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- A Question - 5/13 -
ugly creature for the sake of her money, and now took advantage of his father's absence to steal out of the house evening after evening, as soon as the fire was lighted on the hearth. And the fine night-bird did not return till long past sunrise, no doubt from mad revels with that crazy Hermias and other wild fellows from Syracuse. They probably understood how to loosen his slow tongue.
Then the old woman described what occurred at such banquets, and when she mentioned the painted flute-players, with whom the dissipated city youths squandered their fathers' money, and the old house-keeper called attention to the fact that Phaon already wandered about as stupidly and sleepily as if he were a docile pupil of the notorious Hermias, Xanthe fairly hated her, and almost forgot the respect she owed to her gray hair, and told her to her face she was a liar and slanderer.
But the girl had been unable to speak, for Phaon's secret courtship of the Messina heiress had deeply wounded her pride, and he really did look more weary and dreamy than usual.
Semestre's praises of her cousin, the young Leonax, Xanthe had heard as little as the chirping of the crickets on the hearth, and before the house-keeper had finished speaking she rose, and, without bidding her good-night, turned her back and left the women's apartment.
Ere lying down to rest in her own room, she paced up and down before her couch, then began to loosen her thick hair so carelessly that the violent pulling actually hurt her, and tied so tightly under her chin the pretty scarlet kerchief worn over her golden tresses at night to prevent them from tangling, that she was obliged to unfasten it again to keep from stifling.
The sandals, from which she had released her slender feet, and which, obedient to her dead mother's teaching, she usually placed beside the chair where her clothes lay smoothly folded, she flung into a corner of the room, still thinking of Phaon, the Messina heiress, and her playfellow's shameful conduct. She had intended to discover whether Semestre spoke the truth, and in the stillness of the night consider what she must do to ascertain how much Phaon was concerned in his father's suit.
But the god Morpheus willed otherwise, for scarcely had Xanthe laid down to rest, extinguished her little lamp, and wrapped herself closely in the woolen coverlet, when sleep overpowered her.
The young girl waked just before sunrise, instantly thought of Phaon, of the heiress, and of Semestre's wicked words, and hastily went out to the spring.
From there she could see whether her uncle's son returned home from the city with staggering steps, or would, as usual, come out of the house early in the morning to curry and water his brown steeds, which no slave was ever permitted to touch.
But he did not appear, and, in his place, the high-shouldered servant entered the court-yard.
If the young girl was usually sad here, because she liked to be melancholy, to-day grief pierced her heart like a knife, and the bit of white bread she raised to her lips because, with all her sorrow, she was hungry, tasted bitter, as if dipped in wormwood.
She had no need to salt it; the tears that fell on it did that.
Xanthe heard the house-keeper's calls, but did not obey immediately, and perhaps would not have heeded them at all if she had not noticed--yes, she was not mistaken--that, in the full meaning of the words, she had begun to weep like a chidden child.
She was weeping for anger; and soon it vexed her so much to think that she should cry, that fresh tears streamed down her cheeks.
But not many, for, ere her beautiful eyes grew red, they were dry again, as is the custom of eyes when they are young and see anything new.
Two children, a vineyard-watchman's son and a herdsman's little daughter, approached the spring, talking loudly together.
They had decked themselves with fresh, green vines twined about their necks and bosoms, and were now going to sail a little boat made of bark in the tiny, walled pool into which the spring flowed.
The boy had been the owner of the boat, but had given it to the little girl the day before, and now refused to deliver it, unless she would give him in exchange the shining shells her big brother had found, cleaned, and fastened around her little brown arm with a string. The boy persisted in his demand, stretching out his hand for the shells, while the little girl, with sobs and tears, defended herself.
Xanthe, unobserved by the children, became a witness of this contest between might and right, hastily stepped between the combatants, gave the boy a blow on the shoulder, took the boat away, handed it to the little maiden, and, turning to the latter, said:
"Now, play quietly together, and, if Syrus doesn't let you keep the boat and the shells, come to me, poor Stephanion."
So saying, she wiped the little girl's eyes with her own skirt, seized her by the shoulder, grasped the boy's black curls, pressed the two little ones toward each other with gentle violence, and commanded:
"Now, kiss each other!"
The little girl dutifully obeyed the bidding, but the kiss the boy gave his playmate strongly resembled a blow with the mouth.
Xanthe laughed merrily, turned her back on the children, and went slowly down into the valley.
During her walk all sorts of little incidents flashed through her mind with the speed of lightning; memories of the days when she herself was a little girl and Phaon had played with her daily, as the curly-headed Syrus now did with the herdsman's daughter.
But all the scenes swiftly conjured up before her mental vision were very different from that just witnessed.
Once, when she had said that the brook couldn't bear to the sea all the leaves and flowers she tossed in, Phaon only smiled quietly, but the next day she found, fastened to an axis, a wooden cross he had carved himself and fixed between some stones The stream swept against the broad surfaces of the spokes and forced it to turn constantly.
For weeks both enjoyed the successful toy, but he did not ask a word of thanks, nor did she utter any, only eagerly showed her pleasure, and that was enough for Phaon.
If she began to build a house of sand and stones with him, and it was not finished at once, when they went to play next day she found it roofed and supplied with a little garden, where twigs were stuck in the sand for trees, and red and blue buds for flowers. He had made the seat by the spring for her, and also the little steps on the seashore, by whose aid it was possible to enter dryshod the boat her playfellow had painted with brilliant hues of red and blue, because a neighbor's gay skiff had pleased her fancy.
She now thought of these and many similar acts, and that he had never promised her anything, only placed the finished article before her as a matter of course.
It had never entered his mind to ask compensation for his gifts or thanks for his acts, like curly-headed Syrus. Silently he rendered her service after service; but, unfortunately, at this hour Xanthe was not disposed to acknowledge it.
People grow angry with no one more readily than the person from whom they have received many favors which they are unable to repay; women, no matter whether young or old, resemble goddesses in the fact that they cheerfully accept every gift from a man as an offering that is their due, so long as they are graciously disposed toward the giver, but to-day Xanthe was inclined, to be vexed with her playmate.
A thousand joys and sorrows, shared in common, bound them to each other, and in the farthest horizons of her recollections lay an event which had given her affection for him a new direction. His mother and hers had died on the same day, and since then Xanthe had thought it her duty to watch over and care for him, at first, probably, only as a big live doll, afterward in a more serious way. And now he was deceiving her and going to ruin. Yet Phaon was so entirely different from the wild fellows in Syracuse.
From a child he had been one of those who act without many words. He liked to wander dreamily in lonely paths, with his large, dark eyes fixed on the ground.
He rarely spoke, unless questioned. Never did he boast of being able to accomplish, or having successfully performed, this or that feat.
He was silent at his work, and, even while engaged in merry games, set about a task slowly, but completed whatever he undertook.
He was welcome in the wrestling-ring and at the dance, for the youths respected his strength, grace, dexterity, and the quiet way in which he silenced wranglers and boasters; while the maidens liked to gaze into the handsome dreamer's eyes, and admired him, though even in the maddest whirl of the dance he remained passionless, moving lightly in perfect time to the measures of the tambourine and double flute.
True, many whom he forgot to notice railed at his silent ways, and even Xanthe had often been sorely vexed when his tongue failed to utter a single word of the significant stories told by his eyes. Ay, they under stood how to talk! When his deep, ardent gaze rested upon her, unwavering, but glowing and powerful as the lava-stream that sweeps every obstacle from its still, noiseless course, she believed he was not silent from poverty of mind and heart, but because the feelings that moved him were so mighty that no mortal lips could clothe them in words.
Nevertheless, to-day Xanthe was angry with her playfellow, and a maiden's wrath has two eyes--one blind, the other keener than a falcon's.
What she usually prized and valued in Phaon she now did not see at all, but distinguished every one of his defects.
True, he had shown her much affection without words, but he was certainly as mute as a fish, and would, doubtless, have boasted and asked for thanks like anybody else, if indolence had not fettered his stiff tongue.
Only a short time ago she was obliged to give her hand to lanky Iphis, because Phaon came forward too slowly. He was sleepy, a foolish dreamer, and she would tell him it would be better for him to stretch himself comfortably on his couch and continue to practise silence, rather than
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