"You are mistaken," replied Philippus gravely. "Not the least whisper of this matter reached my ears, and it is fortunate."
"Impossible!" Althea eagerly interrupted; "nothing else was talked of for weeks in the royal palace. Queen Arsinoe—you might be jealous, Lady Thyone—has been fairly in love with your hero ever since her last stay in your house on her way home from Thrace, and she has not yet given up her desire to see him in the capital as priest of Alexander. It seems to her just and fair that the old companion of the greatest of the great should have the highest place, next to her husband's, in the city whose foundation he witnessed. Arsinoe speaks of you also with all the affection natural to her feeling heart."
"This is as flattering as it is surprising," replied Thyone. "The attention we showed her in Pelusium was nothing more than we owed to the wife of the sovereign. But the court is not the principal attraction that draws me to the capital. It would make Philippus happy—you have just heard him say so—to remember his old master beside the tomb of Alexander."
"And," added Daphne, "how amazed you will be when you see the present form of the 'Soma', in which rests the golden coffin with the body of the divine hero whom the fortunate Philippus aided to conquer the world!"
"You are jesting," interrupted the old warrior. "I aided him only as the drops in the stream help to turn the wheel of the mill. As to his body, true, I marched at the head of the procession which bore it to Memphis and thence to Alexandria. In the Soma I was permitted to think of him with devout reverence, and meantime I felt as if I had again seen him with these eyes—exactly as he looked in the Egyptian fishing village of Rhacotis, which he transformed into your magnificent Alexandria. What a youth he was! Even what would have been a defect in others became a beauty in him. The powerful neck which supported his divine head was a little crooked; but what grace it lent him when he turned kindly to any one! One scarcely noticed it, and yet it was like the bend of a petitioner, and gave the wish which he expressed resistless power. When he stood erect, the sharpest eye could not detect it. Would that he could appear before me thus once more! Besides, the buildings which surrounded the golden coffin were nearly completed at the time of our departure."
"But the statues, reliefs, and mosaic work were lacking," said Hermon. "They were executed by Lysippus, Euphranor, and others of our greatest artists; the paintings by Apelles himself, Antiphilus, and Nicias. Only those who had won renown were permitted to take part in this work, and the Ares rushing to battle, created by our Myrtilus, can be seen among the others. The tomb of Alexander was not entirely completed until three years ago."
"At the same time as the Paneum," added Philotas, completing the sentence; and Althea, waving her beaker toward the old hero, remarked: "When you have your quarters in the royal palace with your crowned admirer, Arsinoe—which, I hope, will be very soon—I will be your guide."
"That office is already bestowed on me by the Lady Thyone," Daphne quietly replied.
"And you think that, in this case, obedience is the husband's duty?" cried the other, with a sneering laugh.
"It would only be the confirmation of a wise choice," replied Philippus, who disliked the Thracian's fawning manner.
Thyone, too, did not favour her, and had glanced indignantly at her when Althea made her rude remark. Now she turned to Daphne, and her plain face regained its pleasant expression as she exclaimed: "We really promised your father to let him show us the way, child; but, unfortunately, we are not yet in Alexandria and the Paneum."
"But you would set out to-morrow," Hermon protested, "if we could succeed in fitly describing what now awaits you there. There is only one Alexandria, and no city in the world can offer a more beautiful scene than is visible from the mountain in the Paneum gardens."
"Certainly not," protested the young hipparch, who had studied in Athens. "I stood on the Acropolis; I was permitted to visit Rhodes and Miletus—"
"And you saw nothing more beautiful there," cried Proclus. "The aristocratic Roman envoys, who left us a short time ago, admitted the same thing. They are just men, for the view from the Capitol of their growing city is also to be seen. When the King's command led me to the Tiber, many things surprised me; but, as a whole, how shall I compare the two cities? The older Rome, with her admirable military power: a barbarian who is just beginning to cultivate more refined manners—Alexandria: a rich, aristocratic Hellene who, like you, my young friend, completed her education in Ilissus, and unites to the elegant taste and intellect of the Athenian the mysterious thoughtfulness of the Egyptian, the tireless industry of the Jew, and the many-sided wisdom and brilliant magnificence of the other Oriental countries."
"But who disdains to dazzle the eyes with Asiatic splendour," interrupted Philotas.
"And yet what do we not hear about the unprecedented luxury in the royal palace!" growled the gray-haired warrior.
"Parsimony—the gods be praised!—no one need expect from our royal pair," Althea broke in; "but King Ptolemy uses his paternal wealth for very different purposes than glittering gems and golden chambers. If you disdain my guidance, honoured hero, at least accept that of some genuine Alexandrian. Then you will understand Proclus's apt simile. You ought to begin with the royal palaces in the Brucheium."
"No, no-with the harbour of Eunostus!" interrupted the grammateus.
"With the Soma!" cried the young hipparch, while Daphne wished to have the tour begin in the Paneum gardens.
"They were already laid out when we left Alexandria," said Thyone.
"And they have grown marvellously, as if creative Nature had doubled her powers in their behalf," Hermon added eagerly. "But man has also wrought amazing miracles here. Industrious hands reared an actual mountain. A winding path leads to the top, and when you stand upon the summit and look northward you at first feel like the sailor who steps on shore and hears the people speak a language which is new to him. It seems like a jumble of meaningless sounds until he learns, not only to understand the words, but also to distinguish the sentences. Temples and palaces, statues and columns appear everywhere in motley confusion. Each one, if you separate it from the whole and give it a careful examination, is worthy of inspection, nay, of admiration. Here are light, graceful creations of Hellenic, yonder heavy, sombre ones of Egyptian art, and in the background the exquisite azure of the eternal sea, which the marvellous structure of the heptastadium unites to the land; while on the island of Pharos the lighthouse of Sostratus towers aloft almost to the sky, and with a flood of light points out the way to mariners who approach the great harbour at night. Countless vessels are also at anchor in the Eunostus. The riches of the whole earth flow into both havens. And the life and movement there and in the inland harbour on Lake Mareotis, where the Nile boats land! From early until late, what a busy throng, what an abundance of wares—and how many of the most valuable goods are made in our own city! for whatever useful, fine, and costly articles industrial art produces are manufactured here. The roof has not yet been put on many a factory in which busy workers are already making beautiful things. Here the weaver's shuttle flies, yonder gold is spun around slender threads of sheep guts, elsewhere costly materials are embroidered by women's nimble fingers with the prepared gold thread. There glass is blown, or weapons and iron utensils are forged. Finely polished knives split the pith of the papyrus, and long rows of workmen and workwomen gum the strips together. No hand, no head is permitted to rest. In the Museum the brains of the great thinkers and investigators are toiling. Here, too, reality asserts its rights. The time for chimeras and wretched polemics is over. Now it is observing, fathoming, turning to account, nothing more!"
"Gently, my young friend," Proclus interrupted the artist. "I know that you, too, sat at the feet of some of the philosophers in the Museum, and still uphold the teachings of Straton, which your fellow-pupil, King Ptolemy, outgrew long ago. Yet he, also, recognised in philosophy, first of all, the bond which unites the widely sundered acquisitions of the intellect, the vital breath which pervades them, the touchstone which proves each true or false. If the praise of Alexandria is to be sung, we must not forget the library to which the most precious treasures of knowledge of the East and West are flowing, and which feeds those who thirst for knowledge with the intellectual gains of former ages and other nations. Honour, too, to our King, and, that I may be just, to his illustrious wife; for wherever in the Grecian world a friend of the Muses appears, whether he is investigator, poet, architect, sculptor, artist, actor, or singer, he is drawn to Alexandria, and, that he may not be idle, work is provided. Palaces spring from the earth quickly enough."
"Yet not like mushrooms," Hermon interrupted, "but as the noblest, most carefully executed creations of art-sculpture and painting provide for their decoration both without and within."
"And," Proclus went on, "abodes are erected for the gods as well as for men, both Egyptian and Hellenic divinities, each in their own style, and so beautiful that it must be a pleasure for them to dwell under the new roof."
"Go to the gardens of the Paneum, friends!" cried young Philotas; and Hermon, nodding to Thyone, added gaily: "Then you must climb the mountain and keep your eyes open while you are ascending the winding path. You will find enough to do to look at all the new sights. You will stand there with dry feet, but your soul will bathe in eternal, imperishable, divine beauty."
"The foe of beauty!" exclaimed Proclus, pointing to the sculptor with a scornful glance; but Daphne, full of joyous emotion, whispered to Hermon as he approached her: "Eternal, divine beauty! To hear it thus praised by you makes me happy."
"Yes," cried the artist, "what else should I call what has so often filled me with the deepest rapture? The Greek language has no more fitting expression for the grand and lofty things that hovered before me, and which I called by that chameleon of a word. Yet I have a different meaning from what appears before you at its sound. Were I to call it truth, you would scarcely understand me, but when I conjure before my soul the image of Alexandria, with all that springs from it, all that is moving, creating, and thriving with such marvellous freedom, naturalness, and variety within it, it is not alone the beauty that pleases the eye which delights me; I value more the sound natural growth, the genuine, abundant life. To truth, Daphne, as I mean it."
He raised his goblet as he spoke and drank to her.
She willingly pledged him, but, after removing her lips from the cup, she eagerly exclaimed: "Show it to us, with the mind which animates it, in perfect form, and I should not know wherein it was to be distinguished from the beauty which hitherto has been our highest goal."
Here the helmsman's loud shout, "The light of Pelusium!" interrupted the conversation. The bright glare from the lighthouse of this city was really piercing the misty night air, which for some time had again concealed the moon.
There was no further connected conversation, for the sea was now rising and falling in broad, leaden, almost imperceptible waves. The comfort of most of Philippus's guests was destroyed, and the ladies uttered a sigh of relief when they had descended from the lofty galley and the boats that conveyed them ashore, and their feet once more pressed the solid land. The party of travellers went to the commandant's magnificent palace to rest, and Hermon also retired to his room, but sleep fled from his couch.
No one on earth was nearer to his heart and mind than Daphne, and it often seemed as if her kind, loyal, yet firm look was resting upon him; but the memory of Ledscha also constantly forced itself upon his mind and stirred his blood. When he thought of the menacing fire of her dark eyes, she seemed to him as terrible as one of the unlovely creatures born of Night, the Erinyes, Apate, and Eris.
Then he could not help recalling their meetings in the grove of Astarte, her self-forgetting, passionate tenderness, and the wonderfully delicate beauty of her foreign type. True, she had never laughed in his presence; but what a peculiar charm there was in her smile! Had he really lost her entirely and forever? Would it not yet be possible to obtain her forgiveness and persuade her to pose as the model of his Arachne?
During the voyage to Pelusium he had caught Althea's eye again and again, and rejected as an insult her demand to give her his whole love. The success of the Arachne depended upon Ledscha, and on her alone. He had nothing good to expect from the Demeter, and during the nocturnal meditation, which shows everything in the darkest colours, his best plan seemed to be to destroy the unsuccessful statue and not exhibit it for the verdict of the judges.
But if he went to work again in Tennis to model the Arachne, did not love for Daphne forbid him to sue afresh for Ledscha's favour?
What a terrible conflict of feelings!
But perhaps all this might gain a more satisfactory aspect by daylight. Now he felt as though he had entangled himself in a snare. Besides, other thoughts drove sleep from his couch.
The window spaces were closed by wooden shutters, and whenever they moved with a low creaking or louder banging Hermon started and forgot everything else in anxiety about his invalid friend, whose suffering every strong wind brought on again, and often seriously increased.
Three times he sprang up from the soft wool, covered with linen sheets, and looked out to convince himself that no storm had risen. But, though masses of black clouds concealed the moon and stars, and the sea beat heavily against the solid walls of the harbour, as yet only a sultry breeze of no great strength blew on his head as he thrust it into the night air.
This weather could scarcely be dangerous to Myrtilus, yet when the morning relieved him from the torturing anxiety which he had found under his host's roof instead of rest and sleep, gray and black clouds were sweeping as swiftly over the port and the ramparts beside him as if they were already driven by a tempest, and warm raindrops besprinkled his face.
He went, full of anxiety, to take his bath, and, while committing the care of the adornment of his outer man to one of the household slaves, he determined that unless—as often happened in this country—the sun gained the victory over the clouds, he would return to Tennis and join Myrtilus.
In the hall of the men he met the rest of the old hero's guests.
They received him pleasantly enough, Althea alone barely noticed his greeting; she seemed to suspect in what way he thought of her.
Thyone and Daphne extended their hands to him all the more cordially.
Philippus did not appear until after breakfast. He had been detained by important despatches from Alexandria, and by questions and communications from Proclus. The latter desired to ascertain whether the influential warrior who commanded the most important fortress in the country could be persuaded to join a conspiracy formed by Arsinoe against her royal husband, but he seemed to have left Philippus with very faint hopes.
Subordinate officers and messengers also frequently claimed the commandant's attention. When the market place was filling, however, the sturdy old soldier kindly fulfilled his duties as host by offering to show his guests the sights of the fortified seaport.
Hermon also accompanied him at Daphne's side, but he made it easy for Philotas to engross her attention; for, though the immense thickness of the walls and the arrangement of the wooden towers which, crowned with battlements, rose at long intervals, seemed to him also well worth seeing, he gave them only partial attention.
While Philippus was showing the guests how safely the archers and slingers could be concealed behind the walls and battlements and discharge their missiles, and explaining the purpose of the great catapults on the outermost dike washed by the sea, the artist was listening to the ever-increasing roar of the waves which poured into the harbour from the open sea, to their loud dashing against the strong mole, to the shrill scream of the sea gulls, the flapping of the sails, which were being taken in everywhere—in short, to all the sounds occasioned by the rising violence of the wind.
There were not a few war ships in the port and among them perfect giants of amazing size and unusual construction, but Hermon had already seen many similar ones.
When, shortly after noon, the sun for a few brief moments pierced with scorching rays the dark curtain that shrouded it from sight, and then suddenly dense masses of clouds, driven from the sea by the tempest, covered the day star, his eyes and cars were engrossed entirely by the uproar of the elements.
The air darkened as if night was falling at this noontide hour, and with savage fury the foaming mountain waves rushed like mad wild beasts in fierce assault upon the mole, the walls, and the dikes of the fortified port.
"Home!" cried Thyone, and again entered the litter which she had left to inspect the new catapults.
Althea, trembling, drew her peplos together as the storm swept her light figure before it, and, shrieking, struggled against the black slaves who tried to lift her upon the war elephant which had borne her here.
Philotas gave his arm to Daphne. Hermon had ceased to notice her; he had just gone to his gray-haired host with the entreaty that he would give him a ship for the voyage to Tennis, where Myrtilus would need his assistance.
"It is impossible in such weather," was the reply.
"Then I will ride!" cried Hermon resolutely, and Philippus scanned the son of his old friend and companion in arms with an expression of quiet satisfaction in his eyes, still sparkling brightly, and answered quickly, "You shall have two horses, my boy, and a guide who knows the road besides."
Then, turning swiftly to one of the officers who accompanied him, he ordered him to provide what was necessary.
When, soon after, in the impluvium, the tempest tore the velarium that covered the open space from its rings, and the ladies endeavoured to detain Hermon, Philippus silenced them with the remark:
"A disagreeable ride is before him, but what urges him on is pleasing to the gods. I have just ventured to send out a carrier dove," he added, turning to the artist, "to inform Myrtilus that he may expect you before sunset. The storm comes from the cast, otherwise it would hardly reach the goal. Put even if it should be lost, what does it matter?"
Thyone nodded to her old husband with a look of pleasure, and her eyes shone through tears at Hermon as she clasped his hand and, remembering her friend, his mother, exclaimed: "Go, then, you true son of your father, and tell your friend that we will offer sacrifices for his welfare."
"A lean chicken to Aesculapius," whispered the grammateus to Althea. "She holds on to the oboli."
"Which, at any rate, would be hard enough to dispose of in this wretched place unless one were a dealer in weapons or a thirsty sailor," sighed the Thracian. "As soon as the sky and sea are blue again, chains could not keep me here. And the cooing around this insipid rich beauty into the bargain!"
This remark referred to Philotas, who was just offering Daphne a magnificent bunch of roses, which a mounted messenger had brought to him from Alexandria.
The girl received it with a grateful glance, but she instantly separated one of the most beautiful blossoms from its companions and handed it to Hermon, saying, "For our suffering friend, with my affectionate remembrances."
The artist pressed her dear hand with a tender look of love, intended to express how difficult it was for him to leave her, and when, just at that moment, a slave announced that the horses were waiting, Thyone whispered: "Have no anxiety, my son! Your ride away from her through the tempest will bring you a better reward than his slave's swift horse will bear the giver of the roses."
Hermon, with the rose for his friend fastened in the breast folds of his chiton, mounted his horse gratefully, and his companion, a sinewy, bronzed Midianite, who was also to attend to the opening of the fortress gates, did the same.
Before reaching the open country the sculptor had to ride through the whole city, with which he was entirely unfamiliar. Fiercely as the storm was sweeping down the streets and squares, and often as the horseman was forced to hold on to his travelling hat and draw his chlamys closer around him, he felt the anxieties which had made his night sleepless and saddened his day suddenly leave him as if by a miracle. Was it the consciousness of having acted rightly? was it the friendly farewell which Daphne had given him, and the hope Thyone had aroused, or the expectation of seeing Ledscha once more, and at least regaining her good will, that had restored his lost light-heartedness? He did not know himself, nor did he desire to know.
While formerly he had merely glanced carelessly about him in Pelusium, and only half listened to the explanations given by the veteran's deep voice, now whatever he saw appeared in clear outlines and awakened his interest, in spite of the annoyances caused by the storm.
Had he not known that he was in Pelusium, it would have been difficult for him to determine whether the city he was crossing was an Egyptian, a Hellenic, or a Syrian one; for here rose an ancient temple of the time of the Pharaohs, with obelisks and colossal statues before the lofty pylons, yonder the sanctuary of Poseidon, surrounded by stately rows of Doric columns, and farther on the smaller temple dedicated to the Dioscuri, and the circular Grecian building that belonged to Aphrodite.
In another spot, still close to the harbour, he saw the large buildings consecrated to the worship of the Syrian Baal and Astarte.
Here he was obliged to wait awhile, for the tempest had excited the war elephants which were returning from their exercising ground, and their black keepers only succeeded with the utmost difficulty in restraining them. Shrieking with fear, the few persons who were in the street besides the soldiers, that were everywhere present, scattered before the huge, terrified animals.
The costume and appearance of the citizens, too, gave no clew to the country to which the place belonged; there were as many Egyptians among them as Greeks, Syrians, and negroes. Asiatics appeared in the majority only in the market place, where the dealers were just leaving their stands to secure their goods from the storm. In front of the big building where the famous Pelusinian xythus beer was brewed, the drink was being carried away in jugs and wineskins, in ox-carts and on donkeys. Here, too, men were loading camels, which were rarely seen in Egypt, and had been introduced there only a short time before.
How forcibly all these things riveted Hermon's attention, now that no one was at hand to explain them and no delay was permitted! He scarcely had time for recollection and expectation.
Finally, the last gate was unlocked, and the ramparts and moats lay behind him.
Thus far the wind had kept back the rain, and only scattered drops lashed the riders' faces; but as soon as they entered the open country, it seemed as though the pent-up floods burst the barriers which retained them above, and a torrent of water such as only those dry regions know rushed, not in straight or slanting lines, but in thick streams, whirled by the hurricane, upon the marshy land which stretched from Pelusium to Tennis, and on the horsemen.
The road led along a dike raised above fields which, at this season of the year, were under water, and Hermon's companion knew it well.
For a time both riders allowed themselves to be drenched in silence. The water ran down upon them from their broad-brimmed hats, and their dripping horses trotted with drooping heads and steaming flanks one behind the other until, at the very brick-kiln where Ledscha had recalled her widowed sister's unruly slaves to obedience, the guide stopped with an oath, and pointed to the water which had risen to the top of the dam, and in some places concealed the road from their eyes.
Now it was no longer possible to trot, for the guide was obliged to seek the traces of the dike with great caution. Meanwhile the force of the pouring rain by no means lessened—nay, it even seemed to increase—and the horses were already wading in water up to their fetlocks.
But if the votive stones, the little altars and statues of the gods, the bushes and single trees along the sides of the dike road were overflowed while the travellers were in the region of the marsh, they would be obliged to interrupt their journey, for the danger of sinking into the morass with their horses would then threaten them.
Even at the brick-kiln travellers, soldiers, and trains of merchandise had stopped to wait for the end of the cloud-burst.
In front of the farmhouse, too, which Hermon and his companion next reached, they saw dozens of people seeking shelter, and the Midianite urged his master to join them for a short time at least. The wisest course here was probably to yield, and Hermon was already turning his horse's head toward the house when a Greek messenger dashed past the beckoning refuge and also by him.
"Do you dare to ride farther?" the artist shouted in a tone of warning inquiry to the man on the dripping bay, and the latter, without pausing, answered: "Duty! On business for the King!"
Then Hermon turned his steed back toward the road, beat the water from his soaked beard with the edge of his hand, and with a curt "Forward!" announced his decision to his companion. Duty summoned him also, and what another risked for the King he would not fail to do for his friend.
The Midianite, shaking his head, rode angrily after him; but, though the violence of the rain was lessening, the wind began to blow with redoubled force, beating and lashing the boundless expanse of the quickly formed lake with such savage fury that it rolled in surges like the sea, and sweeping over it dense clouds of foam like the sand waves tossed by the desert tempests.
Sometimes moaning, sometimes whistling, the gusts of the hurricane drove the water and the travellers before it, while the rain poured from the sky to the earth, and wherever it struck splashed upward, making little whirlpools and swiftly breaking bubbles.
What might not Myrtilus suffer in this storm! This thought strengthened Hermon's courage to twice ride past other farmhouses which offered shelter. At the third the horse refused to wade farther in such a tempest, so there was nothing to be done except spring off and lead it to the higher ground which the water had not yet reached.
The interior of the peasant hut was filled with people who had sought shelter there, and the stifling atmosphere which the artist felt at the door induced him to remain outside.
He had stood there dripping barely fifteen minutes when loud shouts and yells were heard on the road from Pelusium by which he had come, and upon the flooded dike appeared a body of men rushing forward with marvellous speed.
The nearer they came the fiercer and more bewildering sounded the loud, shrill medley of their frantic cries, mingled with hoarse laughter, and the spectacle presented to the eyes was no less rough and bold.
The majority seemed to be powerful men. Their complexions were as light as the Macedonians; their fair, red, and brown locks were thick, unkempt, and bristling. Most of the reckless, defiantly bold faces were smooth-shaven, with only a mustache on the upper lip, and sometimes a short imperial. All carried weapons, and a fleece covered the shoulders of many, while chains, ornamented with the teeth of animals, hung on their white muscular chests.
"Galatians," Hermon heard one man near him call to another. "They came to the fortress as auxiliary troops. Philippus forbade them to plunder on pain of death, and showed them—the gods be thanked!—that he was in earnest. Otherwise it would soon look here as though the plagues of locusts, flood, and fire had visited us at once. Red-haired men are not the only sons of Typhon!"
And Hermon thought that he had indeed never seen any human beings equally fierce, bold to the verge of reckless madness, as these Gallic warriors. The tempest which swept them forward, and the water through which they waded, only seemed to increase their enjoyment, for sheer delight rang in their exulting shouts and yells.
Oh, yes! To march amid this uproar of the elements was a pleasure to the healthy men. It afforded them the rarest, most enlivening delight. For a long time nothing had so strongly reminded them of the roaring of the wind and the rushing of the rain in their northern home. It seemed a delicious relief, after the heat and dryness of the south, which they had endured with groans.
When they perceived the eyes fixed upon them they swung their weapons, arched their breasts with conscious vanity, distorted their faces into terrible threatening grimaces, or raised bugle horns to their lips, drew from them shrill, ear-piercing notes and gloated, with childish delight, in the terror of the gaping crowd, on whom the restraint of authority sternly forbade them to show their mettle.
Lust of rapine and greed for booty glittered in many a fiery, longing look, but their leaders kept them in check with the sword. So they rushed on without stopping, like a thunderstorm pregnant with destruction which the wind drives over a terrified village.
Hermon also had to take the road they followed, and, after giving the Gauls a long start, he set out again.
But though he succeeded in passing the marshy region without injury, there had been delay after delay; here the horses had left the flooded dike road and floundered up to their knees in the morass, there trees from the roadside, uprooted by the storm, barred the way.
As night closed in the rain ceased and the wind began to subside, but dark clouds covered the sky, and the horsemen were still an hour's ride from the place where the road ended at the little harbour from which travellers entered the boat which conveyed them to Tennis.
The way no longer led through the marsh, but through tilled lands, and crossed the ditches which irrigated the fields on wooden bridges.
On their account, in the dense darkness which prevailed, caution was necessary, and this the guide certainly did not lack. He rode at a slow walk in front of the artist, and had just pointed out to him the light at the landing place of the boat which went to Tennis, when Hermon was suddenly startled by a loud cry, followed by clattering and splashing.
With swift presence of mind he sprang from his horse and found his conjecture verified. The bridge had broken down, and horse and rider had fallen into the broad canal.
"The Galatians!" reached Hermon from the dark depths, and the exclamation relieved him concerning the fate of the Midianite.
The latter soon struggled up to the road uninjured. The bridge must have given way under the feet of the savage horde, unless the Gallic monsters, with brutal malice, had intentionally shattered it.
The first supposition, however, seemed to be the correct one, for as Hermon approached the canal he heard moans of pain. One of the Gauls had apparently met with an accident in the fall of the bridge and been deserted by his comrades. With the skill acquired in the wrestling school, Hermon descended into the canal to look for the wounded man, while his guide undertook to get the horses ashore.
The deep darkness considerably increased the difficulty of carrying out his purpose, but the young Greek went up to his neck in the water he could not become wetter than he was already. So he remained in the ditch until he found the injured man whose groans of suffering pierced his compassionate heart.
He was obliged to release the luckless Gaul from the broken timbers of the bridge, and, when Hermon had dragged him out on the opposite bank of the canal, he made no answer to any question. A falling beam had probably struck him senseless.
His hair, which Hermon's groping fingers informed him was thick and rough, seemed to denote a Gaul, but a full, long beard was very rarely seen in this nation, and the wounded man wore one. Nor could anything be discovered from the ornaments or weapons of this fierce barbarian.
But to whatever people he might belong, he certainly was not a Greek. The thoroughly un-Hellenic wrapping up of the legs proved that.
No matter! Hermon at any rate was dealing with some one who was severely injured, and the self-sacrificing pity with which even suffering animals inspired him, and which in his boyhood had drawn upon him the jeers of the companions of his own age, did not abandon him now.
Reluctantly obeying his command, the Midianite helped him bandage the sufferer's head, in which a wound could be felt, as well as it could be done in the darkness, and lift him on the artist's horse. During this time fresh groans issued from the bearded lips of the injured warrior, and Hermon walked by his side, guarding the senseless man from the danger of falling from the back of the horse as it slowly followed the Midianite's.
This tiresome walk, however, did not last long; the landing place was reached sooner than Hermon expected, and the ferryboat bore the travellers and the horses to Tennis.
By the flickering light of the captain's lantern it was ascertained that the wounded man, in spite of his long dark beard, was probably a Gaul. The stupor was to be attributed to the fall of a beam on his head, and the shock, rather than to the wound. The great loss of blood sustained by the young and powerful soldier had probably caused the duration of the swoon.
During the attempts at resuscitation a sailor boy offered his assistance. He carefully held the lantern, and, as its flickering light fell for brief moments upon the artist's face, the lad of thirteen or fourteen asked if he was Hermon of Alexandria.
A curt "If you will permit," answered the question, considered by the Hellenes an unseemly one, especially from such a youth; but the sculptor paid no further attention to him, for, while devoting himself honestly to the wounded man, his anxiety about his invalid friend increased, and Ledscha's image also rose again before him.
At last the ferryboat touched the land, and when Hermon looked around for the lad he had already leaped ashore, and was just vanishing in the darkness.
It was probably within an hour of midnight.
The gale was still blowing fiercely over the water, driving the black clouds across the dark sky, sometimes with long-drawn, wailing sounds, sometimes with sharp, whistling ones. The rain had wholly ceased, and seemed to have exhausted itself here in the afternoon.
As Archias's white house was a considerable distance from the landing place of the ferryboat, Hermon had the wounded warrior carried to it by Biamite sailors, and again mounted his horse to ride to Myrtilus at as swift a trot as the soaked, wretched, but familiar road would permit.
Considerable time had been spent in obtaining a litter for the Gaul, yet Hermon was surprised to meet the lad who had questioned him so boldly on the ferryboat coming, not from the landing place, but running toward it again from the city, and then saw him follow the shore, carrying a blazing torch, which he waved saucily. The wind blew aside the flame and smoke which came from the burning pitch, but it shone brightly through the gloom and permitted the boy to be distinctly seen. Whence had the nimble fellow come so quickly? How had he succeeded, in this fierce gale, in kindling the torch so soon into a powerful flame? Was it not foolish to let a child amuse itself in the middle of the night with so dangerous a toy?
Hermon hastily thought over these questions, but the supposition that the light of the torch might be intended for a signal did not occur to him.
Besides, the boy and the light in his hand occupied his mind only a short time. He had better things to think of. With what longing Myrtilus must now be expecting his arrival! But the Gaul needed his aid no less urgently than his friend. Accurately as he knew what remedies relieved Myrtilus in severe attacks of illness, he could scarcely dispense with an assistant or a leech for the other, and the idea swiftly flashed upon him that the wounded man would afford him an opportunity of seeing Ledscha again.
She had told him more than once about the healing art possessed by old Tabus on the Owl's Nest. Suppose he should now seek the angry girl to entreat her to speak to the aged miracle-worker in behalf of the sorely wounded young foreigner?
Here he interrupted himself; something new claimed his attention.
A dim light glimmered through the intense darkness from a bit of rising ground by the wayside. It came from the Temple of Nemesis—a pretty little structure belonging to the time of Alexander the Great, which he had often examined with pleasure. Several steps led to the anteroom, supported by Ionic columns, which adjoined the naos.
Two lamps were burning at the side of the door leading into the little open cella, and at the back of the consecrated place the statue of the winged goddess was visible in the light of a small altar fire.
In her right hand she held the bridle and scourge, and at her feet stood the wheel, whose turning indicates the influence exerted by her power upon the destiny of mortals. With stern severity that boded evil, she gazed down upon her left forearm, bent at the elbow, which corresponds with the ell, the just measure.
Hermon certainly now, if ever, lacked both time and inclination to examine again this modest work of an ordinary artist, yet he quickly stopped his weary horse; for in the little pronaos directly in front of the cella door stood a slender figure clad in a long floating dark robe, extending its hands through the cella door toward the statue in fervent prayer. She was pressing her brow against the left post of the door, but at her feet, on the right side, cowered another figure, which could scarcely be recognised as a human being.
This, too, was a woman.
Deeply absorbed in her own thoughts, she was also extending her arms toward the statue of Nemesis.
Hermon knew them both.
At first he fancied that his excited imagination was showing him a threatening illusion. But no!
The erect figure was Ledscha, the crouching one Gula, the sailor's wife whose child he had rescued from the flames, and who had recently been cast out by her husband.
"Ledscha!" escaped his lips in a muttered tone, and he involuntarily extended his hands toward her as she was doing toward the goddess.
But she did not seem to hear him, and the other woman also retained the same attitude, as if hewn from stone.
Then he called the supplicant's name loud tone, and the next instant still more loudly; and now she turned, and, in the faint light of the little lamp, showed the marvellously noble outlines of her profile. He called again, and this time Ledscha heard anguished yearning in his deep tones; but they seemed to have lost their influence over her, for her large dark eyes gazed at him so repellently and sternly that a cold tremor ran down his spine.
Swinging himself from his horse, he ascended the steps of the temple, and in the most tender tones at his command exclaimed: "Ledscha! Severely as I have offended you, Ledscha—oh, do not say no! Will you hear me?"
"No!" she answered firmly, and, before he could speak, continued: "This place is ill chosen for another meeting! Your presence is hateful to me! Do not disturb me a moment longer!"
"As you command," he began hesitatingly; but she swiftly interrupted with the question, "Do you come from Pelusium, and are you going directly home?"
"I did not heed the storm on account of Myrtilus's illness," he answered quietly, "and if you demand it, I will return home at once; but first let me make one more entreaty, which will be pleasing also to the gods."
"Get your response from yonder deity!" she impatiently interrupted, pointing with a grand, queenly gesture, which at any other time would have delighted his artist eye, to the statue of Nemesis in the cella.
Meanwhile Gula had also turned her face toward Hermon, and he now addressed her, saying with a faint tone of reproach: "And did hatred lead you also, Gula, to this sanctuary at midnight to implore the goddess to destroy me in her wrath?"
The young mother rose and pointed to Ledscha, exclaiming, "She desires it."
"And I?" he asked gently. "Have I really done you so much evil?"
She raised her hand to her brow as if bewildered; her glance fell on the artist's troubled face, and lingered there for a short time. Then her eyes wandered to Ledscha, and from her to the goddess, and finally back again to the sculptor. Meanwhile Hermon saw how her young figure was trembling, and, before he had time to address a soothing-word to her, she sobbed aloud, crying out to Ledscha: "You are not a mother! My child, he rescued it from the flames. I will not, and I can not—I will no longer pray for his misfortune!"
She drew her veil over her pretty, tear-stained face as she spoke, and darted lightly down the temple steps close beside him to seek shelter in her parents' house, which had been unwillingly opened to the cast-off wife, but now afforded her a home rich in affection.
Immeasurably bitter scorn was depicted in Ledscha's features as she gazed after Gula. She did not appear to notice Hermon, and when at last he appealed to her and briefly urged her to ask the old enchantress on the Owl's Nest for a remedy for the wounded Gaul, she again leaned against the post of the cella door, extended both arms with passionate fervour toward the goddess, and remained standing there motionless, deaf to his petition.
His blood seethed in his veins, and he was tempted to go nearer and force her to hear him; but before he had ascended the first of the flight of steps leading to the pronaos, he heard the footsteps of the men who were bearing the wounded warrior after him.
They must not see him here with one of their countrywomen at this hour, and manly pride forbade him to address her again as a supplicant.
So he went back to the road, mounted his horse, and rode on without vouchsafing a word of farewell to the woman who was invoking destruction upon his head. As he did so his eyes again rested on the stern face of Nemesis, and the wheel whose turning determined the destiny of men at her feet.
Assailed by horrible fears, and overpowered by presentiments of evil, he pursued his way through the darkness.
Perhaps Myrtilus had succumbed to the terrible attack which must have visited him in such a storm, and life without his friend would be bereft of half its charm. Orphaned, poor, a struggler who had gained no complete victory, it had been rich only in disappointments to him, in spite of his conviction that he was a genuine artist, and was fighting for a good cause. Now he knew that he had also lost the woman by whose assistance he was certain of a great success in his own much-disputed course, and Ledscha, if any one, was right in expecting a favourable hearing from the goddess who punished injustice.
He did not think of Daphne again until he was approaching the place where her tents had stood, and the remembrance of her fell like a ray of light into his darkened soul.
Yet on that spot had also been erected the wooden platform from which Althea had showed him the transformation into the spider, and the recollection of the foolish error into which the Thracian had drawn him disagreeably clouded the pleasant thought of Daphne.
Complete darkness enfolded the white house. Hermon saw only two windows lighted, the ones in his friend's studio, which looked out into the open square, while his own faced the water.
What did this mean?
It must be nearly midnight, and he could no longer expect Myrtilus to be still at work. He had supposed that he should find him in his chamber, supported by his slaves, struggling for breath. What was the meaning of the light in the workrooms now?
Where was his usually efficient Bias? He never went to rest when his master was to return home, yet the carrier dove must have announced his coming!
But Hermon had also enjoined the care of Myrtilus upon the slave, and he was undoubtedly beside the sufferer's couch, supporting him in the same way that he had often seen his master.
He was now riding across the open space, and he heard the men who carried the Gaul talking close behind him.
Was the wounded barbarian the sole acquisition of this journey?
The beat of his horse's hoofs and the voices of the Biamites echoed distinctly enough amid the stillness of the night, which was interrupted only by the roaring of the wind. And this disturbance of the deep silence around had entered the lighted windows before him, for a figure appeared at one of them, and—could he believe his own eyes?—Myrtilus looked down into the square, and a joyous welcome rang from his lips as loudly as in his days of health.
The darkness of the night suddenly seemed to Hermon to be illumined. A leap to the ground, two bounds up the steps leading to the house, an eager rush through the corridor that separated him from the room in which Myrtilus was, the bursting instead of opening of the door, and, as if frantic with happy surprise, he impetuously embraced his friend, who, burin and file in hand, was just approaching the threshold, and kissed his brow and cheeks in the pure joy of his heart.
Then what questions, answers, tidings! In spite of the torrents of rain and the gale, the invalid's health had been excellent. The solitude had done him good. He knew nothing about the carrier dove. The hurricane had probably "blown it away," as the breeders of the swift messengers said.
Question and reply now followed one another in rapid succession, and both were soon acquainted with everything worth knowing; nay, Hermon had even delivered Daphne's rose to his friend, and informed him what had befallen the Gaul who was being brought into the house.
Bias and the other slaves had quickly appeared, and Hermon soon rendered the wounded man the help he needed in an airy chamber in the second story of the house, which, owing to the heat that prevailed in summer so close under the roof, the slaves had never occupied.
Bias assisted his master with equal readiness and skill, and at last the Gaul opened his eyes and, in the language of his country, asked a few brief questions which were incomprehensible to the others. Then, groaning, he again closed his lids.
Hitherto Hermon had not even allowed himself time to look around his friend's studio and examine what he had created during his absence. But, after perceiving that his kind act had not been in vain, and consuming with a vigorous appetite the food and wine which Bias set before him, he obliged Myrtilus—for another day was coming—to go to rest, that the storm might not still prove hurtful to him.
Yet he held his friend's hand in a firm clasp for a long time, and, when the latter at last prepared to go, he pressed it so closely that it actually hurt Myrtilus. But he understood his meaning, and, with a loving glance that sank deep into Hermon's heart, called a last good night.
After two sleepless nights and the fatiguing ride which he had just taken, the sculptor felt weary enough; but when he laid his hand on the Gaul's brow and breast, and felt their burning heat, he refused Bias's voluntary offer to watch the sufferer in his place.
If to amuse or forget himself he had caroused far more nights in succession in Alexandria, why should he not keep awake when the object in question was to wrest a young life from the grasp of death? This man and his life were now his highest goal, and he had never yet repented his foolish eccentricity of imposing discomforts upon himself to help the suffering.
Bias, on his part, was very willing to go to rest. He had plenty of cause for weariness; Myrtilus's unscrupulous body-servant had stolen off with the other slaves the night before, and did not return, with staggering gait, until the next morning, but, in order to keep his promise to his master, he had scarcely closed his eyes, that he might be at hand if Myrtilus should need assistance.
So Bias fell asleep quickly enough in his little room in the lower story, while his master, by the exertion of all his strength of will, watched beside the couch of the Gaul.
Yet, after the first quarter of an hour, his head, no matter how he struggled to prevent it, drooped again and again upon his breast. But just as slumber was completely overpowering him his patient made him start up, for he had left his bed, and when Hermon, fully roused, looked for him, was standing in the middle of the room, gazing about him.
The artist thought that fever had driven the wounded warrior from his couch, as it formerly did his fellow-pupil Lycon, whom, in the delirium of typhus, he could keep in bed only by force. So he led the Gaul carefully back to the couch he had deserted, and, after moistening the bandage with healing balm from Myrtilus's medicine chest, ordered him to keep quiet.
The barbarian yielded as obediently as a child, but at first remained in a sitting posture and asked, in scarcely intelligible broken Greek, how he came to this place.
After Hermon had satisfied his curiosity, he also put a few questions, and learned that his charge not only wore a mustache, like his fellow countrymen, but also a full beard, because the latter was the badge of the bridge builders, to which class he belonged. While examining the one crossing the canal, it had fallen in upon him.
He closed his eyes as he spoke, and Hermon wondered if it was not time for him to lie down also; but the wounded man's brow was still burning, and the Gallic words which he constantly muttered were probably about the phantoms of fever, which Hermon recognised from Lycon's illness.
So he resolved to wait and continue to devote the night, which he had already intended to give him, to the sufferer. From the chair at the foot of the bed he looked directly into his face. The soft light of the lamp, which with two others hung from a tall, heavy bronze stand in the shape of an anchor, which Bias had brought, shone brightly enough to allow him to perceive how powerful was the man whose life he had saved. His own face was scarcely lighter in hue than the barbarian's, and how sharp was the contrast between his long, thick black beard and his white face and bare arched chest!
Hermon had noticed this same contrast in his own person. Otherwise the Gaul did not resemble him in a single feature, and he might even have refused to compare his soft, wavy beard with the harsh, almost bristly one of the barbarian. And what a defiant, almost evil expression his countenance wore when—perhaps because his wound ached—he closed his lips more firmly! The children who so willingly let him, Hermon, take them in his arms would certainly have been afraid of this savage-looking fellow.
Yet in build, and at any rate in height and breadth of shoulders, there was some resemblance between him and the Gaul.
As a bridge builder, the injured man belonged, in a certain sense, to the ranks of the artists, and this increased Hermon's interest in his patient, who was now probably out of the most serious danger.
True, the Greek still cast many a searching glance at the barbarian, but his eyes closed more and more frequently, and at last the idea took possession of him that he himself was the wounded man on the couch, and some one else, who again was himself, was caring for him.
He vainly strove to understand the impossibility of this division of his own being, but the more eagerly he did so the greater became his bewilderment.
Suddenly the scene changed; Ledscha had appeared.
Bending over him, she lavished words of love; but when, in passionate excitement, he sprang from the couch to draw her toward him, she changed into the Nemesis to whose statue she had just prayed.
He stood still as if petrified, and the goddess, too, did not stir. Only the wheel which had rested at her feet began to move, and rolled, with a thundering din, sometimes around him, sometimes around the people who, as if they had sprung from the ground, formed a jeering company of spectators, and clapped their hands, laughed, and shouted whenever it rolled toward him and he sprang back in fear.
Meanwhile the wheel constantly grew larger, and seemed to become heavier, for the wooden beams over which it rolled splintered, crashing like thin laths, and the spectators' shouts of applause sounded ruder and fiercer.
Then mortal terror suddenly seized him, and while he shouted for help to Myrtilus, Daphne, and her father Archias, his slave Bias, the old comrade of Alexander, Philippus, and his wife, he awoke, bathed in perspiration, and looked about him.
But he must still be under the spell of the horrible dream, for the rattling and clattering around him continued, and the bed where the wounded Gaul had lain was empty.
Hermon involuntarily dipped his hand into the water which stood ready to wet the bandages, and sprinkled his own face with it; but if he had ever beheld life with waking eyes, he was doing so now. Yet the barbarian had vanished, and the noise in the house still continued.
Was it possible that rats and mice—? No! That was the shriek of a terrified human being—that a cry for help! This sound was the imperious command of a rough man's voice, that—no, he was not mistaken—that was his own name, and it came from the lips of his Myrtilus, anxiously, urgently calling for assistance.
Then he suddenly realized that the white house had been attacked, that his friend must be rescued from robbers or the fury of a mob of Biamites, and, like the bent wood of a projectile when released from the noose which holds it to the ground, the virile energy that characterized him sprang upward with mighty power. The swift glance that swept the room was sent to discover a weapon, and before it completed the circuit Hermon had already grasped the bronze anchor with the long rod twined with leaves and the teeth turned downward. Only one of the three little vessels filled with oil that hung from it was burning. Before swinging the heavy standard aloft, he freed it from the lamps, which struck the floor with a clanging noise.
The man to whom he dealt a blow with this ponderous implement would forget to rise. Then, as if running for a prize in the gymnasium, he rushed through the darkness to the staircase, and with breathless haste groped his way down the narrow, ladderlike steps. He felt himself an avenging, punishing power, like the Nemesis who had pursued him in his dreams. He must wrest the friend who was to him the most beloved of mortals from the rioters. To defeat them himself seemed a small matter. His shout—"I am coming, Myrtilus! Snuphis, Bias, Dorcas, Syrus! here, follow me!" was to summon the old Egyptian doorkeeper and the slaves, and inform his friend of the approach of a deliverer.
The loudest uproar echoed from his own studio. Its door stood wide open, and black smoke, mingled with the deep red and yellow flames of burning pitch, poured from it toward him.
"Myrtilus!" he shouted at the top of his voice as he leaped across the threshold into the tumult which filled the spacious apartment, at the same time clashing the heavy iron anchor down upon the head of the broad-shouldered, half-naked fellow who was raising a clumsy lance against him.
The pirate fell as though struck by lightning, and he again shouted "Myrtilus!" into the big room, so familiar to him, where the conflict was raging chaotically amid a savage clamour, and the smoke did not allow him to distinguish a single individual.
For the second time he swung the terrible weapon, and it struck to the floor the monster with a blackened face who had rushed toward him, but at the same time the anchor broke in two.
Only a short metal rod remained in his hand, and, while he raised his arm, determined to crush the temples of the giant carrying a torch who sprang forward to meet him, it suddenly seemed as if a vulture with glowing plumage and burning beak was attacking his face, and the terrible bird of prey was striking its hard, sharp, red-hot talons more and more furiously into his lips, cheeks, and eyes.
At first a glare as bright as sunshine had flashed before his gaze; then, where he had just seen figures and things half veiled by the smoke, he beheld only a scarlet surface, which changed to a violet, and finally a black spot, followed by a violet-blue one, while the vulture continued to rend his face with beak and talons.
Then the name "Myrtilus!" once more escaped his lips; this time, however, it did not sound like the encouraging shout of an avenging hero, but the cry for aid of one succumbing to defeat, and it was soon followed by a succession of frantic outbursts of suffering, terror, and despair.
But now sharp whistles from the water shrilly pierced the air and penetrated into the darkened room, and, while the tumult around Hermon gradually died away, he strove, tortured by burning pain, to grope his way toward the door; but here his foot struck against a human body, there against something hard, whose form he could not distinguish, and finally a large object which felt cool, and could be nothing but his Demeter.
But she seemed doomed to destruction, for the smoke was increasing every moment, and constantly made his open wounds smart more fiercely.
Suddenly a cooler air fanned his burning face, and at the same time he heard hurrying steps approach and the mingled cries of human voices.
Again he began to shout the names of his friends, the slaves, and the porter; but no answer came from any of them, though hasty questions in the Greek language fell upon his ear.
The strategist, with his officers, the nomarch of the district with his subordinates, and many citizens of Tennis had arrived. Hermon knew most of them by their voices, but their figures were not visible. The red, violet, and black cloud before him was all he could see.
Yet, although the pain continued to torture him, and a voice in his soul told him that he was blinded, he did not allow the government officials who eagerly surrounded him to speak, only pointed hastily to his eyes, and then bade them enter Myrtilus's studio. The Egyptian Chello, the Tennis goldsmith, who had assisted the artists in the preparation of the noble metal, and one of the police officers who had been summoned to rid the old house of the rats and mice which infested it, both knew the way.
They must first try to save Myrtilus's work and, when that was accomplished, preserve his also from destruction by the flames.
Leaning on the goldsmith's arm, Hermon went to his friend's studio; but before they reached it smoke and flames poured out so densely that it was impossible even to gain the door.
"Destroyed—a prey to the flames!" he groaned. "And he—he—he—"
Then like a madman he asked if no one had seen Myrtilus, and where he was; but in vain, always in vain.
At last the goldsmith who was leading him asked him to move aside, for all who had flocked to the white house when it was seized by the flames had joined in the effort to save the statue of Demeter, which they had found unharmed in his studio.
Seventeen men, by the exertion of all their strength, were dragging the heavy statue from the house, which was almost on the point of falling in, into the square. Several others were bearing corpses into the open air-the old porter Snuphis and Myrtilus's body servant. Some motionless forms they were obliged to leave behind. Both the bodies had deep wounds. There was no trace of Myrtilus and Bias.
Outside the storm had subsided, and a cool breeze blew refreshingly into Hermon's face. As he walked arm in arm with the notary Melampus, who had invited him to his house, and heard some one at his side exclaim, "How lavishly Eos is scattering her roses to-day!" he involuntarily lifted the cloth with which he had covered his smarting face to enjoy the beautiful flush of dawn, but again beheld nothing save a black and violet-blue surface.
Then drawing his hand from his guide's arm, he pressed it upon his poor, sightless, burning eyes, and in helpless rage, like a beast of prey which feels the teeth of the hunter's iron trap rend his flesh, groaned fiercely, "Blind! blind!" and again, and yet again, "Blind!"
While the morning star was still paling, the lad who after Hermon's landing had raced along the shore with the burning torch glided into the little pronaos of the Temple of Nemesis.
Ledscha was still standing by the doorpost of the cella with uplifted hand, so deeply absorbed in fervent prayer that she did not perceive the approach of the messenger until he called her.
"Succeeded?" she asked in a muffled tone, interrupting his hasty greeting.
"You must give the goddess what you vowed," was the reply. "Hanno sends you the message. And also, 'You must come with me in the boat quickly-at once!'"
"Where?" the girl demanded.
"Not on board the Hydra yet," replied the boy hurriedly. "First only to the old man on the Megara. The dowry is ready for your father. But there is not a moment to lose."
"Well, well!" she gasped hoarsely. "But, first, shall I find the man with the black beard on board of one of the ships?"
"Certainly!" answered the lad proudly, grasping her arm to hurry her; but she shook him off violently, turned toward the cella again, and once more lifted her hands and eyes to the statue of Nemesis.
Then she took up the bundle she had hidden behind a pillar, drew from it a handful of gold coins, which she flung into the box intended for offerings, and followed the boy.
"Alive?" she asked as she descended the steps; but the lad understood the meaning of the question, and exclaimed: "Yes, indeed! Hanno says the wounds are not at all dangerous."
"And the other?"
"Not a scratch. On the Hydra, with two severely wounded slaves. The porter and the others were killed."
"And the statues?"
"They-such things can't be accomplished without some little blunder-Labaja thinks so, too."
"Did they escape you?"
"Only one. I myself helped to smash the other, which stood in the workroom that looks out upon the water. The gold and ivory are on the ship. We had horrible work with the statue which stood in the room whose windows faced the square. They dragged the great monster carefully into the studio that fronts upon the water. But probably it is still standing there, if the thing is not already—just see how the flames are whirling upward!—if it is not already burned with the house."
"What a misfortune!" Ledscha reproachfully exclaimed.
"It could not be helped," the boy protested. "People from Tennis suddenly rushed in. The first—a big, furious fellow-killed our Loule and the fierce Judas. Now he has to pay for it. Little Chareb threw the black powder into his eyes, while Hanno himself thrust the torch in his face."
"And Bias, the blackbeard's slave?"
"I don't know. Oh, yes! Wounded, I believe, on board the ship."
Meanwhile the lad, a precocious fourteen-year-old cabin-boy from the Hydra, pointed to the boat which lay ready, and took Ledscha's bundle in his hand; but she sprang into the light skiff before him and ordered it to be rowed to the Owl's Nest, where she must bid Mother Tabus good-bye. The cabin-boy, however, declared positively that the command could not be obeyed now, and at his signal two black sailors urged it with swift oar strokes toward the northwest, to Satabus's ship. Hanno wished to receive his bride as a wife from his father's hand.
Ledscha had not insisted upon the fulfilment of her desire, but as the boat passed the Pelican Island her gaze rested on the lustreless waning disk of the moon. She thought of the torturing night, during which she had vainly waited here for Hermon, and a triumphant smile hovered around her lips; but soon the heavy eyebrows of the girl who was thus leaving her home contracted in a frown—she again fancied she saw, where the moon was just fading, the body of a gigantic, hideous spider. She banished the illusion by speaking to the boy—spiders in the morning mean misfortune.
The early dawn, which was now crimsoning the east, reminded her of the blood which, as an avenger, she must yet shed.
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Camels, which were rarely seen in Egypt
By Georg Ebers
While the market place in Tennis was filling, Archias's white house had become a heap of smouldering ruins. Hundreds of men and women were standing around the scene of the conflagration, but no one saw the statue of Demeter, which had been removed from Hermon's studio just in time. The nomarch had had it locked up in the neighbouring temple of the goddess.
It was rumoured that the divinity had saved her own statue by a miracle; Pamaut, the police officer, said that he had seen her himself as, surrounded by a brilliant light, she soared upward on the smoke that poured from the burning house. The strategist and the nomarch used every means in their power to capture the robbers, but without the least success.
As it had become known that Paseth, Gula's husband, had cast off his wife because she had gone to Hermon's studio, the magistrates believed that the attack had been made by the Biamites; yet Paseth was absent from the city during the assault, and the innocence of the others could also be proved.
Since, for two entire years, piracy had entirely ceased in this neighbourhood, no one thought of corsairs, and the bodies of the incendiaries having been consumed by the flames with the white house, it could not be ascertained to what class the marauders belonged.
The blinded sculptor could only testify that one of the robbers was a negro, or at any rate had had his face blackened, and that the size of another had appeared to him almost superhuman. This circumstance gave rise to the fable that, during the terrible storm of the previous clay, Hades had opened and spirits of darkness had rushed into the studio of the Greek betrayer.
The strategist, it is true, did not believe such tales, but the superstition of the Biamites, who, moreover, aided the Greeks reluctantly to punish a crime which threatened to involve their own countrymen, put obstacles in the way of his measures.
Not until he heard of Ledscha's disappearance, and was informed by the priest of Nemesis of the handsome sum which had been found in the offering box of the temple shortly after the attack, did he arrive at a conjecture not very far from the real state of affairs; only it was still incomprehensible to him what body of men could have placed themselves at the disposal of a girl's vengeful plan.
On the second day after the fire, the epistrategus of the whole Delta, who had accidentally come to the border fortress, arrived at Tennis on the galley of the commandant of Pelusium, and with him Proclus, the grammateus of the Dionysian artists, the Lady Thyone, Daphne, and her companion Chrysilla.
The old hero Philippus was detained in the fortress by the preparations for war.
Althea had returned to Alexandria, and Philotas, who disliked her, had gone there himself, as Chrysilla intimated to him that he could hope for no success in his suit to her ward so long as Daphne had to devote herself to the care of the blinded Hermon.
The epistrategus proceeded with great caution, but his efforts also remained futile. He ordered a report to be made of all the vessels which had entered the harbours and bays of the northeastern Delta, but those commanded by Satabus and his sons gave no cause for investigation; they had come into the Tanite arm of the Nile as lumber ships from Pontus, and had discharged beams and planks for the account of a well-known commercial house in Sinope.
Yet the official ordered the Owl's Nest to be searched. In doing this he made himself guilty of an act of violence, as the island's right of asylum still existed, and this incensed the irritable and refractory Biamites the more violently, the deeper was the reverent awe with which the nation regarded Tabus, who, according to their belief, was over a hundred years old. The Biamites honoured her not only as an enchantress and a leech, but as the ancestress of a race of mighty men. By molesting this aged woman, and interfering with an ancient privilege, the epistrategus lost the aid of the hostile fishermen, sailors, and weavers. Any information from their ranks to him was regarded as treachery; and, besides, his stay in Tennis could be but brief, as the King, on account of the impending war, had summoned him back to the capital.
On the third day after his arrival he left Tennis and sailed from Tanis for Alexandria. He had had little time to attend to Thyone and her guests.
Proclus, too, could not devote himself to them until after the departure of the epistrategus, since he had gone immediately to Tanis, where, as head of the Dionysian artists of all Egypt, he had been occupied in attending to the affairs of the newly established theatre.
On his return to Tennis he had instantly requested to be conducted to the Temple of Demeter, to inspect the blinded Hermon's rescued work.
He had entered the cella of the sanctuary with the expectation of finding a peculiar, probably a powerful work, but one repugnant to his taste, and left it fairly overpowered by the beauty of this noble work of art.
What he had formerly seen of Hermon's productions had prejudiced him against the artist, whose talent was great, but who, instead of dedicating it to the service of the beautiful and the sublime, chose subjects which, to Proclus, did not seem worthy of artistic treatment, or, when they were, sedulously deprived them of that by which, in his eyes, they gained genuine value. In Hermon's Olympian Banquet he—who also held the office of a high priest of Apollo in Alexandria—had even seen an insult to the dignity of the deity. In the Street Boy Eating Figs, the connoisseur's eye had recognised a peculiar masterpiece, but he had been repelled by this also; for, instead of a handsome boy, it represented a starving, emaciated vagabond.
True to life as this figure might be, it seemed to him reprehensible, for it had already induced others to choose similar vulgar subjects.
When recently at Althea's performance he had met Hermon and saw how quickly his beautiful travelling companion allowed herself to be induced to bestow the wreath on the handsome, black-bearded fellow, it vexed him, and he had therefore treated him with distant coldness, and allowed him to perceive the disapproval which the direction taken by his art had awakened in his mind.
In the presence of Hermon's Demeter, the opinion of the experienced man and intelligent connoisseur had suddenly changed.
The creator of this work was not only one of the foremost artists of his day, nay, he had also been permitted to fathom the nature of the deity and to bestow upon it a perfect form.
This Demeter was the most successful personification of the divine goodness which rewards the sowing of seed with the harvest. When Hermon created it, Daphne's image had hovered before his mind, even if he had not been permitted to use her as a model, and of all the maidens whom he knew there was scarcely one better suited to serve as the type for the Demeter.
So what he had seen in Pelusium, and learned from women, was true. The heart and mind of the artist who had created this work were not filled with the image of Althea—who during the journey had bestowed many a mark of favour upon the aging man, and with whom he was obliged to work hand in hand for Queen Arsinoe's plans—but the daughter of Archias, and this circumstance also aided in producing his change of view.
Hermon's blindness, it was to be hoped, would be cured.
Duty, and perhaps also interest, commanded him to show him frankly how highly he estimated his art and his last work.
After the arrival of Thyone and Daphne, Hermon had consented to accompany them on board the Proserpina, their spacious galley. True, he had yielded reluctantly to this arrangement of his parents' old friend, and neither she nor Daphne had hitherto succeeded in soothing the fierce resentment against fate which filled his soul after the loss of his sight and his dearest friend. As yet every attempt to induce him to bear his terrible misfortune with even a certain degree of composure had failed.
The Tennis leech, trained by the Egyptian priests at Sais in the art of healing, who was attached as a pastophorus to the Temple of Isis, in the city of weavers, had covered the artist's scorched face with bandages, and earnestly adjured him never in his absence to raise them, and to keep every ray of light from his blinded eyes. But the agitation which had mastered Hermon's whole being was so great that, in spite of the woman's protestations, he lifted the covering again and again to see whether he could not perceive once more at least a glimmer of the sunlight whose warming power he felt. The thought of living in darkness until the end of his life seemed unendurable, especially as now all the horrors which, hitherto, had only visited him in times of trial during the night assailed him with never-ceasing cruelty.
The image of the spider often forced itself upon him, and he fancied that the busy insect was spreading its quickly made web over his blinded eyes, which he was not to touch, yet over which he passed his hand to free them from the repulsive veil.
The myth related that because Athene's blow had struck the ambitious weaver Arachne, she had resolved, before the goddess transformed her into a spider, to put an end to her disgrace.
How infinitely harder was the one dealt to him! How much better reason he had to use the privilege in which man possesses an advantage over the immortals, of putting himself to death with his own hand when he deems the fitting time has come! What should he, the artist, to whom his eyes brought whatever made life valuable, do longer in this hideous black night, brightened by no sunbeam?
He was often overwhelmed, too, by the remembrance of the terrible end of the friend in whom he saw the only person who might have given him consolation in this distress, and the painful thought of his poverty.
He was supported solely by what his art brought and his wealthy uncle allowed him. The Demeter which Archias had ordered had been partially paid for in advance, and he had intended to use the gold—a considerable sum—to pay debts in Alexandria. But it was consumed with the rest of his property—tools, clothing, mementoes of his dead parents, and a few books which contained his favourite poems and the writings of his master, Straton.
These precious rolls had aided him to maintain the proud conviction of owing everything which he attained or possessed solely to himself. It had again become perfectly clear to him that the destiny of earth-born mortals was not directed by the gods whom men had invented after their own likeness, in order to find causes for the effects which they perceived, but by deaf and blind chance. Else how could even worse misfortune, according to the opinion of most people, have befallen the pure, guiltless Myrtilus, who so deeply revered the Olympians and understood how to honour them so magnificently by his art, than himself, the despiser of the gods?
But was the death for which he longed a misfortune?
Was the Nemesis who had so swiftly and fully granted the fervent prayer of an ill-used girl also only an image conjured up by the power of human imagination?
It was scarcely possible!
Yet if there was one goddess, did not that admit the probability of the existence of all the others?
He shuddered at the idea; for if the immortals thought, felt, acted, how terribly his already cruel fate would still develop! He had denied and insulted almost all the Olympians, and not even stirred a finger to the praise and honour of a single one.
What marvel if they should choose him for the target of their resentment and revenge?
He had just believed that the heaviest misfortune which can befall a man and an artist had already stricken him. Now he felt that this, too, had been an error; for, like a physical pain, he realized the collapse of the proud delusion of being independent of every power except himself, freely and arbitrarily controlling his own destiny, owing no gratitude except to his own might, and being compelled to yield to nothing save the enigmatical, pitiless power of eternal laws or their co-operation, so incomprehensible to the human intellect, called "chance," which took no heed of merit or unworthiness.
Must he, who had learned to silence and to starve every covetous desire, in order to require no gifts from his own uncle and his wealthy kinsman and friend, and be able to continue to hold his head high, as the most independent of the independent, now, in addition to all his other woe, be forced to believe in powers that exercised an influence over his every act? Must he recognise praying to them and thanking them as the demand of justice, of duty, and wisdom? Was this possible either?
And, believing himself alone, since he could not see Thyone and Daphne, who were close by him, he struck his scorched brow with his clinched fist, because he felt like a free man who suddenly realizes that a rope which he can not break is bound around his hands and feet, and a giant pulls and loosens it at his pleasure.
Yet no! Better die than become for gods and men a puppet that obeys every jerk of visible and invisible hands.
Starting up in violent excitement, he tore the bandage from his face and eyes, declaring, as Thyone seriously reprimanded him, that he would go away, no matter where, and earn his daily bread at the handmill, like the blind Ethiopian slave whom he had seen in the cabinetmaker's house at Tennis.
Then Daphne spoke to him tenderly, but her soothing voice caused him keener pain than his old friend's stern one.
To sit still longer seemed unendurable, and, with the intention of regaining his lost composure by pacing to and fro, he began to walk; but at the first free step he struck against the little table in front of Thyone's couch, and as it upset and the vessels containing water fell with it, clinking and breaking, he stopped and, as if utterly crushed, groped his way back, with both arms outstretched, to the armchair he had quitted.
If he could only have seen Daphne press her handkerchief first to her eyes, from which tears were streaming, and then to her lips, that he might not hear her sobs, if he could have perceived how Thyone's wrinkled old face contracted as if she were swallowing a colocynth apple, while at the same time she patted his strong shoulder briskly, exclaiming with forced cheerfulness: "Go on, my boy! The steed rears when the hornet stings! Try again, if it only soothes you! We will take everything out of your way. You need not mind the water-jars. The potter will make new ones!"
Then Hermon threw back his burning head, rested it against the back of the chair, and did not stir until the bandage was renewed.
How comfortable it felt!
He knew, too, that he owed it to Daphne; the matron's fingers could not be so slender and delicate, and he would have been more than glad to raise them to his lips and thank her; but he denied himself the pleasure.
If she really did love him, the bond between them must now be severed; for, even if her goodness of heart extended far enough to induce her to unite her blooming young existence to his crippled one, how could he have accepted the sacrifice without humiliating himself? Whether such a marriage would have made her happy or miserable he did not ask, but he was all the more keenly aware that if, in this condition, he became her husband, he would be the recipient of alms, and he would far rather, he mentally repeated, share the fate of the negro at the handmill.
The expression of his features revealed the current of his thoughts to Daphne, and, much as she wished to speak to him, she forced herself to remain silent, that the tones of her voice might not betray how deeply she was suffering with him; but he himself now longed for a kind word from her lips, and he had just asked if she was still there when Thyone announced a visit from the grammateus Proclus.
He had recently felt that this man was unfriendly to him, and again his anger burst forth. To be exposed in the midst of his misery to the scorn of a despiser of his art was too much for his exhausted patience.
But here he was interrupted by Proclus himself, who had entered the darkened cabin where the blind man remained very soon after Thyone.
Hermon's last words had betrayed to the experienced courtier how well he remembered his unkind remarks, so he deferred the expression of his approval, and began by delivering the farewell message of the epistrategus, who had been summoned away so quickly.
He stated that his investigations had discovered nothing of importance, except, perhaps, the confirmation of the sorrowful apprehension that the admirable Myrtilus had been killed by the marauders. A carved stone had been found under the ashes, and Chello, the Tennis goldsmith, said he had had in his own workshop the gem set in the hapless artist's shoulder clasp, and supplied it with a new pin.
While speaking, he took Hermon's hand and gave him the stone, but the artist instantly used his finger tips to feel it.
Perhaps it really did belong to the clasp Myrtilus wore, for, although still unpractised in groping, he recognised that a human head was carved in relief upon the stone, and Mrytilus's had been adorned with the likeness of the Epicurean.
The damaged little work of art, in the opinion of Proclus and Daphne, appeared to represent this philosopher, and at the thought that his friend had fallen a victim to the flames Hermon bowed his head and exerted all his strength of will in order not to betray by violent sobs how deeply this idea pierced his heart.
Thyone, shrugging her shoulders mournfully, pointed to the suffering artist. Proclus nodded significantly, and, moving nearer to Hermon, informed him that he had sought out his Demeter and found the statue uninjured. He was well aware that it would be presumptuous to offer consolation in so heavy an affliction, and after the loss of his dearest friend, yet perhaps Hermon would be glad to hear his assurance that he, whose judgment was certainly not unpractised, numbered his work among the most perfect which the sculptor's art had created in recent years.
"I myself best know the value of this Demeter," the sculptor broke in harshly. "Your praise is the bit of honey which is put into the mouth of the hurt child."
"No, my friend," Proclus protested with grave decision. "I should express no less warmly the ardent admiration with which this noble figure of the goddess fills me if you were well and still possessed your sight. You were right just now when you alluded to my aversion, or, let us say, lack of appreciation of the individuality of your art; but this noble work changes everything, and nothing affords me more pleasure than that I am to be the first to assure you how magnificently you have succeeded in this statue."
"The first!" Hermon again interrupted harshly. "But the second and third will be lacking in Alexandria. What a pleasure it is to pour the gifts of sympathy upon one to whom we wish ill! But, however successful my Demeter may be, you would have awarded the prize twice over to the one by Myrtilus."
"Wrong, my young friend!" the statesman protested with honest zeal. "All honour to the great dead, whose end was so lamentable; but in this contest—let me swear it by the goddess herself!—you would have remained victor; for, at the utmost, nothing can rank with the incomparable save a work of equal merit, and—I know life and art—two artists rarely or never succeed in producing anything so perfect as this masterpiece at the same time and in the same place."
"Enough!" gasped Hermon, hoarse with excitement; but Proclus, with increasing animation, continued: "Brief as is our acquaintance, you have probably perceived that I do not belong to the class of flatterers, and in Alexandria it has hardly remained unknown to you that the younger artists number me, to whom the office of judge so often falls, among the sterner critics. Only because I desire their best good do I frankly point out their errors. The multitude provides the praise. It will soon flow upon you also in torrents, I can see its approach, and as this blindness, if the august Aesculapius and healing Isis aid, will pass away like a dreary winter night, it would seem to me criminal to deceive you about your own ability and success. I already behold you creating other works to the delight of gods and men; but this Demeter extorts boundless, enthusiastic appreciation; both as a whole, and in detail, it is faultless and worthy of the most ardent praise. Oh, how long it is, my dear, unfortunate friend, since I could congratulate any other Alexandrian with such joyful confidence upon the most magnificent success! Every word—you may believe it!—which comes to you in commendation of this last work from lips unused to eulogy is sincerely meant, and as I utter it to you I shall repeat it in the presence of the King, Archias, and the other judges."
Daphne, with hurried breath, deeply flushed cheeks, and sparkling eyes, had fairly hung upon the lips of the clever connoisseur. She knew Proclus, and his dreaded, absolutely inconsiderate acuteness, and was aware that this praise expressed his deepest conviction. Had he been dissatisfied with the statue of Demeter, or even merely superficially touched by its beauty, he might have shrunk from wounding the unfortunate artist by censure, and remained silent; but only something grand, consummate, could lead him to such warmth of recognition.
She now felt it a misfortune that she and Thyone had hitherto been prevented, by anxiety for their patient, from admiring his work. Had it still been light, she would have gone to the temple of Demeter at once; but the sun had just set, and Proclus was obliged to beg her to have patience.
As the cases were standing finished at the cabinetmaker's, the statue had been packed immediately, under his own direction, and carried on board his ship, which would convey it with him to the capital the next day.
While this arrangement called forth loud expressions of regret from Daphne and the vivacious matron, Hermon assented to it, for it would at least secure the ladies, until their arrival in Alexandria, from a painful disappointment.
"Rather," Proclus protested with firm dissent, "it will rob you for some time of a great pleasure, and you, noble daughter of Archias, probably of the deepest emotion of gratitude with which the favour of the immortals has hitherto rendered you happy; yet the master who created this genuine goddess owes the best part of it to your own face."
"He told me himself that he thought of me while at work," Daphne admitted, and a flood of the warmest love reached Hermon's ears in her agitated tones, while, greatly perplexed, he wondered with increasing anxiety whether the stern critic Proclus had really been serious in the extravagant eulogium, so alien to his reputation in the city.
Myrtilus, too, had admired the head of his Demeter, and—this he himself might admit—he had succeeded in it, and yet ought not the figure, with its too pronounced inclination forward, which, it is true, corresponded with Daphne's usual bearing, and the somewhat angular bend of the arms, have induced this keen-sighted connoisseur to moderate the exalted strain of his praise? Or was the whole really so admirable that it would have seemed petty to find fault with the less successful details? At any rate, Proclus's eulogy ought to give him twofold pleasure, because his art had formerly repelled him, and Hermon tried to let it produce this effect upon him. But it would not do; he was continually overpowered by the feeling that under the enthusiastic homage of the intriguing Queen Arsinoe's favourite lurked a sting which he should some day feel. Or could Proclus have been persuaded by Thyone and Daphne to help them reconcile the hapless blind man to his hard fate?
Hermon's every movement betrayed the great anxiety which filled his mind, and it by no means escaped Proclus's attention, but he attributed it to the blinded sculptor's anguish in being prevented, after so great a success, from pursuing his art further.
Sincerely touched, he laid his slender hand on the sufferer's muscular arm, saying: "A more severe trial than yours, my young friend, can scarcely be imposed upon the artist who has just attained the highest goal, but three things warrant you to hope for recovery—your vigorous youth, the skill of our Alexandrian leeches, and the favour of the immortal gods. You shrug your shoulders? Yet I insist that you have won this favour by your Demeter. True, you owe it less to yourself than to yonder maiden. What pleasure it affords one whom, like myself, taste and office bind to the arts, to perceive such a revolution in an artist's course of creation, and trace it to its source! I indulged myself in it and, if you will listen, I should like to show you the result."
"Speak," replied Hermon dully, bowing his head as if submitting to the inevitable, while Proclus began:
"Hitherto your art imitated, not without success, what your eyes showed you, and if this was filled with the warm breath of life, your work succeeded. All respect to your Boy Eating Figs, in whose presence you would feel the pleasure he himself enjoyed while consuming the sweet fruit. Here, among the works of Egyptian antiquity, there is imminent danger of falling under the tyranny of the canon of proportions which can be expressed in figures, or merely even the demands of the style hallowed by thousands of years, but in a subject like the 'Fig-eater' such a reproach is not to be feared. He speaks his own intelligible language, and whoever reproduces it without turning to the right or left has won, for he has created a work whose value every true friend of art, no matter to what school he belongs, prizes highly.