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- Arachne, Volume 7. - 6/9 -
found a ship that was bound to Tanis. Toward evening he accompanied Hermon to the harbour and, after a cordial farewell from his helpful friend, the artist, with the new "freedman" Bias and the slave clerk Patran, went on board the vessel, now ready to sail.
The voyage was one of the speediest, yet the end came too soon for both master and servant--Hermon had not yet heard enough of the friend beyond his reach, and Bias was far from having related everything he desired to tell about Myrtilus and Ledscha; yet he was now permitted to express every opinion that entered his mind, and this had occupied a great deal of time.
Bias also sought to know much more about Hermon's past and future than he had yet learned, not merely from curiosity, but because he foresaw that Myrtilus would not cease to question him about his blind friend.
The misfortune must have produced a deep and lasting effect upon the artist's joyous nature, for his whole bearing was pervaded by such earnestness and dignity that years, instead of months, seemed to have elapsed since their separation.
It was characteristic of Daphne that her lover's blindness did not alienate her from him; yet why had not the girl, who still desired to become his wife, been able to wed the helpless man who had lost his sight? If the father did not wish to be separated from his daughter, surely he could live with the young couple. A home was quickly made everywhere for the rich, and, if Archias was tired of his house in Alexandria, as Hermon had intimated, there was room enough in the world for a new one.
But that was the way with things here below! Man was the cause of man's misfortune! Daphne and Hermon remained the same; but Archias from an affectionate father had become transformed into an entirely different person. If the former had been allowed to follow their inclinations, they would now be united and happy, while, because a third person so willed, they must go their way solitary and wretched.
He expressed this view to his master, and insisted upon his opinion until Hermon confided to him what had driven Archias from Alexandria.
Patran, Bias's successor, was by no means satisfactory to him. Had Hermon retained his sight, he certainly would not have purchased him, in spite of his skill as a scribe, for the Egyptian had a "bad face."
Oh, if only he could have been permitted to stay with his benefactor instead of this sullen man! How carefully he would have removed the stones from his darkened pathway!
During the voyage he was obliged to undergo severe struggles to keep the oath of secrecy imposed upon him; but perjury threatened him with the most horrible tortures, not to mention the sorceress Tabus, whom he was to meet.
So Myrtilus's abode remained unknown to Hermon.
Bias approved his master's intention of going into the desert. He had often seen the oracle of Amon tested, and he himself had experienced the healthfulness of the desert air. Besides, it made him proud to see that Hermon was disposed to follow his suggestion of pitching his tent in a spot which he designated. This was at the end of the arm of the sea at Clysma. Several trees grew there beside small springs, and a peaceful family of Amalekites raised vegetables in their little garden, situated on higher ground, watered by the desert wells.
When a boy, before the doom of slavery had been pronounced upon him and his father, his mother, by the priest's advice, took him there to recover from the severe attack of fever which he could not shake off amid the damp papyrus plantations surrounding his parents' house. In the dry, pure air of the desert he recovered, and he would guide Hermon there before returning to Myrtilus.
From Tanis they reached Tennis in a few hours, and found shelter in the home of the superintendent of Archias's weaving establishments, whose hospitality Myrtilus and Hermon had enjoyed before their installation in the white house, now burned to the ground. The Alexandrian bills of exchange were paid in gold by the lessee of the royal bank, who was a good friend of Hermon. Toward evening, both rowed to the Owl's Nest, taking the five talents with which the runaway wife intended to purchase freedom from her husband.
As the men approached the central door of the pirates' house, a middy- aged Biamite woman appeared and rudely ordered them to leave the island. Tabus was weak, and refused to see visitors. But she was mistaken; for when Bias, in the dialect of his tribe, shouted loudly that messengers from the wife of her grandson Hanno had arrived, there was a movement at the back of the room, and broken sentences, gasped with difficulty, expressed the old dame's wish to receive the strangers.
On a sheep's-wool couch, over which was spread a wolfskin, the last gift of her son Satabus, lay the sorceress, who raised herself as Hermon passed through the door.
After his greeting, she pointed to her deaf ear and begged him to speak louder. At the same time she gazed into his eyes with a keen, penetrating glance, and interrupted him by the question: "The Greek sculptor whose studio was burned over his head? And blind? Blind still?"
"In both eyes," Bias answered for his master.
"And you, fellow?" the old dame asked; then, recollecting herself, stopped the reply on the servant's lips with the hasty remark: "You are the blackbeard's slave--a Biamite? Oh, I remember perfectly! You disappeared with the burning house."
Then she gazed intently and thoughtfully from one to the other, and at last, pointing to Bias, muttered in a whisper: "You alone come from Hanno and Ledscha, and were with them on the Hydra? Very well. What news have you for the old woman from the young couple?"
The freedman began to relate what brought him to the Owl's Nest, and the gray-haired crone listened eagerly until he said that Ledscha lived unhappily with her husband, and therefore had left him. She sent back to her, as the head of Hanno's family, the bridal dowry with which Hanno had bought her from her father as his wife.
Then Tabus struggled into a little more erect posture, and asked: "What does this mean? Five talents--and gold, not silver talents? And she sends the money to me? To me? And she ran away from her husband? But no--no! Once more--you are a Biamite--repeat it in our own language--and loudly. This ear is the better one."
Bias obeyed, and the old dame listened to the end without interrupting him: then raising her brown right hand, covered with a network of blue- black veins, she clinched it into a fist, which she shook far more violently than Bias would have believed possible in her weak condition. At the same time she pressed her lips so tightly together that her toothless mouth deepened into a hole, and her dim eyes shone with a keen, menacing light. For some time she found no reply, though strange, rattling, gasping sounds escaped her heaving breast.
At last she succeeded in uttering words, and shrieked shrilly: "This-- this--away with the golden trash! With the bridal dowry of the family rejected, and once more free, the base fool thinks she would be like the captive fox that gnawed the rope! Oh, this age, these people! And this, this is the haughty, strong Ledscha, the daughter of the Biamites, who-- there stands the blind girl--deceiver!--who so admirably avenged herself?"
Here her voice failed, and Hermon began to speak to assure her that she understood Ledscha's wish aright. Then he asked her for a token by which she acknowledged the receipt of the gold, which he handed her in a stout linen bag.
But his purpose was not fulfilled, for suddenly, flaming with passionate wrath, she thrust the purse aside, groaning: "Not an obol of the accursed destruction of souls shall come back to Hanno, nor even into the family store. Until his heart and hers stop beating, the most indissoluble. bond will unite both. She desires to ransom herself from a lawful marriage concluded by her father, as if she were a captive of war; perhaps she even wants to follow another. Hanno, brave lad, was ready to go to death for her sake, and she rewards him by bringing shame on his head and disgrace on us all. Oh, these times, this world! Everything that is inviolable and holy trampled in the dust! But they are not all so! In spite of Grecian infidelity, marriage is still honoured among our people. But she who mocks what is sacred, and tramples holy customs under foot, shall be accursed, execrated, given over to want, hunger, disease, death!"
With rattling breath and closed eyes she leaned farther back against the cushions that supported her; but Bias, in their common language, tried to soothe her, and informed her that, though Ledscha had probably run away from her husband, she had by no means renounced her vengeance. He was bringing two talents with him to place in the Temple of Nemesis.
"Of Nemesis?" repeated the old dame. Then she tried to raise herself and, as she constantly sank back again, Bias aided her. But she had scarcely recovered her sitting posture when she gasped to the freedman: "Nemesis, who helped, and is to continue to help her to destroy her foe? Well, well! Five talents--a great sum, a great sum! But the more the better! To Nemesis with them, to Ate and the Erinyes! The talons of the avenging goddess shall tear the beautiful face, the heart, and the liver of the accursed one! A twofold malediction on her who has wronged the son of my Satabus!"
While speaking, her head nodded swiftly up and down, and when at last she bowed it wearily, her visitors heard her murmur the names of Satabus and Hanno, sometimes tenderly, sometimes mournfully.
Finally she asked whether any one else was concerned in Ledscha's flight; and when she learned that a Gallic bridge-builder accompanied the fugitive wife, she again started up as if frantic, exclaiming: "Yes, to Nemesis with the gold! We neither need nor want it, and Satabus, my son, he will bless me for renunciation--"
Here exhaustion again silenced her. She gazed mutely and thoughtfully into vacancy, until at last, turning to Bias, she began more calmly: "You will see her again, man, and must tell her what the clan of Tabus bought with her talents. Take her my curse, and let her know that her friends would be my foes, and her foes should find in Tabus a benefactress!"
Then, deeply buried in thought, she again fixed her eyes on the floor; but at last she called to Hermon, saying: "You, blind Greek--am I not right?--the torch was thrust into your face, and you lost the sight of both eyes?"
The artist assented to this question; but she bade him sit down before her, and when he bent his face near her she raised one lid after the other with trembling fingers, yet lightly and skilfully, gazed long and intently into his eyes, and murmured: "Like black Psoti and lawless
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