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- A Question - 4/13 -


gnarled olive-trees.

Fragrant roses, glowing with a scarlet hue, as if the sun's fiery kiss had called them to life, adorned bushes and hedges, while, blushing faintly, as if a child's lips had waked them from slumber, the blossoms of the peach and almond glimmered on the branches of the trees.

Tiny young green leaves were growing from the oddly-interwoven branches of the fig-trees, to which clung the swelling pouches of the fruit. Golden lemons glittered amid their strong, brilliant foliage, which had survived the winter season; and long rows of blackish-green cypresses rose straight and tall, like the grave voices of the chorus amid the joyous revel. To Xanthe, gazing downward, her father's pine-wood seemed like a camp full of arched, round tents, and, if she allowed her eyes to wander farther, she beheld the motionless sea, whose broad surface, on this pleasant morning, sparkled like polished sapphire, and everywhere seemed striving to surpass with its own blue the color of the clear sky. Ever and anon, like a tiny silver cloud floating across the firmament, white sails glided by.

Pleasant green hills framed this lovely view. On their well-cultivated slopes appeared here the white, glimmering walls of a temple; yonder villages, houses, and cottages, like the herds and single sheep that he half concealed by dense foliage.

Garlands of flowers surround the heads of happy mortals, and here the house of every wealthy land-owner was inclosed by a hedge or garden.

Behind the hills rose the sharply-cut outlines of the naked cliffs of the lofty, distant mountains, and the snowy head of sleeping Mount Etna gleamed brightly through the mist.

Now, in the early morning, sea and garden, hills and distant mountains were covered with a delicate veil of indescribable hue. It seemed as if the sea had furnished the warp of this fabric, and the golden sun the woof.

The scene was wondrously beautiful, but Xanthe had not gone to the spring to gaze at the landscape; nay, she scarcely knew that it was lovely.

When the sea shone with the hue of the sky and lay motionless, as it did to-day, she thought Glaucus, the god of the blue sea, was sunning himself in pleasant slumber.

On other bright days when the waves and surges swelled, white foam crowned their crests, and a never-ending succession of breakers dashed upon the shore, she believed the fifty daughters of Nereus were pursuing their sports under the clear water.

They were all lovely women, and full of exuberant gayety.

Some rocked quietly on the gleaming waves, others boldly swung themselves on the backs of the bearded Tritons, and merrily urged them through the flood.

When the surf beat roaring on the strand, Xanthe thought she could hear these creatures guiding their course with their scaly tails and blowing into shells, and many a glimmering foam-crest on a deep-blue wave was no transparent bubble-no, the girl distinctly saw that it was the white neck, the gleaming arm, or the snowy foot of one of Nereus's daughters. She believed that she clearly distinguished them sporting joyously up and down through the azure water, now plunging into the depths with their feet, and now with their heads foremost, anon floating gently on the surface of the waves. One held out her hand to another, and in so doing their beautiful, rounded arms often gleamed beneath the crest of a surge.

Every day they practised new games, as the sea never looks precisely the same; each hour it changed its hue, here, there, and everywhere, Light streaks, like transparent bluish-green gauze, often ran through the darker surface, which resembled a purplish-blue mantle of some costly Phoenician stuff; the waves could flash black as the eye of night, and white as Leucothea's neck.

Then Amphitrite appeared, with floating hair and resonant voice, and beside her Poseidon with his four steeds.

Frowning sullenly, he struck them sharply with his lash, which whistled through the air, and angrily thrust his trident deep into the sea. Instantly the waves took hues of lighter brown, deeper yellow, and cloudy gray, and the sea wore the aspect of a shallow pond with muddy bottom, into which workmen hurl blocks of stone. The purity of the water was sadly dimmed, and the billows dashed foaming toward the sky, threatening in their violent assault to shatter the marble dike erected along the shore. The Nereids, trembling, took refuge in the ever-calm depths, the Tritons no longer used their hollow shells to blow gentle harmonies; nay, they sent forth crashing war-songs, as if some hostile citadel were to be assailed; while Amphitrite thrust both hands into her long, fluttering hair, and with out-stretched head uttered her furious roar.

But to-day the sea was calm, and when Xanthe had reached the spring the edges of the milk-white, light, fleecy clouds, towering one above another on the summits of the loftier mountains, were still glowing with a rosy light. It was the edge of the garment of the vanishing Eos, the leaves of the blossoms scattered by the Hours in the pathway of the four steeds of Helios, as they rose from the waves.

To day and at this hour the morning sunlight fell serenely on the tall cypresses upon the hill, the trees in the garden swayed in the soft breath of the morning breeze, and Xanthe nodded to them, for she thought the beautiful Dryads living in the trees were greeting each other.

Often, with a brief prayer, she laid flowers or a round cake on the altar that stood beside her seat, and which her ancestor had erected to the nymph of the spring--but today she had not come for this.

Then what brought her to the hill so early? Did she visit the spring to admire her own image in its mirror-like surface?

At home she was rarely permitted such an indulgence, for, whenever she looked in the polished metal-disk, Semestre used to say:

"If a girl often peers into such useless things, she'll certainly see a fool's image in them."

Forbidden things are charming, yet Xanthe rarely looked into this liquid mirror, though she might have enjoyed gazing at it frequently, for her figure was tall and slender as the trunk of a cypress, her thick fair hair glittered like gold, the oval of her face was exquisitely rounded, long lashes shaded the large blue eyes that could conceal no emotion which stirred her soul, and when she was alone seemed to ask: "What have the gods allotted for my future?" Yet in their gaze might often be read the answer "Something delightful, surely."

And yet Xanthe did not come to the spring to paint pictures of her future; on the contrary, she came to be sad, and shed tears unrebuked. She did not weep passionately, but the big salt drops welled slowly from her eyes and ran down her young cheeks, as drop after drop of shining sap flows down the trunk of a wounded birch-tree.

Yes, Xanthe felt very sorrowful, yet everything that surrounded her was so bright, and at her home laughter was rarely silent, while her own often rang out no less merrily than that of lively Chloris and dark- skinned Dorippe.

Her sick father, now slowly recovering, could refuse her nothing, and, if Semestre tried to do so, Xanthe usually succeeded in having her own way. There was no lack of festivals and joyous dances, and to none of her companions did the youths present more beautiful ribbons, to no one in the circle did they prefer to offer their hands. She was the fairest of all the maidens far and near, and Ismene, Phryxus's wife, had said that her laughter was gay enough to make a cripple dance. Ismene had a daughter herself just Xanthe's age, so it must probably have been true.

Then why, in the name of all the gods, was Xanthe sad?

Is any cause required to explain it?

Must a maiden have met with misfortune, to make her feel a longing to weep? Certainly not.

Nay, the gayest rattle-brain is the least likely to escape such a desire.

When the sky has long shone with unclouded splendor, and the air is so wonderfully clear that even the most distant mountain-peaks are distinctly visible, rain is not long delayed; and who can laugh heartily a long time without finally shedding tears like a mourner?

Whoever endures a severe though not the deepest affliction, whoever is permitted to reach the topmost summit of joy, and a girl who feels love- these three Heaven favors with the blessing of tears.

Had Eros's arrow struck Xanthe's young heart too?

It was possible, though she would not confess it even to herself, and only yesterday had denied it, without the quiver of an eyelash.

Yet, if she did love a youth, and for his sake had climbed to the spring, he must doubtless dwell in the reddish house, standing on a beautiful level patch of ground on the right of the brook, between the sea and the pool; for she glanced toward it again and again, and, except the servants, no one lived under its roof save the aged steward Jason, and Phaon, her uncle's son. Protarch himself had gone to Messina, with his own and her father's oil.

To age is allotted the alms of reverence, to youth the gift of love, and, of the three men who lived in the house on Xanthe's right-hand, only one could lay claim to such a gift, and he had an unusually good right to do so.

Xanthe was thinking of Phaon as she sat beside the spring, but her brow wore such a defiant frown that she did not bear the most distant resemblance to a maiden giving herself up to tender emotions.

Now the door of the reddish house opened, and, rising hastily, she looked toward it. A slave came cautiously out, bearing a large jar with handles, made of brown clay, adorned with black figures.

What had the high-shouldered graybeard done, that she stamped her foot so angrily on the ground, and buried the upper row of her snow-white teeth deep in her under-lip, as if stifling some pang?

No one is less welcome than the unbidden intruder, who meets us in the place of some one for whom we ardently long, and Xanthe did not wish to see the slave, but Phaon, his master's son.

She had nothing to say to the youth; she would have rushed away if he had ventured to seek her by the spring, but she wanted to see him, wanted to learn whether Semestre had told the truth, when she said Phaon intended to marry a wealthy heiress, whose hand his father was seeking in Messina. The house-keeper had declared the night before that he only wooed the


A Question - 4/13

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