the neighbouring palaestra.
The doorkeepers admitted the blind man, who was well known here, without delay; but he called to the slave: "Quick, Patran, and not among the spectators--in the centre of the arena!"
The Egyptian obeyed, and his master crossed the wide space, strewn with sand, and approached the stage which had been erected for the festal performances.
Even had his eyes retained the power of sight, his blood was coursing so wildly through his veins that he might perhaps have been unable to distinguish the statues around him and the thousands of spectators, who, crowded closely together, richly garlanded, their cheeks glowing with enthusiasm, surrounded the arena.
"Hermon!" shouted his friend Soteles in joyful surprise in the midst of this painful walk. "Hermon!" resounded here, there, and everywhere as, leaning on his friend's arm, he stepped upon the stage, and the acclamations grew louder and louder as Soteles fulfilled the sculptor's request and led him to the front of the platform.
Obeying a sign from the director of the festival, the chorus, which had just sung a hymn to the Muses, was silent.
Now the sculptor began to speak, and noisy applause thundered around him as he concluded the well-chosen words of homage with which he offered cordial congratulations to the estimable Euphranor, to whom the festival was given; but the shouts soon ceased, for the audience had heard his modest entreaty to be permitted to say a few words, concerning a personal matter, to those who were his professional colleagues, as well as to the others who had honoured him with their interest and, only too loudly, with undeserved applause. The more closely what he had to say concerned himself, the briefer he would make his story.
And, in fact, he did not long claim the attention of his hearers. Clearly and curtly he stated how it had been possible to mistake Mrytilus's work for his, how the Tennis goldsmith had dispelled his first suspicion, and how vainly he had besought the priests of Demeter to be permitted to feel his statue. Then, without entering into details, he informed them that, through an accident, he had now reached the firm conviction that he had long worn wreaths which belonged to another. But, though the latter could not rise from the grave, he still owed it to truth, to whose service he had dedicated his art from the beginning, and to the simple honesty, dear alike to the peasant and the artist, to divest himself of the fame to which he was not entitled. Even while he believed himself to be the creator of the Demeter, he had been seriously troubled by the praise of so many critics, because it had exposed him to
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