Amid so much laudation, one faint word of dissatisfaction vanished like a drop of blood that falls into a clear stream.
The welcome concluded with a final chant by the chorus, and continued to echo in Hermon's ears as he entered his uncle's chariot and drove away with him, crowned with laurel and intoxicated as if by fiery wine.
Oh, if he could only have seen his fellow-citizens who so eagerly expressed their good will, their sympathy, their admiration! But the black and coloured mist before his eyes revealed no human figure, not even that of the woman he loved, who, he now learned for the first time from her father, had appeared among the priestesses of Demeter to greet him.
Doubtless he was gladdened by the sound of her voice, the clasp of her hand, the faint fragrance of violets exhaling from her fair hair, which he had often remembered with so much pleasure when alone in Tennis; but the time to devote himself to her fully and completely had not yet come, for what manifold and powerful impressions, how much that was elevating, delightful, and entertaining awaited him immediately!
The Queen's envoy had expressed his mistress's desire to receive the creator of the Demeter, the Ephebi and his fellow-artists had invited him to a festival which they desired to give in his honour, and on the way Archias informed him that many of his wealthy friends in the Macedonian Council expected that he, the honoured hero of the day, would adorn with his presence a banquet in their houses.
What a rich, brilliant life awaited him in spite of his blindness! When he entered his uncle's magnificent city home, and not only all the servants and clients of the family, but also a select party of ladies and gentlemen greeted him with flowers and hundreds of other tokens of affection and appreciation, he gave himself up without reserve to this novel excess of fame and admiration.
Notwithstanding his blindness, he felt, after the burns on his face had healed, thoroughly well, as strong as a giant—nay, more vigorous and capable of enjoyment than ever. What prevented him from revelling to the full in the superabundant gifts which Fate, recently so cruel, now suddenly cast into his lap with lavish kindness?
Yet many flattering and pleasant things as he had experienced that day, he was far from feeling satiety. On entering the hall of the men in his uncle's dwelling, the names of famous men and proud beauties had been repeated to him. Formerly they had taken little notice of him, yet now even the most renowned received him like an Olympian victor.
What did all these vain women really care for him? Yet their favour was part of the triumph whose celebration he must permit to-day. His heart held but one being for whom it yearned, and with whom thus far he had been able only to exchange a few tender greetings.
The time for a long conversation had not yet arrived, but he asked Thyone to lead him to her and, while she listened anxiously, described with feverish animation the incidents of the last few days. But he soon lowered his voice to assure her that he had not ceased to think of her even for a single hour, and the feeling of happiness which, in spite of his misfortune, had filled and lent wings to his soul, was not least due to the knowledge of being near her again.
And her presence really benefited him almost as much as he had anticipated during the hours of solitary yearning in Tennis; he felt it a great favour of Fate to be permitted to strive to possess her, felt even during the delirium of this reception that he loved her. What a tremendous longing to clasp her at once in his arms as his betrothed bride overwhelmed him; but her father's opposition to the union of his only child with a blind man must first be conquered, and the great agitation in his soul, as well as the tumult around him, seemed like a mockery of the quiet happiness which hovered before him when he thought of his marriage with Daphne. Not until everything was calmer would the time come to woo her. Until then both must be satisfied with knowing from each other's lips their mutual love, and he thought he perceived in the tone of her voice the deep emotion of her heart.
Perhaps this had prevented Daphne's expressing her congratulations upon the success of his Demeter as eagerly and fully as he had expected. Painfully disturbed by her reserve, he had just attempted to induce her to give a less superficial opinion of his work, when the curtains of the dining room parted-the music of flutes, singing, and pleasant odours greeted him and the guests. Archias summoned them to breakfast, and a band of beautiful boys, with flowers and garlands of ivy, obeyed the command to crown them.
Then Thyone approached the newly united pair and, after exchanging a few words with Daphne, whispered in an agitated voice to the blind sculptor, over whose breast a brown-locked young slave was just twining a garland of roses: "Poverty no longer stands between you and the object of your love; is it Nemesis who even now still seals your lips?"
Hermon stretched out his hand to draw her nearer to him and murmur softly that her counsel had aided him to break the power of the terrible goddess, but he grasped the empty air. At the same time the deep voice of his love's father, whose opposition threatened to cloud his new happiness, singing, flute-playing, and the laughter of fair women greeted him and, only half master of his own will, he assented, by a slight bend of the head, to the matron's question. A light shiver ran through his frame with the speed of lightning, and the Epicurean's maxim that fear and cold are companions darted through his brain. But what should he fear? He had endured severe trials, it is true, for the sake of remaining faithful to truth in art and life; but who probably ever reached the age of manhood without once deviating from it? Besides, he was surely aware that, had he been obliged to answer Thyone in words, he would not have been guilty of the falsehood. His reply had consisted of a slight motion of the head, and it negatived nothing; it was merely intended to defer for a short time the thing he most desired.
Yet the rash answer weighed heavily on his mind; but it could no longer be recalled that day, and was believed, for Thyone whispered, "We shall succeed in reconciling the terrible being."
Again the light tremour ran through him, but it lasted only an instant; for Chrysilla, the representative of the dead mistress of the house, whose duty it was to assign the guests their places, called to Hermon, "The beautiful Glycera does you the honour of choosing you for a neighbour" and, before the sentence was finished, Archias himself seized his arm and led him to the cushions at the side of the much-courted beauty.
The guests began the banquet in a very joyous mood.
Greek gaiety, and the quick intellect and keen wit of the Alexandrians, combined with the choicest viands of the luxurious capital, where the wines and dainties of all the countries of the Mediterranean found sellers and buyers, and the cook's vocation was developed into a fine art, to spice this banquet with a hundred charms for the mind and senses. To-day the principal place in this distinguished circle of famous men, great and wealthy nobles, beautiful and aristocratic women, was awarded to the blind sculptor. He was pledged by every one who had admired his Demeter, who compassionated his sad fate, or who desired to be agreeable to him or his host.
Every kind remark about his person, his blindness, and his masterpiece was repeated to him and, after the wine and the effort to attract Daphne's attention and shine in the presence of his beautiful neighbour had heated and winged his thoughts, he found an apt reply to each noteworthy word.
When the dessert was finally eaten, and after sunset, in the brilliant light of the lamps and candles, greater attention was paid to the mixing vessels, all remained silent to listen to his fervid speech.
Glycera had asked him, at the beginning of the banquet, to tell her about the attack in Tennis. Now he yielded to her wish that he should repeat the captivating tale to the others, and the spirits of the wine helped him to perform the task with such animation that his hearers listened to his description in breathless suspense, and many eyes rested on the handsome face of the great blind artist as if spellbound.
When he paused, loud applause rewarded him, and as it reached him from every part of the spacious room, his deep, resonant voice put him in communication even with the more distant guests, and he might have been taken for the symposiarch or director of the banquet.
This conspicuous position of the feted artist did not please every one, and a rhetorician, famed for his sharp tongue, whispered to his neighbour, one of Hermon's older fellow-artists, "What his eyes have lost seems to benefit his tongue." The sculptor answered: "At any rate, the impetuous young artist might succeed better in proving himself, by its assistance, a good entertainer, than in creating more mediocre masterpieces like the Demeter."
Similar remarks were made on other cushions; but when the philosopher Hegesias asked the famous sculptor Euphranor what he thought of Hermon's Demeter, the kindly old man answered, "I should laud this noble work as a memorable event, even if it did not mark the end, as well as the beginning, of its highly gifted creator's new career."
Nothing of this kind was uttered near Hermon. Everything that reached him expressed delight, admiration, sympathy, and hope. At dessert the beautiful Glycera divided her apple, whispering as she gave him one half, "Let the fruit tell you what the eyes can no longer reveal, you poor and yet so abundantly rich darling of the gods."
He murmured in reply that his happiness would awake the envy of the immortals if, in addition, he were permitted to feast upon the sight of her beauty.
Had he been able to see himself, Hermon, who, as a genuine Greek, was accustomed to moderate his feelings in intercourse with others, would have endeavoured to express the emotions of joy which filled his heart with more reserve, and to excel his companions at the festival less recklessly.
His enthusiastic delight carried many away with him; others, especially Daphne, were filled with anxious forebodings by his conduct, and others still with grave displeasure.
Among the latter was the famous leech Erasistratus, who shared Archias's cushions, and had been solicited by the latter to try to restore his blind nephew's sight. But the kindly physician, who gladly aided even the poorest sufferer, curtly and positively refused. To devote his time and skill to a blind man who, under the severest of visitations, lulled himself so contentedly in happiness, he considered unjust to others who desired recovery more ardently.
"When the intoxication of this unbridled strength passes away, and is followed by a different mood," remarked the merchant, "we will talk of this matter again," and the confident tone of his deep voice gave the simple sentence such significance that the learned leech held out his hand, saying: "Only where deep, earnest longing for recovery fills the sufferer's mind will the gods aid the physician. We will wait for the change which you predict, Archias!"
The guests did not disperse until late, and the best satisfied of all was the grammateus Proclus, who had taken advantage of the rich merchant's happy mood, and his own warm intercession in behalf of his nephew's work, to persuade Archias to advance Queen Arsinoe a large sum of money for an enterprise whose object he still carefully concealed.
The highly honoured blind artist spent the night under his uncle's roof.
Hermon rose from his couch the next morning alert and ready for new pleasures.
He had scarcely left the bath when envoys from the Ephebi and the younger artists invited him to the festivities which they had arranged in his honour. He joyously accepted, and also promised messengers from many of Archias's friends, who wished to have the famous blind sculptor among their guests, to be present at their banquets.
He still felt as if he were intoxicated, and found neither disposition nor time for quiet reflection. His great strength, fettered as it were by his loss of sight, now also began to stir. Fate itself withheld him from the labour which he loved, yet in return it offered him a wealth of varying pleasure, whose stimulating power he had learned the day before. He still relished the draught from the beaker of homage proffered by his fellow-citizens; nay, it seemed as if it could not lose its sweetness for a long time.
He joined the ladies before noon, and his newly awakened feeling of joy beamed upon them scarcely less radiantly than yesterday. Though Thyone might wonder that a man pursued by Nemesis could allow himself to be borne along so thoughtlessly by the stream of pleasure, Daphne certainly did not grudge him the festal season which, when it had passed, could never return to the blind artist. When it was over, he would yearn for the quiet happiness at her side, which gazed at him like the calm eyes of the woman he loved. With her he would cast anchor for the remainder of his life; but first must come the period when he enjoyed the compensation now awarded to him for such severe sufferings.
His heart was full of joy as he greeted Daphne and the Lady Thyone, whom he found with her; but his warm description of the happy emotion which had overpowered him at the abundant honours lavished upon him was interrupted by Archias.
In his usual quick, brisk manner, he asked whether Hermon wished to occupy the beautiful villa with the magnificent garden on Lake Mareotis, inherited from Myrtilus, which could scarcely be reached in a vehicle from the Brucheium in less than an hour, or the house situated in the centre of the city, and Hermon promptly decided in favour of the latter.
His uncle, and probably the ladies also, had expected the contrary. Their silence showed this plainly enough, and Hermon therefore added in a tone of explanation that later the villa would perhaps suit his condition better, but now he thought it would be a mistake to retire to the quiet which half the city was conspiring to disturb. No one contradicted him, and he left the women's apartment with a slight feeling of vexation, which, however, was soon jested away by the gay friends who sought him.
When he removed to the city house the next day, he had not yet found time for a serious talk with Daphne. His uncle, who had managed the estate of Myrtilus, and wished to give Hermon an account of his inheritance, was refused by the blind artist, who assured him that he knew Archias had greatly increased rather than diminished his property, and thanked him sincerely and warmly. In the convenient and spacious city house the young sculptor very soon thought he had good reason to be satisfied with his choice.
Most of his friends were busy artists, and what loss of time every visit to the remote villa would have imposed upon them, what haste he himself would have been obliged to use to reach home from the bath, where he often spent many hours, from the wrestling school, from the meetings of fashionable people in the Paneum gardens, and at sunset by the seashore on the royal highway in the Brucheium. All these places were very far from the villa. It would have required whole hours, too, to reach a famous cookshop in the Canopus, at whose table he liked to assemble beloved guests or revel with his friends. The theatre, the Odeum, most of the public buildings, as well as the houses of his best friends, and especially the beautiful Glycera, were easily reached from his city home, and, among the temples, that of Demeter, which he often visited to pray, offer sacrifices, and rejoice in the power of attraction which his statue of the goddess exerted upon the multitude. It stood at the back of the cella in a place accessible to the priesthood alone, visible only through the open doors, upon a pedestal which his fellow-artists pronounced rather too high. Yet his offer to have it made smaller was not accepted, because had it been lower the devout supplicants who stood there to pray could not have raised their eyes to it.
It was not only at the festivals of the dead that he went to the Greek cemetery, where he had had a magnificent monument erected for his dead mother. If his head ached after a nocturnal carouse, or the disagreeable alarming chill stole over him which he had felt for the first time when he falsely answered Thyone that he was still under the ban of Nemesis, he went to the family monuments, supplied them with gifts, had sacrifices offered to the souls of the beloved dead, and in this way sometimes regained a portion of his lost peace of mind.
The banquet in the evening always dispelled whatever still oppressed him on his return home from these visits, for, though months had elapsed since his brilliant reception, he was still numbered, especially in artist circles, with the most honoured men; he, the blind man, no longer stood in any one's way; conversation gained energy and meaning through the vivacity of his fervid intellect, which seemed actually deepened by his blindness when questions concerning art were at issue, and from a modest fellow-struggler he had become a patron bestowing orders.
The sculptor Soteles, who had followed his footsteps since the apprenticeship in Rhodes, was intrusted with the erection of the monument to Myrtilus in Tennis, and another highly gifted young sculptor, who pursued his former course, with the execution of the one to his mother.
From a third he ordered a large new mixing vessel of chased silver for the society of Ephebi, whose members had lauded him, at the magnificent festival given in his honour, with genuine youthful fervour.
In the designs for these works his rich and bold gift of invention and the power of his imagination proved their full value, and even his older fellow-artists followed him with sincere admiration when, in spite of his darkened eyes, he brought before them distinctly, and often even with the charcoal or wax tablet in his hand, what he had in mind. What magnificent things might not this man have created had he retained his sight, what masterpieces might not have been expected! and his former works, which had been condemned as unlovely, offensive, and exaggerated, were now loudly admired; nay, the furious Maenads struggling on the ground and the Street Boy Eating Figs, which were no longer his property, were sold at high prices. No meeting of artists was complete without Hermon, and the great self-possession which success and wealth bestowed, besides his remarkable talent and the energy peculiar to him, soon aided him to great influence among the members of his profession; nay, he would speedily have reached the head of their leaders had not the passionate impetuosity of his warlike nature led the more cautious to seek to restrain the powerful enthusiast.
Archias's wealthy friends had no such apprehension. To them the lauded blind artist was not much more than a costly dish certain to please their guests; yet this, too, was no trifle in social circles which spent small fortunes for a rare fish.
At the banquets of these princes of commerce he often met Daphne, still more frequently the beautiful Glycera, whose husband, an old ship-owner of regal wealth, was pleased to see famous men harnessed to his young wife's chariot of victory. Hermon's heart had little to do with the flirtation to which Glycera encouraged him at every new meeting, and the Thracian Althea only served to train his intellect to sharp debates. But in this manner he so admirably fulfilled her desire to attract attention that she more than once pointed out to the Queen, her relative, the remarkably handsome blind man whose acquaintance she had made on a night of mad revel during the last Dionysia but one. Althea even thought it necessary to win him, in whom she saw the future son-in-law of the wealthy Archias, for through the graminateus Proclus the merchant had been persuaded to advance the King's wife hundreds of talents, and Arsinoe cherished plans which threatened to consume other large sums.
Thyrone watched Hermon's conduct with increasing indignation, while Daphne perceived that these women had no more power to estrange her lover from her than the bedizened beauties who were never absent from the artists' festivals. How totally different was his intercourse with her! His love and respect were hers alone; yet she saw in him a soul-sick man, and persistently rejected Philotas, who wooed her with the same zeal as before, and the other suitors who were striving to win the wealthy heiress. She had confessed her feelings to her father, her best friend, and persuaded him to have patience a little longer, and wait for the change which he himself expected in his nephew.
This had not been difficult, for Archias loved Hermon, in spite of the many anxieties he had caused him, as if he were his own son and, knowing his daughter, he was aware that she could be happy with the man who possessed her heart though he was deprived of sight.
The fame which Hermon had won by great genius and ability had gratified him more than he expressed, and he could not contradict Daphne when she asserted that, in spite of the aimless life of pleasure to which he devoted himself, he had remained the kind-hearted, noble man he had always been.
In fact, he used, unasked and secretly, a considerable portion of his large revenues to relieve the distress of the poor and suffering. Archias learned this as the steward of his nephew's property, and when to do good he made new demands upon him, he gladly fulfilled them; only he constantly admonished the blind man to think of his own severe sufferings and his cure. Daphne did the same, and he willingly obeyed her advice; for, loudly and recklessly as he pursued pleasure in social circles, he showed himself tenderly devoted to her when he found her alone in her father's house. Then, as in better days, he opened his heart to her naturally and modestly and, though he refrained from vows of love, he showed her that he did not cease to seek with her, and her alone, what his noisy pleasures denied. Then he also found the old tone of affection, and of late he came more frequently, and what he confided to no one else implied to her, at least by hints.
Satiety and dissatisfaction were beginning to appear, and what he had attempted to do for the cure of his eyes had hitherto been futile. The remedies of the oculists to whom he had been directed by Daphne herself had proved ineffectual. The great physician Erasistratus, from whom he first sought help, had refrained, at her entreaty and her father's, from refusing to aid him, but indignantly sent him away when he persisted in the declaration that it would be impossible for him to remain for months secluded from all society and subsist for weeks on scanty fare.
He would submit even to that, he assured Daphne, after she represented to him what he was losing by such lack of resignation, when the time of rest had come for which he longed, but from which many things still withheld him. Yesterday the King had invited him to the palace for the first time, and to decline such an honour was impossible.
In fact, he had long wished for this summons, because he had been informed that no representative of the sovereign had been present at his reception. Only his wife Arsinoe had honoured him by a wreath and congratulations. This lack of interest on the part of the King had wounded him, and the absence of an invitation from the royal connoisseur had cast a shadow into the midst of many a mirthful hour. He had doubtless been aware what great and important affairs of state were claiming the conscientious sovereign just at this time, and how almost unbearable his restless, unloving spouse was rendering his domestic life; yet Hermon thought Ptolemy might have spared a short time for an event in the art life of the city, as his Demeter had been called hundreds of times.
Now the long-desired command to appear before the sovereign had finally reached him, and, in the secure belief that it would bring fresh recognition and rare honours, he entered the royal palace.
Proclus, who neglected no opportunity of serving the nephew of the rich man whose aid he constantly required for the Queen's finances, was his guide, and described the decoration of the inner apartments of the royal residence. Their unostentatious simplicity showed the refined taste of their royal occupant. There was no lack of marble and other rare kinds of stone, and the numerous bas-reliefs which covered the walls like the most superb tapestry were worthy of special attention. In the oblong apartment through which the blind man was guided these marble pictures represented in magnificent work scenes from the campaigns in which Ptolemy, the King's father, had participated as Alexander's general. Others showed Athene, Apollo, the Muses, and Hermes, surrounding or hastening toward the throne of the same monarch, and others again Greek poets and philosophers. Magnificent coloured mosaic pictures covered the floor and many flat spaces above door and windows, but gold and silver had been sparingly used.
Masterpieces of painting and sculpture were the ornaments of the room. In the antechamber, where Hermon waited for the King, Proclus mentioned one of the finest statues of Alexander by Lysippus, and an exquisite Eros by Praxiteles.
The period of waiting, however, became so long to the spoiled artist that he anticipated the monarch's appearance with painful discomfort, and the result of the few minutes which Ptolemy II devoted to his reception was far behind the hopes he had fixed upon them.
In former days he had often seen the narrow-shouldered man of barely medium height who, to secure his own safety, had had two brothers killed and sent another into exile, but now ruled Egypt shrewdly and prudently, and developed the prosperity of Alexandria with equal energy and foresight.
Now, for the first time, Hermon heard him speak. He could not deny that his voice was unusually pleasant in tone, yet it unmistakably issued from the lips of a sufferer.
The brief questions with which he received the blind artist were kindly, and as natural as though addressing an equal, and every remark made in connection with Hermon's answers revealed a very quick and keen intellect.
He had seen the Demeter, and praised the conception of the goddess because it corresponded with her nature. The sanctity which, as it were, pervaded the figure of the divine woman pleased him, because it made the supplicants in the temple feel that they were in the presence of a being who was elevated far above them in superhuman majesty.
"True," he added, "your Demeter is by no means a powerful helper in time of need. She is a goddess such as Epicurus imagines the immortals. Without interfering with human destiny, she stands above it in sublime grandeur and typical dignity. You belong, if I see correctly, to the Epicureans?"
"No," replied Hermon. "Like my lord and King, I, too, number myself among the pupils of the wise Straton."
"Indeed?" asked Ptolemy in a drawling tone, at the same time casting a glance of astonishment at the blind man's powerful figure and well-formed, intellectual face. Then he went on eagerly: "I shall scarcely be wrong in the inference that you, the creator of the Fig-eater, had experienced a far-reaching mental change before your unfortunate loss of sight?"
"I had to struggle hard," replied Hermon, "but I probably owe the success of the Demeter to the circumstance that I found a model whose mind and nature correspond with those of the goddess to a rare degree."
The monarch shook his fair head, and protested in a tone of positive superior knowledge: "As to the model, however well selected it may be, it was not well chosen for this work, far less for you. I have watched your battle against beauty in behalf of truth, and rejoiced, though I often saw you and your little band of young disciples shoot beyond the mark. You brought something new, whose foundation seemed to me sound, and on which further additions might be erected. When the excrescences fell off, I thought, this Hermon, his shadow Soteles, and the others who follow him will perhaps open new paths to the declining art which is constantly going back to former days. Our time will become the point of departure of a new art. But for that very reason, let me confess it, I regret to see you fall back from your bold advance. You now claim for your work that it cleaves strictly to Nature, because the model is taken from life itself. It does not become me to doubt this, yet the stamp of divinity which your Demeter bears is found in no mortal woman. Understand me correctly! This is certainly no departure from the truth, for the ideal often deserves this lofty name better than anything the visible world offers to the eye; but hitherto you have done honour to another truth. If I comprehend your art aright, its essence is opposed to the addition of superhuman dignity and beauty, with which you, or the model you used, strove to ennoble and deify your Demeter. Admirably as you succeeded in doing so, it forces your work out of the sphere of reality, whose boundary I never before saw you cross by a single inch. Whether this occurred unconsciously to you in an hour of mental ecstasy, or whether you felt that you still lacked the means to represent the divine, and therefore returned to the older methods, I do not venture to decide. But at the first examination of your work I was conscious of one thing: It means for you a revolution, a rupture with your former aspirations; and as—I willingly confess it—you had been marvellously successful, it would have driven you, had your sight been spared, out of your own course and into the arms of the ancients, perhaps to your material profit, but scarcely to the advantage of art, which needs a renewal of its vital energies."
"Let me assure you, my lord," Hermon protested, "that had I remained able to continue to create, the success of the Demeter would never, never have rendered me faithless to the conviction and method of creation which I believed right; nay, before losing my sight, my whole soul was absorbed in a new work which would have permitted me to remain wholly and completely within the bounds of reality."
"The Arachne?" asked the King.
"Yes, my lord," cried Hermon ardently. "With its completion I expected to render the greatest service, not only to myself, but to the cause of truth."
Here Ptolemy interrupted with icy coldness: "Yet you were certainly wrong; at least, if the Thracian Althea, who is the personification of falsehood, had continued to be the model." Then he changed his tone, and with the exclamation: "You are protected from the needs of life, unless your rich uncle throws his property into the most insatiable of gulfs. May Straton's philosophy help you better to sustain your courage in the darkness which surrounds you than it has aided me to bear other trials!" he left the room.
Thus ended the artist's conversation with the King, from which Hermon had expected such great results and, deeply agitated, he ordered the driver of his horses to take him to Daphne. She was the only person to whom he could confide what disappointment this interview had caused him.
Others had previously reproached him, as the King had just done, with having, in the Demeter, become faithless to his artistic past. How false and foolish this was! Many a remark from the critics would have been better suited to Myrtilus's work than to his. Yet his fear in Tennis had not been true. Only Daphne's sweet face did not suit his more vigorous method of emphasizing distinctions.
What a many-hued chameleon was the verdict upon works of plastic art! Once—on his return to the capital—thousands had united in the same one, and now how widely they differed again!
His earlier works, which were now lauded to the skies, had formerly invited censure and vehement attacks.
What would he not have given for the possibility of seeing his admired work once more!
As his way led past the Temple of Demeter, he stopped near it and was guided to the sanctuary.
It was filled with worshippers, and when, in his resolute manner, he told the curator and the officiating priest that he wished to enter the cella, and asked for a ladder to feel the goddess, he was most positively refused.
What he requested seemed a profanation of the sacred image, and it would not do to disturb the devout throng. His desire to lower the pedestal could not be gratified.
The high priest who came forward upheld his subordinates and, after a short dispute, Hermon left the sanctuary with his wish unfulfilled.
Never had he so keenly lamented his lost vision as during the remainder of the drive, and when Daphne received him he described with passionate lamentation how terribly blindness embittered his life, and declared himself ready to submit to the severest suffering to regain his sight.
She earnestly entreated him to apply to the great physician Erasistratus again, and Hermon willingly consented. He had promised to attend a banquet given that day by the wealthy ship-owner Archon. The feast lasted until early morning, but toward noon Hermon again appeared in his uncle's house, and met Daphne full of joyous confidence, as if he were completely transformed.
While at Archon's table he had determined to place his cure in the hands of higher powers. This was the will of Fate; for the guest whose cushion he shared was Silanus, the host's son, and the first thing he learned from him was the news that he was going the next day, with several friends, to the oracle of Amon in the Libyan Desert, to ask it what should be done for his mother, who had been for several years an invalid whom no physician could help. He had heard from many quarters that the counsel of the god, who had greeted Alexander the Great as his son, was infallible.
Then Hermon had been most urgently pressed by the young man to accompany him. Every comfort would be provided. One of his father's fine ships would convey them to Paraetonium, where tents, saddle horses, and guides for the short land journey would be ready.
So he had promised to go with Silanus, and his decision was warmly approved by his uncle, Daphne, and the gray-haired Pelusinian couple. Perhaps the god would show the blind man the right path to recovery. He would always be able to call the skill of the Alexandrian leeches to his aid.
Soon after Hermon went on board Archon's splendidly equipped vessel and, instead of a tiresome journey, began a new and riotous period of festivity.
Lavish provision had been made for gay companions of both sexes, merry entertainment by means of dancing, music, and song, well filled dishes and mixing vessels, and life during the ride through the coast and desert regions was not less jovial and luxurious than on the ship.
It seemed to the blind man like one vast banquet in the dark, interrupted only by sleep.
The hope of counsel from the gods cheered the depressed mood which had weighed upon him for several weeks, and rich young Silanus praised the lucky fate which had enabled him to find a travelling companion whose intellect and wit charmed him and the others, and often detained them over the wine until late into the night.
Here, too, Hermon felt himself the most distinguished person, the animating and attracting power, until it was said that the voyage was over, and the company pitched their tents in the famous oasis near the Temple of Amon.
The musicians and dancers, with due regard to propriety, had been left behind in the seaport of Paraetonium. Yet the young travellers were sufficiently gay while Silanus and Hermon waited for admission to the place of the oracle. A week after their arrival it was opened to them, yet the words repeated to them by the priest satisfied neither Hermon nor Archon's son, for the oracle advised the latter to bring his mother herself to the oasis by the land road if she earnestly desired recovery, while to Hermon was shouted the ambiguous saying:
"Only night and darkness spring from the rank marsh of pleasure; Morning and day rise brightly from the starving sand."
Could Silanus's mother, who was unable to move, endure the desert journey? And what was the meaning of the sand, from which morning and day—which was probably the fresh enjoyment of the light—were to rise for Hermon? The sentence of the oracle weighed heavily upon him, as well as on Archon's son, who loved his mother, and the homeward journey became to the blind man by no means a cheerful but rather a very troubled dream.
Thoughtful, very disturbed, dissatisfied with himself, and resolved to turn his back upon the dreary life of pleasure which for so long a time had allowed him no rest, and now disgusted him, he kept aloof from his travelling companions, and rejoiced when, at Alexandria, he was led ashore in the harbour of Eunostus.
Hermon entered his house with drooping head.
Here he was informed that the grammateus of the Dionysian artists had already called twice to speak to him concerning an important matter. When he came from the bath, Proclus visited him again. His errand was to invite him to a banquet which was to take place that evening at his residence in a wing of the royal palace.
But Hermon was not in the mood to share a joyous revel, and he frankly said so, although immediately after his return he had accepted the invitation to the festival which the whole fellowship of artists would give the following day in honour of the seventieth birthday of the old sculptor Euphranor. The grammateus alluded to this, and most positively insisted that he could not release him; for he came not only by his own wish, but in obedience to the command of Queen Arsinoe, who desired to tell the creator of the Demeter how highly she esteemed his work and his art. She would appear herself at dessert, and the banquet must therefore begin at an unusually early hour. He, Proclus, was to have the high honour of including the royal lady among his guests solely on Hermon's account, and his refusal would be an insult to the Queen.
So the artist found himself obliged to relinquish his opposition. He did this reluctantly; but the Queen's attention to him and his art flattered his vanity and, if he was to abandon the intoxicating and barren life of pleasure, it could scarcely be done more worthily than at a festival where the King's consort intended to distinguish him in person.
The banquet was to begin in a few hours, yet he could not let the day pass without seeing Daphne and telling her the words of the oracle. He longed, with ardent yearning, for the sound of her voice, and still more to unburden his sorely troubled soul to her.
Oh, if only his Myrtilus still walked among the living! How totally different, in spite of his lost vision, would his life have been!
Daphne was now the only one whom he could put in his place.
Since his return from the oracle, the fear that the rescued Demeter might yet be the work of Myrtilus had again mastered him. However loudly outward circumstances might oppose this, he now felt, with a certainty which surprised him, that this work was not his own. The approval, as well as the doubts, which it aroused in others strengthened his opinion, although even now he could not succeed in bringing it into harmony with the facts. How deep had been the intoxication in which he had so long reeled from one day to the next, since it had succeeded in keeping every doubt of the authorship of this work far from him!
Now he must obtain certainty, and Daphne could help him to it; for, as a priestess of Demeter, she possessed the right to procure him access to the cella and get permission for him to climb the lofty pedestal and feel the statue with his fingers, whose sense of touch had become much keener.
He would frankly inform her of his fear, and her truthful nature would find the doubt that gnawed his heart as unendurable as he himself.
It would have been a grave crime to woo her before he was relieved of this uncertainty, and he would utter the decisive words that very day, and ask her whether her love was great enough to share the joys and sorrows of life with him, the blind man, who perhaps must also divest himself of a false fame.
He called at Archias's house with a wreath on his head and in festal robes; but Daphne was in the temple, whither old Philippus and Thyone had gone, and his uncle was attending a late session of the Council.
He would have liked to follow Daphne to the sanctuary, but the late hour forbade it, and he therefore only charged Gras to tell his young mistress that he was going to Proclus's banquet, and would return early the next morning to discuss a most important subject with her.
Then he went directly to the neighbouring palace. The Queen might have appeared already, and it would not do to keep her waiting.
He was aware that she lived at variance with her husband, but how could he have suspected that she cherished the more than bold design of hurling the sovereign from his throne and seizing the Egyptian crown herself.
Proclus and Althea were among the conspirators who supported Arsinoe, and the Queen thought it would be an easy matter to win over to her cause and herself the handsome sculptor, whom she remembered at the last Dionysia.
The wealthy blind artist, so highly esteemed among the members of his profession, might become valuable to the conspiracy, for she knew what enthusiastic devotion the Alexandrian artists felt for the King, and everything depended upon forming a party in her own favour among them. This task was to fall to Hermon, and also another, still more important one; for he, his nephew and future son-in-law, if any one, could persuade the wealthy Archias to lend the plot his valuable aid. Hitherto the merchant had been induced, it is true, to advance large sums of money to the Queen, but the loyal devotion which he showed to her royal husband had rendered it impossible to give him even a hint of the conspiracy. Althea, however, declared that the blind man's marriage to Daphne was only a question of time, and Proclus added that the easily excited nephew would show himself more pliant than the uncle if Arsinoe exerted upon him the irresistible charm of her personality.
When Hermon entered the residence of the grammateus in the palace, the guests had already assembled. The Queen was not to appear until after the feast, when the mixing jars were filled. The place by Hermon's side, which Althea had chosen for herself, would then be given up to Arsinoe.
The sovereign was as unaccustomed to the society of a blind artist as Hermon was to that of a queen, and both eagerly anticipated the approaching meeting.
Yet it was difficult for Hermon to turn a bright face toward his companion. The sources of anxiety and grief which had previously burdened his mind would not vanish, even under the roof of the royal palace.
Althea's presence reminded him of Tennis, Ledscha, and Nemesis, who for so long a time seemed to have suspended her persecution, but since he had returned from the abode of the oracle was again asserting the old right to him. During many a sleepless hour of the night he had once more heard the rolling of her terrible wheel.
Even before the journey to the oasis of Amon, everything life could offer him, the idle rake, in his perpetual darkness, had seemed shallow and scarcely worth stretching out his hand for it.
True, an interesting conversation still had power to charm him, but often during its continuance the full consciousness of his misfortune forced itself upon his mind; for the majority of the subjects discussed by the artists came to them through the medium of sight, and referred to new creations of architecture, sculpture, and painting, from whose enjoyment his blindness debarred him.
When returning home from a banquet, if his way lay through the city, he was reminded of the superb buildings, marble terraces and fountains, statues and porticoes, which had formerly satiated his eyes with delight, and must now be illumined with a brilliant radiance by the morning sunbeams, though a hostile fate shut them out from his eyes, starving and thirsting for beautiful forms.
But it had seemed to him still harder to bear that his blinded eyes refused to show him the most beautiful of all beautiful things, the human form, when he lingered among the Ephebi or the spectators of a festal procession, or visited the gymnasium, the theatre, the Aphrodisium, or the Paneum gardens, where the beautiful women met at sunset.
The Queen was to appear immediately, and when she took her place near him his blindness would again deprive him of the sight of her delicately cut features, prevent his returning the glances from her sparkling eyes, and admiring the noble outlines of her thinly veiled figure.
Would his troubled spirit at least permit him to enjoy and enter without restraint into the play of her quick wit?
Perhaps her arrival would relieve him from the discomfort which oppressed him here.
A stranger, out of his own sphere, he felt chilled among these closely united men and women, to whom no tie bound him save the presence of the same host.
He was not acquainted with a single individual except the mythograph Crates, who for several months had been one of the members of the Museum, and who had attached himself to Hermon at Straton's lectures.
The artist was surprised to find this man in such a circle, but he learned from Althea that the young member of the Museum was a relative of Proclus, and a suitor of the beautiful Nico, one of the Queen's ladies in waiting, who was among the guests.
Crates had really been invited in order to win him over to the Queen's cause; but charming fair-haired Nico had been commissioned by the conspirators to persuade him to sing Arsinoe's praises among his professional associates.
The rest of the men present stood in close connection with Arsinoe, and were fellow-conspirators against her husband's throne and life. The ladies whom Proclus had invited were all confidants of Arsinoe, the wives and daughters of his other guests. All were members of the highest class of society, and their manners showed the entire freedom from restraint that existed in the Queen's immediate circle. Althea profited by the advantage of being Hermon's only acquaintance here. So, when he took his place on the cushion at her side, she greeted him familiarly and cordially, as she had treated him for a long time, wherever they met, and in a low voice told him, sometimes in a kindly tone, sometimes with biting sarcasm, the names and characters of the other guests.
The most aristocratic was Amyntas, who stood highest of all in the Queen's favour because he had good reason to hate the other Arsinoe, the sister of the King. His son had been this royal dame's first husband, and she had deserted him to marry Lysimachus, the aged King of Thrace.
The Rhodian Chrysippus, her leech and trusted counsellor, also possessed great influence over the Queen.
"The noble lady," whispered Althea, "needs the faithful devotion of every well-disposed subject, for perhaps you have already learned how cruelly the King embitters the life of the mother of his three children. Many a caprice can be forgiven the suffering Ptolemy, who recently expressed a wish that he could change places with the common workmen whom he saw eating their meal with a good appetite, and who is now tortured by the gout; yet he watches the hapless woman with the jealousy of a tiger, though he himself is openly faithless to her. What is the Queen to him, since the widow of Lysimachus returned from Thrace—no, from Cassandrea, Ephesus, and sacred Samothrace, or whatever other places there are which would no longer tolerate the murderess?"
"The King's sister—the object of his love?" cried Hermon incredulously. "She must be forty years old now."
"Very true," Althea assented. "But we are in Egypt, where marriages between brothers and sisters are pleasing to gods and men; and besides, we make our own moral laws here. Her age! We women are only as old as we look, and the leeches and tiring women of this beauty of forty practise arts which give her the appearance of twenty-five, yet perhaps the King values her intellect more than her person, and the wisdom of a hundred serpents is certainly united in this woman's head. She will make our poor Queen suffer unless real friends guard her from the worst. The three most trustworthy ones are here: Amyntas, the leech Chrysippus, and the admirable Proclus. Let us hope that you will make this three-leaved clover the luck-promising four-leaved one. Your uncle, too, has often with praiseworthy generosity helped Arsinoe in many an embarrassment. Only make the acquaintance of this beautiful royal lady, and the last drop of your blood will not seem too precious to shed for her! Besides—Proclus told me so in confidence—you have little favour to expect from the King. How long he kept you waiting for the first word concerning a work which justly transported the whole city with delight! When he did finally summon you, he said things which must have wounded you."
"That is going too far," replied Hermon.
"Then he kept back his real opinion," Althea protested. "Had I not made it a rule to maintain absolute silence concerning everything I hear in conversation from those with whom I am closely associated—"
Here she was interrupted by Chrysippus, who asked if Althea had told her neighbour about his Rhodian eye-salve.
He winked at her and made a significant gesture as he spoke, and then informed the blind artist how graciously Arsinoe had remembered him when she heard of the remedy by whose aid many a wonderful cure of blind eyes had been made in Rhodes. The royal lady had inquired about him and his sufferings with almost sisterly interest, and Althea eagerly confirmed the statement.
Hermon listened to the pair in silence.
He had not been able to see them, it is true, yet he had perceived their design as if the loss of sight had sharpened his mental vision. He imagined that he could see the favourite and Althea nudge each other with sneering gestures, and believed that their sole purpose was to render him—he knew not for what object—the obedient tool of the Queen, who had probably also succeeded in persuading his usually cautious uncle to render her great services.
The remembrance of Arsinoe's undignified conduct at the Dionysia, and the shameful stories of her which he had heard returned to his mind. At the same time he saw Daphne rise before him in her aristocratic dignity and kindly goodness, and a smile of satisfaction hovered around his lips as he said to himself: "The spider Althea again! But, in spite of my blindness, I will be caught neither in her net nor in the Queen's. They are the last to bar the way which leads to Daphne and real happiness."
The Rhodian was just beginning to praise Arsinoe also as a special friend and connoisseur of the sculptor's art when Crates, Hermon's fellow-student, asked the blind artist, in behalf of his beautiful companion, why his Demeter was placed upon a pedestal which, to others as well as himself, seemed too high for the size of the statue.
Hermon replied that he had heard several make this criticism, but the priests of the goddess refused to take it into account.
Here he hesitated, for, like a blow from an invisible hand, the thought darted through his mind that perhaps, on the morrow, he would see himself compelled before the whole world to cast aside the crown of fame which he owed to the statue on the lofty pedestal. He did not have even the remotest idea of continuing to deck himself with false renown if his dread was realized; yet he doubtless imagined how this whole aristocratic circle, with the Queen, Althea, and Proclus at its head, would turn with reckless haste from the hapless man who had led them into such a shameful error.
Yet what mattered it, even if these miserable people considered themselves deceived and pointed the finger of scorn at him? Better people would thereby be robbed of the right to accuse him of faithlessness to himself. This thought darted through his heated brain like a flash of lightning, and when, in spite of his silence, the conversation was continued and Althea told the others that only Hermon's blindness had prevented the creation of a work which could have been confidently expected far to surpass the Demeter, since it seemed to have been exactly suited to his special talent, he answered his beautiful companion's remark curtly and absently.
She perceived this with annoyance and perplexity.
A woman who yearns for the regard of all men, and makes love a toy, easily lessens the demands she imposes upon individuals. Only, even though love has wholly disappeared, she still claims consideration, and Althea did not wish to lose Hermon's regard.
When Amyntas, the head of the conspirators, attracted the attention of the company by malicious remarks about the King's sister, the Thracian laid her hand on the blind artist's arm, whispering: "Has the image of the Arachne which, at Tennis, charmed you even in the presence of the angry Zeus, completely vanished from your memory? How indifferent you look! But I tell you"—her deep blue eyes flashed as she spoke—"that so long as you were still a genuine creating artist the case was different. Even while putting the last touches of the file to the Demeter, for which Archias's devout daughter posed as your model, another whom you could not banish from your mind filled your imagination. Though so loud a denial is written on your face, I persist in my conviction, and that no idle delusion ensnares me I can prove!"
Hermon raised his sightless eyes to her inquiringly, but she went on with eager positiveness: "Or, if you did not think of the weaver while carving the goddess, how did you happen to engrave a spider on the ribbon twined around the ears of grain in Demeter's hand? Not the smallest detail of a work produced by the hand of a valued friend escapes my notice, and I perceived it before the Demeter came to the temple and the lofty pedestal. Now I would scarcely be able to discover it in the dusky cella, yet at that time I took pleasure in the sight of the ugly insect, not only because it is cleverly done, but because it reminded me of something"—here she lowered her voice still more—"that pleased me, though probably it would seem less flattering to the daughter of Archias, who perhaps is better suited to act as guide to the blind. How bewildered you look! Eternal gods! Many things are forgotten after long months have passed, but it will be easy for me to sharpen your memory. 'At the time Hermon had just finished the Demeter,' the spider called to me, 'he scratched me on the gold.' But at that very time—yes, my handsome friend, I can reckon accurately—you had met me, Althea, in Tennis, I had brought the spider-woman before your eyes. Was it really nothing but foolish vanity that led me to the conviction that you were thinking of me also when you engraved on the ribbon the despised spider-for which, however, I always felt a certain regard—with the delicate web beneath its slender legs?"
Hitherto Hermon had listened to every word in silence, labouring for breath. He was transported as if by magic to the hour of his return from Pelusium; he saw himself enter Myrtilus's studio and watch his friend scratch something, he did not know what, upon the ribbon which fastened the bunch of golden grain. It was—nay, it could have been nothing else—that very spider. The honoured work was not his, but his dead friend's. How the exchange had occurred he could not now understand, but to disbelieve that it had taken place would have been madness or self-deception.
Now he also understood the doubts of Soteles and the King. Not he—Myrtilus, and he alone, was the creator of the much-lauded Demeter!
This conviction raised a hundred-pound weight from his soul.
What was applause! What was recognition! What were fame and laurel wreaths! He desired clearness and truth for himself and all the world and, as if frantic, he suddenly sprang from his cushions, shouting to the startled guests: "I myself and this whole great city were deceived! The Demeter is not mine, not the work of Hermon! The dead Myrtilus created it!"
Then pressing his hand to his brow, he called his student friend to his side, and, as the scholar anxiously laid his arm on his shoulder, whispered: "Away, away from here! Only let me get out of doors into the open air!"
Crates, bewildered and prepared for the worst, obeyed his wish; but Althea and the other guests left behind felt more and more impressed by the suddenly awakened conviction that the hapless blind man had now also become the victim of madness.
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Aimless life of pleasure
By Georg Ebers
Without a word of explanation, Hermon dragged his guide along in breathless haste. No one stopped them.
The atrium, usually swarming with guards, servants, and officials until a far later hour, was completely deserted when the blind man hurried through it with his friend.
The door leading into the outer air stood open, but Hermon, leaning on the scholar's arm, had scarcely crossed the threshold and entered the little courtyard encircled with ornamental plants, which separated this portion of the palace from the street, when both were surrounded by a band of armed Macedonian soldiers, whose commander exclaimed: "In the name of the King! Not a sound, if you value your lives!"
Incensed, and believing that there was some mistake, Hermon announced himself as a sculptor and Crates as a member of the Museum, but this statement did not produce the slightest effect upon the warrior; nay, when the friends answered the officer's inquiry whether they were coming from Proclus's banquet in the affirmative; he curtly commanded them to be put in chains.
To offer resistance would have been madness, for even Hermon perceived, by the loud clanking of weapons around them, the greatly superior power of the enemy, and they were acting by the orders of the King. "To the prison near the place of execution!" cried the officer; and now not only the mythograph, but Hermon also was startled—this dungeon opened only to those sentenced to death.
Was he to be led to the executioner's block? A cold shudder ran through his frame; but the next moment he threw back his waving locks, and his chest heaved with a long breath.
What pleasure had life to offer him, the blind man, who was already dead to his art? Ought he not to greet this sudden end as a boon from the immortals?
Did it not spare him a humiliation as great and painful as could be imagined?
He had already taken care that the false renown should not follow him to the grave, and Myrtilus should have his just due, and he would do whatever else lay in his power to further this object. Wherever the beloved dead might be, he desired to go there also. Whatever might await him, he desired no better fate. If he had passed into annihilation, he, Hermon, wished to follow him thither, and annihilation certainly meant redemption from pain and misery. But if he were destined to meet his Myrtilus and his mother in the world beyond the grave, what had he not to tell them, how sure he was of finding a joyful reception there from both! The power which delivered him over to death just at that moment was not Nemesis—no, it was a kindly deity.
Only his heart grew heavy at the thought of leaving Daphne to the tireless wooer Philotas or some other—everything else from which it is usually hard to part seemed like a burden that we gladly cast aside.
"Forward!" he called blithely and boldly to the officer; while Crates, with loud lamentations, was protesting his innocence to the warrior who was putting fetters upon him.
A chain was just being clasped around Hermon's wrists also when he suddenly started. His keen ear could not deceive him, and yet a demon must be mocking him, for the voice that had called his name was the girl's of whom, in the presence of welcome death, he had thought with longing regret.
Yet it was no illusion that deceived him. Again he heard the beloved voice, and this time it addressed not only him, but with the utmost haste the commander of the soldiers.
Sometimes with touching entreaty, sometimes with imperious command, she protested, after giving him her name, that this matter could be nothing but an unfortunate mistake. Lastly, with earnest warmth, she besought him, before taking the prisoners away, to permit her to speak to the commanding general, Philippus, her father's guest, who, she was certain, was in the palace. The blood of these innocent men would be on his head if he did not listen to her representations.
"Daphne!" cried Hermon in grateful agitation; but she would not listen to him, and followed the soldier whom the captain detailed to guide her into the palace.
After a few moments, which the blind artist used to inspire the despairing scholar with courage, the girl returned, and she did not come alone. The gray-haired comrade of Alexander accompanied her, and after a few minutes both prisoners were released from their fetters. Philippus hastily refused their thanks and, after addressing a few words to the officer, he changed his tone, and his deep voice sounded paternally cordial as he exclaimed to Daphne: "Fifteen minutes more, you dear, foolhardy girl, and it would have been too late. To-morrow you shall confess to me who treacherously directed you to this dangerous path."
Lastly, he turned to the prisoners to explain that they would be conducted to the adjacent barracks of the Diadochi, and spend the night there.
Early the next morning they should be examined, and, if they could clear themselves from the suspicion of belonging to the ranks of the conspirators, released.
Daphne again pleaded for the liberation of the prisoners, but Philippus silenced her with the grave exclamation, "The order of the King!"
The old commander offered no objection to her wish to accompany Hermon to prison. Daphne now slipped her arm through her cousin's, and commanded the steward Gras, who had brought her here, to follow them.
The goal of the nocturnal walk, which was close at hand, was reached at the end of a few minutes, and the prisoners were delivered to the commander of the Diadochi. This kindly disposed officer had served under Hermon's father, and when the names of the prisoners were given, and the officer reported to him that General Philippus recommended them to his care as innocent men, he had a special room opened for the sculptor and his fair guide, and ordered Crates to enter another.
He could permit the beautiful daughter of the honoured Archias to remain with Hermon for half an hour, then he must beg her to allow herself to be escorted to her home, as the barracks were closed at that time.
As soon as the captive artist was alone with the woman he loved, he clasped her hand, pouring forth incoherent words of the most ardent gratitude, and when he felt her warmly return the pressure, he could not restrain the desire to clasp her to his heart. For the first time his lips met hers, he confessed his love, and that he had just regarded death as a deliverer; but his life was now gaining new charm through her affection.
Then Daphne herself threw her arms around his neck with fervent devotion.
The love that resistlessly drew his heart to her was returned with equal strength and ardour. In spite of his deep mental distress, he could have shouted aloud in his delight and gratitude. He might now have been permitted to bind forever to his life the woman who had just rescued him from the greatest danger, but the confession he must make to his fellow-artists in the palaestra the following morning still sealed his lips. Yet in this hour he felt that he was united to her, and ought not to conceal what awaited him; so, obeying a strong impulse, he exclaimed: "You know that I love you! Words can not express the strength of my devotion, but for that very reason I must do what duty commands before I ask the question, 'Will you join your fate to mine?'"
"I love you and have loved you always!" Daphne exclaimed tenderly. "What more is needed?"
But Hermon, with drooping head, murmured: "To-morrow I shall no longer be what I am now. Wait until I have done what duty enjoins; when that is accomplished, you shall ask yourself what worth the blind artist still possesses who bartered spurious fame for mockery and disgrace in order not to become a hypocrite."
Then Daphne raised her face to his, asking, "So the Demeter is the work of Myrtilus?"
"Certainly," he answered firmly. "It is the work of Myrtilus."
"Oh, my poor, deceived love!" cried Daphne, strongly agitated, in a tone of the deepest sorrow. "What a terrible ordeal again awaits you! It must indeed distress me—and yet Do not misunderstand me! It seems nevertheless as if I ought to rejoice, for you and your art have not spoken to me even a single moment from this much-lauded work."
"And therefore," he interrupted with passionate delight, "therefore alone you withheld the enthusiastic praise with which the others intoxicated me? And I, fool, blinded also in mind, could be vexed with you for it! But only wait, wait! Soon-to-morrow even—there will be no one in Alexandria who can accuse me of deserting my own honest aspiration, and, if the gods will only restore my sight and the ability to use my hands as a sculptor, then, girl, then—"
Here he was interrupted by a loud knocking at the door.
The time allowed had expired.
Hermon again warmly embraced Daphne, saying: "Then go! Nothing can cloud what these brief moments have bestowed. I must remain blind; but you have restored the lost sight to my poor darkened soul. To-morrow I shall stand in the palaestra before my comrades, and explain to them what a malicious accident deceived me, and with me this whole great city. Many will not believe me, and even your father will perhaps consider it a disgrace to give his arm to his scorned, calumniated nephew to guide him home. Bring this before your mind, and everything else that you must accept with it, if you consent, when the time arrives, to become mine. Conceal and palliate nothing! But should the Lady Thyone speak of the Eumenides who pursued me, tell her that they had probably again extended their arms toward me, but when I return to-morrow from the palaestra I shall be freed from the terrible beings."
Lastly, he asked to be told quickly how she had happened to come to the palace at the right time at so late an hour, and Daphne informed him as briefly and modestly as if the hazardous venture which, in strong opposition to her retiring, womanly nature, she had undertaken, was a mere matter of course.
When Thyone in her presence heard from Gras that Hermon intended to go to Proclus's banquet, she started up in horror, exclaiming, "Then the unfortunate man is lost!"
Her husband, who had long trusted even the gravest secrets to his discreet old wife, had informed her of the terrible office the King had confided to him. All the male guests of Proclus were to be executed; the women—the Queen at their head—would be sent into exile.
Then Daphne, on her knees, besought the matron to tell her what threatened Hermon, and succeeded in persuading her to speak.
The terrified girl, accompanied by Gras, went first to her lover's house and, when she did not find him there, hastened to the King's palace.
If Hermon could have seen her with her fluttering hair, dishevelled by the night breeze, and checks blanched by excitement and terror, if he had been told how she struggled with Thyone, who tried to detain her and lock her up before she left her father's house, he would have perceived with still prouder joy, had that been possible, what he possessed in the devoted love of this true woman.
Grateful and moved by joyous hopes, he informed Daphne of the words of the oracle, which had imprinted themselves upon his memory.
She, too, quickly retained them, and murmured softly:
"Noise and dazzling radiance are hostile to the purer light, Morning and day will rise quietly from the starving sand."
What could the verse mean except that the blind man would regain the power to behold the light of clay amid the sands of the silent desert?
Perhaps it would be well for him to leave Alexandria now, and she described how much benefit she had received while hunting from the silence of the wilderness, when she had left the noise of the city behind her. But before she had quite finished, the knocking at the door was repeated.
The lovers took leave of each other with one last kiss, and the final words of the departing girl echoed consolingly in the blind man's heart, "The more they take from you, the more closely I will cling to you."
Hermon spent the latter portion of the night rejoicing in the consciousness of a great happiness, yet also troubled by the difficult task which he could not escape.
When the market place was filling, gray-haired Philippus visited him.
He desired before the examination, for which every preparation had been made, to understand personally the relation of his dead comrade's son to the defeated conspiracy, and he soon perceived that Hermon's presence at the banquet was due solely to an unlucky accident or in consequence of the Queen's desire to win him over to her plot.
Yet he was forced to advise the blind sculptor to leave Alexandria. The suspicion that he had been associated with the conspirators was the more difficult to refute, because his Uncle Archias had imprudently allowed himself to be persuaded by Proclus and Arsinoe to lend the Queen large sums, which had undoubtedly been used to promote her abominable plans.
Philippus also informed him that he had just come from Archias, whom he had earnestly urged to fly as quickly as possible from the persecution which was inevitable; for, secure as Hermon's uncle felt in his innocence, the receipts for the large sums loaned by him, which had just been found in Proclus's possession, would bear witness against him. Envy and ill will would also have a share in this affair, and the usually benevolent King knew no mercy where crime against his own person was concerned. So Archias intended to leave the city on one of his own ships that very day. Daphne, of course, would accompany him.
The prisoner listened in surprise and anxiety.
His uncle driven from his secure possessions to distant lands! Daphne taken from him, he knew not whither nor for how long a time, after he had just been assured of her great love! He himself on the way to expose himself to the malice and mockery of the whole city!
His heart contracted painfully, and his solicitude about his uncle's fate increased when Philippus informed him that the conspirators had been arrested at the banquet and, headed by Amyntas, the Rhodian, Chrysippus, and Proclus, had perished by the executioner's sword at sunrise.
The Queen, Althea, and the other ladies were already on the way to Coptos, in Upper Egypt, whither the King had exiled them.
Ptolemy had intrusted the execution of this severe punishment to Alexander's former comrade as the most trustworthy and discreet of his subjects, but rejected, with angry curtness, Philippus's attempt to uphold the innocence of his friend Archias.
The old man's conversation with Hermon was interrupted by the functionaries who subjected him and Crates to the examination. It lasted a long time, and referred to every incident in the artist's life since his return to Alexandria. The result was favourable, and the prisoner was dismissed from confinement with the learned companion of his fate.
When, accompanied by Philippus, Hermon reached his house, it was so late that the artists' festival in honour of the sculptor Euphranor, who entered his seventieth year of life that day, must have already commenced.
On the way the blind man told the general what a severe trial awaited him, and the latter approved his course and, on bidding him farewell, with sincere emotion urged Hermon to take courage.
After hastily strengthening himself with a few mouthfuls of food and a draught of wine, his slave Patran, who understood writing, wished to put on the full laurel wreath; but Hermon was seized with a painful sense of dissatisfaction, and angrily waved it back.
Without a single green leaf on his head, he walked, leaning on the Egyptian's arm, into the palaestra, which was diagonally opposite to his house.
Doubtless he longed to hasten at once to Daphne, but he felt that he could not take leave of her until he had first cast off, as his heart and mind dictated, the terrible burden which oppressed his soul. Besides, he knew that the object of his love would not part from him without granting him one last word.
On the way his heart throbbed almost to bursting.
Even Daphne's image, and what threatened her father, and her with him, receded far into the background. He could think only of his design, and how he was to execute it.
Yet ought he not to have the laurel wreath put on, in order, after removing it, to bestow it on the genius of Myrtilus?
Did he still possess the right to award this noble branch to any one? He was appearing before his companions only to give truth its just due. It was repulsive to endow this explanation of an unfortunate error with a captivating aspect by any theatrical adornment. To be honest, even for the porter, was a simple requirement of duty, and no praiseworthy merit.
The guide forced a path for him through carriages, litters, and whole throngs of slaves and common people, who had assembled before the neighbouring palaestra.
The doorkeepers admitted the blind man, who was well known here, without delay; but he called to the slave: "Quick, Patran, and not among the spectators—in the centre of the arena!"
The Egyptian obeyed, and his master crossed the wide space, strewn with sand, and approached the stage which had been erected for the festal performances.
Even had his eyes retained the power of sight, his blood was coursing so wildly through his veins that he might perhaps have been unable to distinguish the statues around him and the thousands of spectators, who, crowded closely together, richly garlanded, their cheeks glowing with enthusiasm, surrounded the arena.
"Hermon!" shouted his friend Soteles in joyful surprise in the midst of this painful walk. "Hermon!" resounded here, there, and everywhere as, leaning on his friend's arm, he stepped upon the stage, and the acclamations grew louder and louder as Soteles fulfilled the sculptor's request and led him to the front of the platform.
Obeying a sign from the director of the festival, the chorus, which had just sung a hymn to the Muses, was silent.
Now the sculptor began to speak, and noisy applause thundered around him as he concluded the well-chosen words of homage with which he offered cordial congratulations to the estimable Euphranor, to whom the festival was given; but the shouts soon ceased, for the audience had heard his modest entreaty to be permitted to say a few words, concerning a personal matter, to those who were his professional colleagues, as well as to the others who had honoured him with their interest and, only too loudly, with undeserved applause. The more closely what he had to say concerned himself, the briefer he would make his story.
And, in fact, he did not long claim the attention of his hearers. Clearly and curtly he stated how it had been possible to mistake Mrytilus's work for his, how the Tennis goldsmith had dispelled his first suspicion, and how vainly he had besought the priests of Demeter to be permitted to feel his statue. Then, without entering into details, he informed them that, through an accident, he had now reached the firm conviction that he had long worn wreaths which belonged to another. But, though the latter could not rise from the grave, he still owed it to truth, to whose service he had dedicated his art from the beginning, and to the simple honesty, dear alike to the peasant and the artist, to divest himself of the fame to which he was not entitled. Even while he believed himself to be the creator of the Demeter, he had been seriously troubled by the praise of so many critics, because it had exposed him to the suspicion of having become faithless to his art and his nature. In the name of the dead, he thanked his dear comrades for the enthusiastic appreciation his masterpiece had found. Honour to Myrtilus and his art, but he trusted this noble festal assemblage would pardon the unintentional deception, and aid his prayer for recovery. If it should be granted he hoped to show that Hermon had not been wholly unworthy to adorn himself for a short time with the wreaths of Myrtilus.
When he closed, deep silence reigned for a brief interval, and one man looked at another irresolutely until the hero of the day, gray-haired Euphranor, rose and, leaning on the arm of his favourite pupil, walked through the centre of the arena to the stage, mounted it, embraced Hermon with paternal warmth, and made him happy by the words: "The deception that has fallen to your lot, my poor young friend, is a lamentable one; but honour to every one who honestly means to uphold the truth. We will beseech the immortals with prayers and sacrifices to restore sight to your artist eyes. If I am permitted, my dear young comrade, to see you continue to create, it will be a source of joy to me and all of us; yet the Muses, even though unasked, lead into the eternal realm of beauty the elect who consecrates his art to truth with the right earnestness."
The embrace with which the venerable hero of the festival seemed to absolve Hermon was greeted with loud applause; but the kind words which Euphranor, in the weak voice of age, had addressed to the blind man had been unintelligible to the large circle of guests.
When he again descended to the arena new plaudits rose; but soon hisses and other signs of disapproval blended with them, which increased in strength and number when a well known critic, who had written a learned treatise concerning the relation of the Demeter to Hermon's earlier works, expressed his annoyance in a loud whistle. The dissatisfied and disappointed spectators now vied with one another to silence those who were cheering by a hideous uproar while the latter expressed more and more loud the sincere esteem with which they were inspired by the confession of the artist who, though cruelly prevented from winning fresh fame, cast aside the wreath which a dead man had, as were, proffered from his tomb.
Probably every man thought that, in the same situation, he would have done the same yet not only justice—nay, compassion—dictated showing the blind artist that they believed in and would sustain him. The ill-disposed insisted that Hermon had only done what duty commanded the meanest man, and the fact that he had deceived all Alexandria still remained. Not a few joined this party, for larger possession excite envy perhaps even more frequently than greater fame.
Soon the approving and opposing voices mingled in an actual conflict. But before the famous sculptor Chares, the great and venerable artist Nicias, and several younger friends of Hermon quelled this unpleasant disturbance of the beautiful festival, the blind man, leaning on the arm of his fellow-artist Soteles, had left the palaestra.
At the exit he, parted from his friend, who had been made happy by the ability to absolve his more distinguished leader from the reproach of having become faithless to their common purpose, and who intended to intercede further in his behalf in the palaestra.
Hermon no longer needed him; for, besides his slave Patran, he found the steward Gras, who, by his master's order, guided the blind man to Archias's closed harmamaxa, which was waiting outside the building.
The sculptor's head was burning feverishly when he entered the vehicle. He had never imagined that the consequences of his explanation would be so terrible. During the drive—by no means a long one—to the great harbour, he strove to collect his thoughts. Groaning aloud, he covered his ears with his hands to shut out the shouts and hisses from the palaestra, which in reality were no longer audible.
True, he would not need to expose himself to this uproar a second time, yet if he remained in Alexandria the witticisms, mockery, and jibes of the whole city, though in a gentler form, would echo hundreds of times around him.
He must leave the city. He would have preferred to go on board the staunch Tacheia and be borne far away with his uncle and Daphne, but he was obliged to deny himself the fulfilment of this desire. He must now think solely of regaining his sight.
Obedient to the oracle, he would go to the desert where from the "starving sand" the radiant daylight was to rise anew for him.
There he would, at any rate, be permitted to recover the clearness of perception and feeling which he had lost in the delirium of the dissolute life of pleasure that he had led in the past. Pythagoras had already forbidden the folly of spoiling the present by remorse; and he, too, did not do this. It would have been repugnant to his genuinely Greek nature. Instead of looking backward with peevish regret, his purpose was to look with blithe confidence toward the future, and to do his best to render it better and more fruitful than the months of revel which lay behind him.
He could no longer imagine a life worth living without Daphne, and the thought that if his uncle were robbed of his wealth he would become her support cheered his heart. If the oracle did not fulfil its promise, he would again appeal to medical skill, and submit even to the most severe suffering which might be imposed upon him.
The drive to the great harbour was soon over, but the boat which lay waiting for him had a considerable distance to traverse, for the Tacheia was no longer at the landing place, but was tacking outside the Pharos, in order, if the warrant of arrest were issued, not to be stopped at the channel dominated by the lighthouse. He found the slender trireme pervaded by a restless stir. His uncle had long been expecting him with burning impatience.
He knew, through Philippus, what duty still detained the deceived artist, but he learned, at the same time, that his own imprisonment had been determined, and it would be advisable for him to leave the city behind him as quickly as possible. Yet neither Daphne nor he was willing to depart without saying farewell to Hermon.
But the danger was increasing every moment, and, warm as was the parting, the last clasp of the hand and kiss swiftly followed the first words of greeting.
So the blind artist learned only that Archias was going to the island of Lesbos, his mother's home, and that he had promised his daughter to give Hermon time to recover his sight. The property bequeathed to him by Myrtilus had been placed by the merchant in the royal bank, and he had also protected himself against any chance of poverty. Hermon was to send news of his health to Lesbos from time to time if a safe opportunity offered and, when Daphne knew where he was to be found, she could let him have tidings. Of course, for the present great caution must be exercised in order not to betray the abode of the fugitives.
Hermon, too, ought to evade the pursuit of the incensed King as quickly as possible.
Not only Daphne's eyes, but her father's also, overflowed with tears at this parting, and Hermon perceived more plainly than ever that he was as dear to his uncle as though he were his own son.
The low words which the artist exchanged with the woman whose love, even during the period of separation, would shed light and warmth upon his darkened life, were deeply impressed upon the souls of both.
For the present, faithful Gras was to remain in charge of his master's house in Alexandria. Leaning on his arm, the blind man left the Tacheia, which, as soon as both had entered the boat, was urged forward by powerful strokes of the oars.
The Bithynian informed Hermon that kerchiefs were waving him a farewell from the trireme, that the sails had been unfurled, and the wind was driving the swift vessel before it like a swallow.
At the Pharos Gras reported that a royal galley was just passing them, undoubtedly in pursuit of the Tacheia; but the latter was the swiftest of all the Greek vessels, and they need not fear that she would be overtaken by the war ship.
With a sore heart and the desolate feeling of being now utterly alone, Hermon again landed and ordered that his uncle's harmamaxa should convey him to the necropolis. He desired to seek peace at his mother's grave, and to take leave of these beloved tombs.
Guided by the steward, he left them cheered and with fresh confidence in the future, and the faithful servant's account of the energy with which Daphne had aided the preparations for departure benefited him like a refreshing bath.
When he was again at home, one visitor after another was announced, who came there from the festival in the palaestra, and, in spite of his great reluctance to receive them, he denied no one admittance, but listened even to the ill-disposed and spiteful.
In the battle which he had commenced he must not shrink from wounds, and he was struck by many a poisoned shaft. But, to make amends, a clear understanding was effected between him and those whom he esteemed.
The last caller left him just before midnight.
Hermon now made many preparations for departure.
He intended to go into the desert with very little luggage, as the oracle seemed to direct. How long a time his absence would extend could not be estimated, and the many poor people whom he had fed and supported must not suffer through his departure. The arrangements required to effect this he dictated to the slave, who understood writing. He had gained in him an extremely capable servant, and Patran expressed his readiness to follow him into the desert; but the wry face which, sure that the blind man could not see him, he made while saying so, seemed to prove the contrary.
Weary, and yet too excited to find sleep, Hermon at last went to rest.
If his Myrtilus had been with him now, what would he not have had to say to express his gratitude, to explain! How overjoyed he would have been at the fulfilment of his wish to see him united to Daphne, at least in heart; with what fiery ardour he would have upbraided those who believed him capable of having appropriated what belonged to another!
But Myrtilus was no more, and who could tell whether his body had not remained unburied, and his soul was therefore condemned to be borne restlessly between heaven and earth, like a leaf driven by the wind? Yet, if the earth covered him, where was the spot on which sacrifices could be offered to his soul, his tombstone could be anointed, and he himself remembered?
Then a doubt which had never before entered his mind suddenly took possession of Hermon.
Since for so many months he had firmly believed his friend's work to be his own, he might also have fallen into another delusion, and Myrtilus might still dwell among the living.
At this thought the blind man, with a swift movement, sat erect upon his couch; it seemed as if a bright light blazed before his eyes in the dark room.
The reasons which had led the authorities to pronounce Myrtilus dead rendered his early end probable, it is true, yet by no means proved it absolutely. He must hold fast to that.
He who, ever since he returned to Alexandria from Tennis, had squandered precious time as if possessed by evil demons, would now make a better use of it. Besides, he longed to leave the capital. What! Suppose he should now, even though it were necessary to delay obeying the oracle's command, search, traverse, sail through the world in pursuit of Myrtilus, even, if it must be, to the uttermost Thule?
But he fell back upon the couch as quickly as he had started up.
"Blind! blind!" he groaned in dull despair. How could he, who was not able even to see his hand before his eyes, succeed in finding his friend?
And yet, yet——
Had his mind been darkened with his eyes, that this thought came to him now for the first time, that he had not sent messengers to all quarters of the globe to find some trace of the assailants and, with them, of the lost man?
Perhaps it was Ledscha who had him in her power, and, while he was pondering and forming plans for the best way of conducting investigations, the dimmed image of the Biamite again returned distinctly to his mind, and with it that of Arachne and the spider, into which the goddess transformed the weaver.
Half overcome by sleep, he saw himself, staff in hand, led by Daphne, cross green meadows and deserts, valleys and mountains, to seek his friend; yet whenever he fancied he caught sight of him, and Ledscha with him, in the distance, the spider descended from above and, with magical speed, wove a net which concealed both from his gaze.
Groaning and deeply disturbed, half awake, he struggled onward, always toward one goal, to find his Myrtilus again, when suddenly the sound of the knocker on the entrance door and the barking of Lycas, his Arabian greyhound, shook the house.
Recalled to waking life, he started up and listened.
Had the men who were to arrest him or inquisitive visitors not allowed themselves to be deterred even by the late hour?
He listened angrily as the old porter sternly accosted the late guest; but, directly after, the gray-haired native of the region near the First Cataract burst into the strange Nubian oaths which he lavished liberally whenever anything stirred his aged soul.
The dog, which Hermon had owned only a few months, continued to bark; but above his hostile baying the blind man thought he recognised a name at whose sound the blood surged hotly into his cheeks. Yet he could scarcely have heard aright!
Still he sprang from the couch, groped his way to the door, opened it, and entered the impluvium that adjoined his bedroom. The cool night air blew upon him from the open ceiling. A strong draught showed that the door leading from the atrium was being opened, and now a shout, half choked by weeping, greeted him: "Hermon! My clear, my poor beloved master!"
"Bias, faithful Bias!" fell from the blind man's lips, and when he felt the returned slave sink down before him, cover his hand with kisses and wet it with tears, he raised him in his strong arms, clasped him in a warm embrace, kissed his checks, and gasped, "And Myrtilus, my Myrtilus, is he alive?"
"Yes, yes, yes," sobbed Bias. "But you, my lord-blind, blind! Can it be true?"
When Hermon released him to inquire again about his friend, Bias stammered: "He isn't faring so badly; but you, you, bereft of light and also of the joy of seeing your faithful Bias again! And the immortals prolong one's years to experience such evils! Two griefs always belong to one joy, like two horses to a chariot."
"My wise Bias! Just as you were of old!" cried Hermon in joyful excitement.
Then he quieted the hound and ordered one of the attendants, who came hurrying in, to bring out whatever dainty viands the house contained and a jar of the best Byblus wine from the cellar.
Meanwhile he did not cease his inquiries about his friend's health, and ordered a goblet to be brought him also, that he might pledge the slave and give brief answers to his sympathizing questions about the cause of the blindness, the noble Archias, the gracious young mistress Daphne, the famous Philippus and his wife, the companion Chrysilla, and the steward Gras. Amid all this he resolved to free the faithful fellow and, while Bias was eating, he could not refrain from telling him that he had found a mistress for him, that Daphne was the wife whom he had chosen, but the wedding was still a long way off.
He controlled his impatience to learn the particulars concerning his friend's fate until Bias had partially satisfied his hunger.
A short time ago Hermon would have declared it impossible that he could ever become so happy during this period of conflict and separation from the object of his love.
The thought of his lost inheritance doubtless flitted through his mind, but it seemed merely like worthless dust, and the certainty that Myrtilus still walked among the living filled him with unclouded happiness. Even though he could no longer see him, he might expect to hear his beloved voice again. Oh, what delight that he was permitted to have his friend once more, as well as Daphne, that he could meet him so freely and joyously and keep the laurel, which had rested with such leaden weight upon his head, for Myrtilus, and for him alone!
But where was he?
What was the name of the miracle which had saved him, and yet kept him away from his embrace so long?
How had Myrtilus and Bias escaped the flames and death on that night of horror?
A flood of questions assailed the slave before he could begin a connected account, and Hermon constantly interrupted it to ask for details concerning his friend and his health at each period and on every occasion.
Much surprised by his discreet manner, the artist listened to the bondman's narrative; for though Bias had formerly allowed himself to indulge in various little familiarities toward his master, he refrained from them entirely in this story, and the blind man's misfortune invested him in his eyes with a peculiar sacredness.
He had arrived wounded on the pirate ship with his master's friend, the returned bondman began. When he had regained consciousness, he met Ledscha on board the Hydra, as the wife of the pirate Hanno. She had nursed Myrtilus with tireless solicitude, and also often cared for his, Bias's, wounds. After the recovery of the prisoners, she became their protectress, and placed Bias in the service of the Greek artist.
They, the Gaul Lutarius, and one of the sculptor's slaves, were the only ones who had been brought on board the Hydra alive from the attack in Tennis, but the latter soon succumbed to his wounds.
Hermon owed it solely to the bridge-builder that he had escaped from the vengeance of his Biamite foe, for the tall Gaul, whose thick beard resembled Hermon's in length and blackness, was mistaken by Hanno for the person whom Ledscha had directed him to deliver alive into her power.
The pirate had surrendered the wrong captive to the woman he loved and, as Bias declared, to his serious disadvantage; for, though Hanno and the Biamite girl were husband and wife, no one could help perceiving the cold dislike with which Ledscha rebuffed the giant who read her every wish in her eyes. Finally, the captain of the pirate ship, a silent man by nature, often did not open his lips for days except to give orders to the crew. Frequently he even refused to be relieved from duty, and remained all night at the helm.
Only when, at his own risk, or with the vessels of his father and brother, he attacked merchant ships or defended himself against a war galley, did he wake to vigorous life and rush with gallant recklessness into battle.
A single man on the Hydra was little inferior to him in strength and daring—the Gaul Lutarius. He had been enrolled among the pirates, and when Hanno was wounded in an engagement with a Syrian war galley, was elected his representative. During this time Ledscha faithfully performed her duty as her young husband's nurse, but afterward treated him as coldly as before.
Yet she devoted herself eagerly to the ship and the crew, and the fierce, lawless fellows cheerfully submitted to the sensible arrangements of their captain's beautiful, energetic wife. At this period Bias had often met Ledscha engaged in secret conversation with the Gaul, yet if any tender emotion really attracted her toward any one other than her husband, Myrtilus would have been suspected rather than the black-bearded bridge-builder; for she not only showed the sculptor the kindest consideration, but often entered into conversation with him, and even persuaded him, when the sea was calm, or the Hydra lay at anchor in one of the hidden bays known to the pirates, to practise his art, and at last to make a bust of her. She had succeeded in getting him clay, wax, and tools for the purpose. After asking which goddess had ill-treated the weaver Arachne, she commanded him to make a head of Athene, adorned with the helmet, modelled from her own. During this time she frequently inquired whether her features really were not beautiful enough to be copied for the countenance of a goddess, and when he eagerly assured her of the fact, made him swear that he was not deceiving her with flattery.
Neither Bias nor Myrtilus had ever been allowed to remain on shore; but, on the whole, the slave protested, Myrtilus's health, thanks to the pure sea air on the Hydra, had improved, in spite of the longing which often assailed him, and the great excitements to which he was sometimes exposed.