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- Arachne, Volume 7. - 4/9 -
Then a doubt which had never before entered his mind suddenly took possession of Hermon.
Since for so many months he had firmly believed his friend's work to be his own, he might also have fallen into another delusion, and Myrtilus might still dwell among the living.
At this thought the blind man, with a swift movement, sat erect upon his couch; it seemed as if a bright light blazed before his eyes in the dark room.
The reasons which had led the authorities to pronounce Myrtilus dead rendered his early end probable, it is true, yet by no means proved it absolutely. He must hold fast to that.
He who, ever since he returned to Alexandria from Tennis, had squandered precious time as if possessed by evil demons, would now make a better use of it. Besides, he longed to leave the capital. What! Suppose he should now, even though it were necessary to delay obeying the oracle's command, search, traverse, sail through the world in pursuit of Myrtilus, even, if it must be, to the uttermost Thule?
But he fell back upon the couch as quickly as he had started up.
"Blind! blind!" he groaned in dull despair. How could he, who was not able even to see his hand before his eyes, succeed in finding his friend?
And yet, yet----
Had his mind been darkened with his eyes, that this thought came to him now for the first time, that he had not sent messengers to all quarters of the globe to find some trace of the assailants and, with them, of the lost man?
Perhaps it was Ledscha who had him in her power, and, while he was pondering and forming plans for the best way of conducting investigations, the dimmed image of the Biamite again returned distinctly to his mind, and with it that of Arachne and the spider, into which the goddess transformed the weaver.
Half overcome by sleep, he saw himself, staff in hand, led by Daphne, cross green meadows and deserts, valleys and mountains, to seek his friend; yet whenever he fancied he caught sight of him, and Ledscha with him, in the distance, the spider descended from above and, with magical speed, wove a net which concealed both from his gaze.
Groaning and deeply disturbed, half awake, he struggled onward, always toward one goal, to find his Myrtilus again, when suddenly the sound of the knocker on the entrance door and the barking of Lycas, his Arabian greyhound, shook the house.
Recalled to waking life, he started up and listened.
Had the men who were to arrest him or inquisitive visitors not allowed themselves to be deterred even by the late hour?
He listened angrily as the old porter sternly accosted the late guest; but, directly after, the gray-haired native of the region near the First Cataract burst into the strange Nubian oaths which he lavished liberally whenever anything stirred his aged soul.
The dog, which Hermon had owned only a few months, continued to bark; but above his hostile baying the blind man thought he recognised a name at whose sound the blood surged hotly into his cheeks. Yet he could scarcely have heard aright!
Still he sprang from the couch, groped his way to the door, opened it, and entered the impluvium that adjoined his bedroom. The cool night air blew upon him from the open ceiling. A strong draught showed that the door leading from the atrium was being opened, and now a shout, half choked by weeping, greeted him: "Hermon! My clear, my poor beloved master!"
"Bias, faithful Bias!" fell from the blind man's lips, and when he felt the returned slave sink down before him, cover his hand with kisses and wet it with tears, he raised him in his strong arms, clasped him in a warm embrace, kissed his checks, and gasped, "And Myrtilus, my Myrtilus, is he alive?"
"Yes, yes, yes," sobbed Bias. "But you, my lord-blind, blind! Can it be true?"
When Hermon released him to inquire again about his friend, Bias stammered: "He isn't faring so badly; but you, you, bereft of light and also of the joy of seeing your faithful Bias again! And the immortals prolong one's years to experience such evils! Two griefs always belong to one joy, like two horses to a chariot."
"My wise Bias! Just as you were of old!" cried Hermon in joyful excitement.
Then he quieted the hound and ordered one of the attendants, who came hurrying in, to bring out whatever dainty viands the house contained and a jar of the best Byblus wine from the cellar.
Meanwhile he did not cease his inquiries about his friend's health, and ordered a goblet to be brought him also, that he might pledge the slave and give brief answers to his sympathizing questions about the cause of the blindness, the noble Archias, the gracious young mistress Daphne, the famous Philippus and his wife, the companion Chrysilla, and the steward Gras. Amid all this he resolved to free the faithful fellow and, while Bias was eating, he could not refrain from telling him that he had found a mistress for him, that Daphne was the wife whom he had chosen, but the wedding was still a long way off.
He controlled his impatience to learn the particulars concerning his friend's fate until Bias had partially satisfied his hunger.
A short time ago Hermon would have declared it impossible that he could ever become so happy during this period of conflict and separation from the object of his love.
The thought of his lost inheritance doubtless flitted through his mind, but it seemed merely like worthless dust, and the certainty that Myrtilus still walked among the living filled him with unclouded happiness. Even though he could no longer see him, he might expect to hear his beloved voice again. Oh, what delight that he was permitted to have his friend once more, as well as Daphne, that he could meet him so freely and joyously and keep the laurel, which had rested with such leaden weight upon his head, for Myrtilus, and for him alone!
But where was he?
What was the name of the miracle which had saved him, and yet kept him away from his embrace so long?
How had Myrtilus and Bias escaped the flames and death on that night of horror?
A flood of questions assailed the slave before he could begin a connected account, and Hermon constantly interrupted it to ask for details concerning his friend and his health at each period and on every occasion.
Much surprised by his discreet manner, the artist listened to the bondman's narrative; for though Bias had formerly allowed himself to indulge in various little familiarities toward his master, he refrained from them entirely in this story, and the blind man's misfortune invested him in his eyes with a peculiar sacredness.
He had arrived wounded on the pirate ship with his master's friend, the returned bondman began. When he had regained consciousness, he met Ledscha on board the Hydra, as the wife of the pirate Hanno. She had nursed Myrtilus with tireless solicitude, and also often cared for his, Bias's, wounds. After the recovery of the prisoners, she became their protectress, and placed Bias in the service of the Greek artist.
They, the Gaul Lutarius, and one of the sculptor's slaves, were the only ones who had been brought on board the Hydra alive from the attack in Tennis, but the latter soon succumbed to his wounds.
Hermon owed it solely to the bridge-builder that he had escaped from the vengeance of his Biamite foe, for the tall Gaul, whose thick beard resembled Hermon's in length and blackness, was mistaken by Hanno for the person whom Ledscha had directed him to deliver alive into her power.
The pirate had surrendered the wrong captive to the woman he loved and, as Bias declared, to his serious disadvantage; for, though Hanno and the Biamite girl were husband and wife, no one could help perceiving the cold dislike with which Ledscha rebuffed the giant who read her every wish in her eyes. Finally, the captain of the pirate ship, a silent man by nature, often did not open his lips for days except to give orders to the crew. Frequently he even refused to be relieved from duty, and remained all night at the helm.
Only when, at his own risk, or with the vessels of his father and brother, he attacked merchant ships or defended himself against a war galley, did he wake to vigorous life and rush with gallant recklessness into battle.
A single man on the Hydra was little inferior to him in strength and daring--the Gaul Lutarius. He had been enrolled among the pirates, and when Hanno was wounded in an engagement with a Syrian war galley, was elected his representative. During this time Ledscha faithfully performed her duty as her young husband's nurse, but afterward treated him as coldly as before.
Yet she devoted herself eagerly to the ship and the crew, and the fierce, lawless fellows cheerfully submitted to the sensible arrangements of their captain's beautiful, energetic wife. At this period Bias had often met Ledscha engaged in secret conversation with the Gaul, yet if any tender emotion really attracted her toward any one other than her husband, Myrtilus would have been suspected rather than the black-bearded bridge-builder; for she not only showed the sculptor the kindest consideration, but often entered into conversation with him, and even persuaded him, when the sea was calm, or the Hydra lay at anchor in one of the hidden bays known to the pirates, to practise his art, and at last to make a bust of her. She had succeeded in getting him clay, wax, and tools for the purpose. After asking which goddess had ill-treated the weaver Arachne, she commanded him to make a head of Athene, adorned with the helmet, modelled from her own. During this time she frequently inquired whether her features really were not beautiful enough to be copied for the countenance of a goddess, and when he eagerly assured her
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