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- Arachne, Volume 7. - 3/9 -
the suspicion of having become faithless to his art and his nature. In the name of the dead, he thanked his dear comrades for the enthusiastic appreciation his masterpiece had found. Honour to Myrtilus and his art, but he trusted this noble festal assemblage would pardon the unintentional deception, and aid his prayer for recovery. If it should be granted he hoped to show that Hermon had not been wholly unworthy to adorn himself for a short time with the wreaths of Myrtilus.
When he closed, deep silence reigned for a brief interval, and one man looked at another irresolutely until the hero of the day, gray-haired Euphranor, rose and, leaning on the arm of his favourite pupil, walked through the centre of the arena to the stage, mounted it, embraced Hermon with paternal warmth, and made him happy by the words: "The deception that has fallen to your lot, my poor young friend, is a lamentable one; but honour to every one who honestly means to uphold the truth. We will beseech the immortals with prayers and sacrifices to restore sight to your artist eyes. If I am permitted, my dear young comrade, to see you continue to create, it will be a source of joy to me and all of us; yet the Muses, even though unasked, lead into the eternal realm of beauty the elect who consecrates his art to truth with the right earnestness."
The embrace with which the venerable hero of the festival seemed to absolve Hermon was greeted with loud applause; but the kind words which Euphranor, in the weak voice of age, had addressed to the blind man had been unintelligible to the large circle of guests.
When he again descended to the arena new plaudits rose; but soon hisses and other signs of disapproval blended with them, which increased in strength and number when a well known critic, who had written a learned treatise concerning the relation of the Demeter to Hermon's earlier works, expressed his annoyance in a loud whistle. The dissatisfied and disappointed spectators now vied with one another to silence those who were cheering by a hideous uproar while the latter expressed more and more loud the sincere esteem with which they were inspired by the confession of the artist who, though cruelly prevented from winning fresh fame, cast aside the wreath which a dead man had, as were, proffered from his tomb.
Probably every man thought that, in the same situation, he would have done the same yet not only justice--nay, compassion--dictated showing the blind artist that they believed in and would sustain him. The ill- disposed insisted that Hermon had only done what duty commanded the meanest man, and the fact that he had deceived all Alexandria still remained. Not a few joined this party, for larger possession excite envy perhaps even more frequently than greater fame.
Soon the approving and opposing voices mingled in an actual conflict. But before the famous sculptor Chares, the great and venerable artist Nicias, and several younger friends of Hermon quelled this unpleasant disturbance of the beautiful festival, the blind man, leaning on the arm of his fellow-artist Soteles, had left the palaestra.
At the exit he, parted from his friend, who had been made happy by the ability to absolve his more distinguished leader from the reproach of having become faithless to their common purpose, and who intended to intercede further in his behalf in the palaestra.
Hermon no longer needed him; for, besides his slave Patran, he found the steward Gras, who, by his master's order, guided the blind man to Archias's closed harmamaxa, which was waiting outside the building.
The sculptor's head was burning feverishly when he entered the vehicle. He had never imagined that the consequences of his explanation would be so terrible. During the drive--by no means a long one--to the great harbour, he strove to collect his thoughts. Groaning aloud, he covered his ears with his hands to shut out the shouts and hisses from the palaestra, which in reality were no longer audible.
True, he would not need to expose himself to this uproar a second time, yet if he remained in Alexandria the witticisms, mockery, and jibes of the whole city, though in a gentler form, would echo hundreds of times around him.
He must leave the city. He would have preferred to go on board the staunch Tacheia and be borne far away with his uncle and Daphne, but he was obliged to deny himself the fulfilment of this desire. He must now think solely of regaining his sight.
Obedient to the oracle, he would go to the desert where from the "starving sand" the radiant daylight was to rise anew for him.
There he would, at any rate, be permitted to recover the clearness of perception and feeling which he had lost in the delirium of the dissolute life of pleasure that he had led in the past. Pythagoras had already forbidden the folly of spoiling the present by remorse; and he, too, did not do this. It would have been repugnant to his genuinely Greek nature. Instead of looking backward with peevish regret, his purpose was to look with blithe confidence toward the future, and to do his best to render it better and more fruitful than the months of revel which lay behind him.
He could no longer imagine a life worth living without Daphne, and the thought that if his uncle were robbed of his wealth he would become her support cheered his heart. If the oracle did not fulfil its promise, he would again appeal to medical skill, and submit even to the most severe suffering which might be imposed upon him.
The drive to the great harbour was soon over, but the boat which lay waiting for him had a considerable distance to traverse, for the Tacheia was no longer at the landing place, but was tacking outside the Pharos, in order, if the warrant of arrest were issued, not to be stopped at the channel dominated by the lighthouse. He found the slender trireme pervaded by a restless stir. His uncle had long been expecting him with burning impatience.
He knew, through Philippus, what duty still detained the deceived artist, but he learned, at the same time, that his own imprisonment had been determined, and it would be advisable for him to leave the city behind him as quickly as possible. Yet neither Daphne nor he was willing to depart without saying farewell to Hermon.
But the danger was increasing every moment, and, warm as was the parting, the last clasp of the hand and kiss swiftly followed the first words of greeting.
So the blind artist learned only that Archias was going to the island of Lesbos, his mother's home, and that he had promised his daughter to give Hermon time to recover his sight. The property bequeathed to him by Myrtilus had been placed by the merchant in the royal bank, and he had also protected himself against any chance of poverty. Hermon was to send news of his health to Lesbos from time to time if a safe opportunity offered and, when Daphne knew where he was to be found, she could let him have tidings. Of course, for the present great caution must be exercised in order not to betray the abode of the fugitives.
Hermon, too, ought to evade the pursuit of the incensed King as quickly as possible.
Not only Daphne's eyes, but her father's also, overflowed with tears at this parting, and Hermon perceived more plainly than ever that he was as dear to his uncle as though he were his own son.
The low words which the artist exchanged with the woman whose love, even during the period of separation, would shed light and warmth upon his darkened life, were deeply impressed upon the souls of both.
For the present, faithful Gras was to remain in charge of his master's house in Alexandria. Leaning on his arm, the blind man left the Tacheia, which, as soon as both had entered the boat, was urged forward by powerful strokes of the oars.
The Bithynian informed Hermon that kerchiefs were waving him a farewell from the trireme, that the sails had been unfurled, and the wind was driving the swift vessel before it like a swallow.
At the Pharos Gras reported that a royal galley was just passing them, undoubtedly in pursuit of the Tacheia; but the latter was the swiftest of all the Greek vessels, and they need not fear that she would be overtaken by the war ship.
With a sore heart and the desolate feeling of being now utterly alone, Hermon again landed and ordered that his uncle's harmamaxa should convey him to the necropolis. He desired to seek peace at his mother's grave, and to take leave of these beloved tombs.
Guided by the steward, he left them cheered and with fresh confidence in the future, and the faithful servant's account of the energy with which Daphne had aided the preparations for departure benefited him like a refreshing bath.
When he was again at home, one visitor after another was announced, who came there from the festival in the palaestra, and, in spite of his great reluctance to receive them, he denied no one admittance, but listened even to the ill-disposed and spiteful.
In the battle which he had commenced he must not shrink from wounds, and he was struck by many a poisoned shaft. But, to make amends, a clear understanding was effected between him and those whom he esteemed.
The last caller left him just before midnight.
Hermon now made many preparations for departure.
He intended to go into the desert with very little luggage, as the oracle seemed to direct. How long a time his absence would extend could not be estimated, and the many poor people whom he had fed and supported must not suffer through his departure. The arrangements required to effect this he dictated to the slave, who understood writing. He had gained in him an extremely capable servant, and Patran expressed his readiness to follow him into the desert; but the wry face which, sure that the blind man could not see him, he made while saying so, seemed to prove the contrary.
Weary, and yet too excited to find sleep, Hermon at last went to rest.
If his Myrtilus had been with him now, what would he not have had to say to express his gratitude, to explain! How overjoyed he would have been at the fulfilment of his wish to see him united to Daphne, at least in heart; with what fiery ardour he would have upbraided those who believed him capable of having appropriated what belonged to another!
But Myrtilus was no more, and who could tell whether his body had not remained unburied, and his soul was therefore condemned to be borne restlessly between heaven and earth, like a leaf driven by the wind? Yet, if the earth covered him, where was the spot on which sacrifices could be offered to his soul, his tombstone could be anointed, and he
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