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- Arachne, Volume 7. - 5/9 -
of the fact, made him swear that he was not deceiving her with flattery.
Neither Bias nor Myrtilus had ever been allowed to remain on shore; but, on the whole, the slave protested, Myrtilus's health, thanks to the pure sea air on the Hydra, had improved, in spite of the longing which often assailed him, and the great excitements to which he was sometimes exposed.
There had been anxious hours when Hanno's father and brothers visited the Hydra to induce her captain to make money out of the captive sculptor, and either sell him at a high price or extort a large ransom from him; but Bias had overheard how resolutely Ledscha opposed these proposals, and represented to old Satabus of what priceless importance Myrtilus might become to them if either should be captured and imprisoned.
The greatest excitements, of course, had been connected with the battles of the pirates. Myrtilus, who, in spite of his feeble health, by no means lacked courage, found it especially hard to bear that during the conflicts he was locked up with Bias, but even Ledscha could neither prevent nor restrict these measures.
Bias could not tell what seas the Hydra had sailed, nor at what--usually desolate-shores she had touched. He only knew that she had gone to Sinope in Pontus, passed through the Propontis, and then sought booty near the coasts of Asia Minor. Ledscha had refused to answer every question that referred to these things.
Latterly, the young wife had become very grave, and apparently completely severed her relations with her husband; but she also studiously avoided the Gaul and, if they talked to each other at all, it was in hurried whispers.
So events went on until something occurred which was to affect the lives of the prisoners deeply. It must have been just beyond the outlet from the Hellespont into the AEgean Sea; for, in order to pass through the narrow straits leading thither from Pontus, the Hydra had been most skilfully given the appearance of a peaceful merchant vessel.
The slave's soul must have been greatly agitated by this experience, for while, hitherto, whenever he was interrupted by Hermon he had retained his composure, and could not refrain from occasionally connecting a practical application with his report, now, mastered by the power of the remembrance, he uttered what he wished to tell his master in an oppressed tone, while bright drops of perspiration bedewed the speaker's brow.
A large merchant ship had approached them, and three men came on board the Hydra--old Satabus, his son Labaja, and a gray-haired, bearded seafarer of tall stature and dignified bearing, Schalit, Ledscha's father.
The meeting between the Biamite ship-owner and his child, after so long a separation, was a singular one; for the young wife held out her hand to her father timidly, with downcast eyes, and he refused to take it. Directly after, however, as if constrained by an irresistible impulse, he drew his unruly daughter toward him and kissed her brow and cheeks.
Roast meat and the best wine had been served in the large ship's cabin; but though Myrtilus and Bias had been locked up as if a bloody battle was expected, the loud, angry uproar of men's deep voices reached them, and Ledscha's shrill tones shrieking in passionate wrath blended in the strife. Furniture must have been upset and dishes broken, yet the giants who were disputing here did not come to blows.
At last the savage turmoil subsided.
When Bias and his master were again released, Ledscha was standing, in the dusk of evening, at the foot of the mainmast, pressing her brow against the wood as if she needed some support to save herself from falling.
She checked Myrtilus's words with an imperious "Let me alone!" The next day she had paced restlessly up and down the deck like a caged beast of prey, and would permit no one to speak to her.
At noon Hanno was about to get into a boat to go to her father's ship, and she insisted upon accompanying him. But this time the corsair seemed completely transformed, and with the pitiless sternness, which he so well knew how to use in issuing commands, ordered her to remain on the Hydra.
She, however, by no means obeyed her husband's mandate without resistance, and, at the recollection of the conflict which now occurred between the pair, in which she raged like a tigress, the narrator's cheeks crimsoned.
The quarrel was ended by the powerful seaman's taking in his arms his lithe, slender wife, who resisted him with all her strength and had already touched the side of the boat with her foot, and putting her down on the deck of his ship.
Then Hanno leaped back into the skiff, while Ledscha, groaning with rage, retired to the cabin.
An hour after she again appeared on deck, called Myrtilus and Bias and, showing them her eyes, reddened by tears, told them, as if in apology for her weakness, that she had not been permitted to bid her father farewell. Then, pallid as a corpse, she had turned the conversation upon Hermon, and informed Myrtilus that an Alexandrian pilot had told her father that he was blind, and her brother-in-law Labaja had heard the same thing. While saying this, her lips curled scornfully, but when she saw how deeply their friend's misfortune moved her two prisoners, she waved her hand, declaring that he did not need their sympathy; the pilot had reported that he was living in magnificence and pleasure, and the people in the capital honoured and praised him as if he were a god.
Thereupon she had laughed shrilly and reviled so bitterly the contemptible blind Fortune that remains most loyal to those who deserve to perish in the deepest misery, that Bias avoided repeating her words to his master.
The news of Myrtilus's legacy had not reached her ears, and Bias, too, had just heard of it for the first time.
Ledscha's object had been to relieve her troubled soul by attacks upon the man whom she hated, but she suddenly turned to the master and servant to ask if they desired to obtain their liberty.
Oh, how quickly a hopeful "Yes" reached the ears of the gloomy woman! how ready both were to swear, by a solemn oath, to fulfil the conditions the Biamite desired to impose!
As soon as opportunity offered, both were to leave the Hydra with one other person who, like Bias and herself, understood how to mange a boat.
The favourable moment soon came. One moonless night, when the steering of the Hydra was intrusted to the Gaul, Ledscha waked the two prisoners and, with the Gaul Lutarius, Myrtilus, and the slave, entered the boat, which conveyed them to the shore without accident or interruption.
Bias knew the name of the place where it had anchored, it is true, but the oath which Ledscha had made him swear there was so terrible that he would not have broken it at any cost.
This oath required the slave, who, three days after their landing, was sent to Alexandria by the first ship that sailed for that port, to maintain the most absolute secrecy concerning Myrtilus's hiding place until he was authorized to speak. Bias was to go to Alexandria without delay, and there obtain from Archias, who managed Myrtilus's property, the sums which Ledscha intended to use in the following manner: Two attic talents Bias was to bring back. These were for the Gaul, probably in payment for his assistance. Two more were to be taken by the slave to the Temple of Nemesis. Lastly, Bias was to deliver five talents to old Tabus, who kept the treasure of the pirate family on the Owl's Nest, and tell her that Ledscha, in this money, sent back the bridal dowry which Hanno had paid her father for his daughter. With this she released herself from the husband who inspired her with feelings very unlike love.
Hermon asked to have this commission repeated, and received the directions Myrtilus had given to the slave. The blind man's hope that they must also include greetings and news from his friend's hand was destroyed by Bias, whom Myrtilus, in the leisure hours on the Hydra, had taught to read. This was not so difficult a task for the slave, who longed for knowledge, and had already tried it before. But with writing, on the other hand, he could make no headway. He was too old, and his hand had become too clumsy to acquire this difficult art.
In reply to Hermon's anxious question whether his friend needed anything in his present abode, the slave reported that he was at liberty to move about at will, and was not even obliged to share Ledscha's lodgings. He lacked nothing, for the Biamite, besides some gold, had left with him also gems and pearls of such great value that they would suffice to support him several years. As for himself, she had supplied him more than abundantly with money for travelling expenses.
Myrtilus was awaiting his return in a city prospering under a rich and wise regent, and sent whole cargoes of affectionate remembrances. The sculptor, too, was firmly resolved to keep the oath imposed upon him.
As soon as he, Bias, had performed the commission intrusted to him, he and Myrtilus would be released from their vow, and Hermon would learn his friend's residence.
No morning brightened Hermon's night of darkness.
When the returned slave had finished his report, the sun was already shining into his master's room.
Without lying down again, the latter went at once to the Tennis notary, who had moved to Alexandria two months before, and with his assistance raised the money which his friend needed.
Worthy Melampus had received the news that Myrtilus was still alive in a very singular manner. Even now he could grasp only one thing at a time, and he loved Hermon with sincere devotion. Therefore the lawyer who had so zealously striven to expedite the blind man's entering into possession of his friend's inheritance would very willingly have permitted Myrtilus --doubtless an invalid--to continue to rest quietly among the dead. Yet his kind heart rejoiced at the deliverance of the famous young artist, and so during Hermon's story he had passed from sincere regret to loud expressions of joyous sympathy.
Lastly, he had placed his whole property at the disposal of Hermon, who had paid him liberally for his work, to provide for the blind sculptor's future. This generous offer had been declined; but he now assisted Hermon to prepare the emancipation papers for his faithful Bias, and
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