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- Arachne, Volume 8. - 6/11 -


entering the city, he could sail for Pergamus; ships bound to all the ports in the Mediterranean were always in one of the harbours of the capital. A galley ready to weigh anchor was constantly at the disposal of the commandant of the fortress, and the next noon the noble pair, with Hermon and his faithful Bias, went on board the Galatea.

The weather was dull, and gray clouds were sweeping across the sky over the swift vessel, which hugged the coast, and, unless the wind shifted, would reach the narrow tongue of land pierced by the Sebennytic mouth of the Nile before sunrise.

Though the general and his wife went to rest early, Hermon could not endure the close air of the cabin. Wrapped in his cloak he went on deck. The moon, almost full, was sailing in the sky, sometimes covered by dark clouds, sometimes leaving them behind. Like a swan emerging from the shadow of the thickets along the shore upon the pure bosom of the lake, it finally floated into the deep azure of the radiant firmament. Hermon's heart swelled.

How he rejoiced that he was again permitted to behold the starry sky, and satiate his soul with the beauty of creation! What delight it gave him that the eternal wanderers above were no longer soulless forms, that he again saw in the pure silver disk above friendly Selene, in the rolling salt waves the kingdom of Poseidon! To-morrow, when the deep blue water was calm, he would greet the sea-god Glaucus, and when snowy foam crowned the crests of the waves, white-armed Thetis. The wind was no longer an empty sound to him; no, it, too, came from a deity. All Nature had regained a new, divine life. Doubtless he felt much nearer to his childhood than before, but he was infinitely less distant from the eternal divinity. And all the forms, so full of meaning, which appeared to him from Nature, and from every powerful emotion of his own soul, were waiting to be represented by his art in the noblest of forms, those of human beings. There were few with whose nature he had not become familiar in the darkness and solitude that once surrounded him.

When he began to create again, he had only to summon them, and he awaited, with the suspense of the general who is in command of new troops on the eve of battle, the success of his own work after the great transformation which had taken place in him.

What a stress and tumult!

He had controlled it since the first hour when he regained his full vision. He would fain have transformed the moon into the sun, the ship into the studio, and begun to model.

He knew, too, what he desired to create.

He would model an Apollo trampling under foot the slain dragon of darkness.

He would succeed in this work now. And as he looked up and saw Selene just emerging again from the black cloud island, the thought entered his mind that it was a moonlight night like this when all the unspeakably terrible misfortune occurred--which was now past.

Yet neither the calm wanderer above nor a resentful woman had exposed him to the persecution of Nemesis. In the stillness of the desert he had perceived what had brought all this terrible suffering upon him; but he would not repeat it to himself now, for he felt within his soul the power to remain faithful to his best self in the future.

With clear eyes he gazed keenly and blithely at the new life. Nothing, least of all, futile self-torturing regret for faults committed, should cloud the fair morning dawning anew for him, which summoned him to active work, to gratitude and love.

Uttering a sigh of relief, he paced the deck--now brilliantly illuminated by silvery light--with long strides.

The moon above his head reminded him of Ledscha. He was no longer angry with her. The means by which she had intended to destroy him had been transformed into a benefit, and while in the desert he had perceived how often man finally blesses, as the highest gain, what he at first regarded as the most cruel affliction.

How distinctly the image of the Biamite again stood before his agitated soul!

Had he not loved her once?

Or how had it happened that, though his heart was Daphne's, and hers alone, he had felt wounded and insulted when his Bias, who was leaning over the railing of the deck yonder, gazing at the glittering waves, had informed him that Ledscha had been accompanied in her flight from her unloved husband by the Gaul whose life he, Hermon, had saved? Was this due to jealousy or merely wounded vanity at being supplanted in a heart which he firmly believed belonged, though only in bitter hate, solely to him?

She certainly had not forgotten him, and while the remembrance of her blended with the yearning for Daphne which never left him, he sat down and gazed out into the darkness till his head drooped on his breast.

Then a dream showed the Biamite to the slumbering man, yet no longer in the guise of a woman, but as the spider Arachne. She increased before his eyes to an enormous size and alighted upon the pharos erected by Sostratus. Uninjured by the flames of the lighthouse, above which she hovered, she wove a net of endlessly long gray threads over the whole city of Alexandria, with its temples, palaces, and halls, harbours and ships, until Daphne suddenly appeared with a light step and quietly cut one after the other.

Suddenly a shrill whistle aroused him. It was the signal of the flute- player to relieve the rowers.

A faint yellow line was now tingeing the eastern horizon of the gray, cloudy sky. At his left extended the flat, dull-brown coast line, which seemed to be lower than the turbid waves of the restless sea. The cold morning wind was blowing light mists over the absolutely barren shore. Not a tree, not a bush, not a human dwelling was to be seen in this dreary wilderness. Wherever the eye turned, there was nothing but sand and water, which united at the edge of the land. Long lines of surf poured over the arid desert, and, as if repelled by the desolation of this strand, returned to the wide sea whence they came.

The shrill screams of the sea-gulls behind the ship, and the hoarse, hungry croaking of the ravens on the shore blended with the roaring of the waves. Hermon shuddered at this scene. Shivering, he wrapped his cloak closer around him, yet he did not go to the protecting cabin, but followed the nauarch, who pointed out to him the numerous vessels which, in a wide curve, surrounded the place where the Sebennytic arm of the Nile pierced the tongue of land to empty into the sea.

The experienced seaman did not know what ships were doing there, but it was hardly anything good; for ravens in a countless multitude were to be seen on the shore and all moved toward the left.

Philippus's appearance on deck interrupted the nauarch. He anxiously showed the birds to the old hero also, and the latter's only reply was, "Watch the helm and sails!"

Yonder squadron, Philippus said to the artist, was a part of his son's fleet; what brought it there was a mystery to him too.

After the early meal, the galley of Eumedes approached his father's trireme. Two other galleys, not much inferior in size, were behind, and probably fifty smaller vessels were moving about the mouth of the Nile and the whole dreary tongue of land.

All belonged to the royal war fleet, and the deck of every one was crowded with armed soldiers.

On one a forest of lances bristled in the murky air, and upon its southward side a row of archers, each man holding his bow in his hand, stood shoulder to shoulder.

At what mark were their arrows to be aimed? The men on board the Galatea saw it distinctly, for the shore was swarming with human figures, here standing crowded closely together, like horses attacked by a pack of wolves; yonder running, singly or in groups, toward the sea or into the land. Dark spots on the light sand marked the places where others had thrown themselves on the ground, or, kneeling, stretched out their arms as if in defence.

Who were the people who populated this usually uninhabited, inhospitable place so densely and in so strange a manner?

This could not be distinguished from the Galatea with the naked eye, but Philippus thought that they were the Gauls whose punishment had been intrusted to his son, and it soon proved that the old general was right; for just as the Galatea was approaching the shore, a band of twenty or thirty men plunged into the sea. They were Gauls. The light complexions and fair and red bristling hair showed this--Philippus knew them, and Hermon remembered the hordes of men who had rushed past him on the ride to Tennis.

But the watchers were allowed only a short time for observation; brief shouts of command rang from the ships near them, long bows were raised in the air, and one after another of the light-hued forms in the water threw up its arms, sprang up, or sank motionless into the waves around them, which were dyed with a crimson stain.

The artist shuddered; the gray-haired general covered his head with his cloak, and the Lady Thyone followed his example, uttering her son's name in a tone of loud lamentation.

The nauarch pointed to the black birds in the air and close above the shore and the water; but the shout, "A boat from the admiral's galley!" soon attracted the attention of the voyagers on the Galatea in a new direction.

Thirty powerful rowers were urging the long, narrow boat toward them. Sometimes raised high on the crest of a mountain wave, sometimes sinking into the hollow, it completed its trip, and Eumedes mounted a swinging rope ladder to the Galatea's deck as nimbly as a boy.

Here the young commander of the fleet hastened toward his parents. His mother sobbed aloud at his anything but cheerful greeting; Philippus said mournfully, "I have heard nothing yet, but I know all."

"Father," replied the admiral, and raising the helmet from his head, covered with brown curls, he added mournfully: "First as to these men here. It will teach you to understand the other terrible things. Your Uncle Archias's house was destroyed; yonder men were the criminals."

"In the capital!" Philippus exclaimed furiously, and Hermon cried in no less vehement excitement: "How did my uncle get the ill will of these monsters? But as the vengeance is in your hands, they will atone for this breach of the peace!"


Arachne, Volume 8. - 6/11

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