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- Arachne, Volume 8. - 1/11 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By Georg Ebers
Hermon, filled with longing, went down toward evening to the shore.
The sun was setting, and the riot of colours in the western horizon seemed like a mockery of the torturing anxiety which had mastered his soul.
He did not notice the boat that was approaching the land; many travellers who intended to go through Arabia Petrea landed here, and for several days--he knew why--there had been more stir in these quiet waters.
Suddenly he was surprised by the ringing shout with which he had formerly announced his approach to Myrtilus.
Unconsciously agitated by joy, as if the sunset glow before him had suddenly been transformed into the dawn of a happy day, he answered by a loud cry glad with hope. Although his dim eyes did not yet permit him to distinguish who was standing erect in the boat, waving greetings to him, he thought he knew whom this exquisite evening was bringing.
Soon his own name reached him. It was his "wise Bias" who shouted, and soon, with a throbbing heart, he held out both hands to him.
The freedman had performed his commission in the best possible manner, and was now no longer bound to silence by oath.
Ledscha had left him and Myrtilus to themselves and, as Bias thought he had heard, had sailed with the Gaul Lutarius for Paraetonium, the frontier city between the kingdom of Egypt and that of Cyrene.
Myrtilus felt stronger than he had done for a long time, and had sent him back to the blind friend who would need him more than he did.
But worthy Bias also brought messages from Archias and Daphne. They were well, and his uncle now had scarcely any cause to fear pursuers.
Before the landing of the boat, the shade had covered Hermon's eyes; but when, after the freedman's first timid question about his sight, he raised it again, at the same time reporting and showing what progress he had already made toward recovery, the excess of joy overpowered the freedman, and sometimes laughing, sometimes weeping, he kissed the convalescent's hands and simple robe. It was some time before he calmed himself again, then laying his forefinger on the side of his nose, he said: "Therein the immortals differ from human beings. We sculptors can only create good work with good tools, but the immortals often use the very poorest of all to accomplish the best things. You owe your sight to the hate of this old witch and mother of pirates, so may she find peace in the grave. She is dead. I heard it from a fellow-countryman whom I met in Herocipolis. Her end came soon after our visit."
Then Bias related what he knew of Hermon's uncle, of Daphne, and Myrtilus.
Two letters were to give him further particulars.
They came from the woman he loved and from his friend, and as soon as Bias had lighted the lamp in the tent, at the same time telling his master in advance many items of news they contained, he set about the difficult task of reading.
He had certainly scarcely become a master of this art on board the Hydra, yet his slow performance did all honour to the patience of his teacher Myrtilus.
He began with Daphne's letter, but by the desire of prudent Archias it communicated few facts. But the protestations of love and expressions of longing which filled it pierced the freedman's soul so deeply that his voice more than once failed while reading them.
Myrtilus's letter, on the contrary, gave a minute description of his mode of life, and informed his friend what he expected for him and himself in the future. The contents of both relieved Hermon's sorely troubled heart, made life with those who were dearest to him possible, and explained many things which the reports of the slave had not rendered perfectly clear.
Archias had gone with Daphne to the island of Lesbos, his mother's native city. The ships which conveyed travellers to Pergamus, where Myrtilus was living, touched at this port, and Bias, to whom Hermon had confided the refuge of the father and daughter, had sought them there, and found them in a beautiful villa.
After being released from his oath, Myrtilus had put himself into communication with his uncle, and just before Bias's departure the merchant had come to Pergamus with his daughter. As he had the most cordial reception from the Regent Philetaerus, he seemed inclined to settle permanently there.
As for Myrtilus, he had cast anchor with Ledscha in the little Mysian seaport town of Pitane, near the mouth of the Caicus River, on which, farther inland, was the rapidly growing city of Pergamus.
She had found a hospitable welcome in the family of a seafarer who were relatives, while the Gaul continued his voyage to obtain information about his tribe in Syria. But he had already returned when Bias reached Pitane with the two talents intended for him. Myrtilus had availed himself of Ledscha's permission long before and gone to Pergamus, where he had lived and worked in secrecy until, after the freedman's return from Ledscha, who at once left Pitane with the Gaul, he was released from his oath.
During the absence of Bias he had modelled a large relief, a triumphal procession of Dionysus, and as the renown of his name had previously reached Pergamus, the artists and the most distinguished men in the city flocked to his studio to admire the work of the famous Alexandrian.
Soon Philetoerus, who had founded the Pergamenian kingdom seven years before, and governed it with great wisdom, came to Myrtilus.
Like his nephew and heir Eumenes, he was a friend to art, and induced the laurel-crowned Alexandrian to execute the relief, modelled in clay, in marble for the Temple of Dionysus at Pergamus.
The heir to the throne of Philetaerus, who was now advancing in years, was especially friendly to Myrtilus, and did everything in his power to bind him to Pergamus.
He succeeded, for in the beautiful house, located in an extremely healthful site, which Eumenes had assigned for a residence and studio to the Alexandrian artist, whose work he most ardently admired, and whom he regarded as the most welcome of guests, Myrtilus felt better physically than he had for years. Besides, he thought that, for many reasons, his friend would be less willing to settle in Alexandria, and that the presence of his uncle and Daphne would attract him to Pergamus.
Moreover, Hermon surely knew that if he came to him as a blind man he would find a brother; if he came restored to sight, he would also find a brother, and likewise a fellow-artist with whom he could live and work.
Myrtilus had told the heir to the throne of Pergamus of his richly gifted blind relative, and of the peculiarity of his art, and Eumenes eagerly endeavoured to induce his beloved guest to persuade his friend to remove to his capital, where there was no lack of distinguished leeches.
If Hermon remained blind, he would honour him; if he recovered his sight, he would give him large commissions.
How deeply these letters moved the heart of the recovering man! What prospects they opened for his future life, for love, friendship, and, not least, for his art!
If he could see--if he could only see again! This exclamation blended with everything he thought, felt, and uttered. Even in sleep it haunted him. To regain the clearness of vision he needed for his work, he would willingly have submitted to the severest tortures.
In Alexandria alone lived the great leeches who could complete the work which the salve of an ignorant old woman had begun. Thither he must go, though it cost him liberty and life. The most famous surgeon of the Museum at the capital had refused his aid under other circumstances. Perhaps he would relent if Philippus, a friend of Erasistratus, smoothed the way for him, and the old hero was now living very near. The ships, whose number on the sea at his feet was constantly increasing, were attracted hither by the presence of the Egyptian King and Queen on the isthmus which connects Asia and Africa. The priest of Apollo at Clysma, and other distinguished Greeks whom he met there, had told him the day before yesterday, and on two former visits to the place, what was going on in the world, and informed him how great an honour awaited the eastern frontier in these days. The appearance of their Majesties in person must not only mean the founding of a city, the reception of a victorious naval commander, and the consecration of a restored temple, but also have still deeper causes.
During the last few years severe physical suffering had brought the unfortunate second king of the house of Ptolemy to this place to seek the aid of the ancient Egyptian gods, and, besides the philosophy, busy himself with the mystic teachings and magic arts of their priesthood.
Only a short period of life seemed allotted to the invalid ruler, and the service of the time-honoured god of the dead, to whom he had erected one of the most magnificent temples in the world at Alexandria, to which Egyptians and Hellenes repaired with equal devotion, opened hopes for the life after death which seemed to him worthy of examination.
For this reason also he desired to secure the favour of the Egyptian priesthood.
For this purpose, for the execution of his wise and beneficent arrangements, as well as for the gratification of his expensive tastes, large sums of money were required; therefore he devoted himself with especial zeal to enlarging the resources of his country, already so rich by nature.
In all these things he had found an admirable assistant in his sister
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