There had been anxious hours when Hanno's father and brothers visited the Hydra to induce her captain to make money out of the captive sculptor, and either sell him at a high price or extort a large ransom from him; but Bias had overheard how resolutely Ledscha opposed these proposals, and represented to old Satabus of what priceless importance Myrtilus might become to them if either should be captured and imprisoned.
The greatest excitements, of course, had been connected with the battles of the pirates. Myrtilus, who, in spite of his feeble health, by no means lacked courage, found it especially hard to bear that during the conflicts he was locked up with Bias, but even Ledscha could neither prevent nor restrict these measures.
Bias could not tell what seas the Hydra had sailed, nor at what—usually desolate-shores she had touched. He only knew that she had gone to Sinope in Pontus, passed through the Propontis, and then sought booty near the coasts of Asia Minor. Ledscha had refused to answer every question that referred to these things.
Latterly, the young wife had become very grave, and apparently completely severed her relations with her husband; but she also studiously avoided the Gaul and, if they talked to each other at all, it was in hurried whispers.
So events went on until something occurred which was to affect the lives of the prisoners deeply. It must have been just beyond the outlet from the Hellespont into the AEgean Sea; for, in order to pass through the narrow straits leading thither from Pontus, the Hydra had been most skilfully given the appearance of a peaceful merchant vessel.
The slave's soul must have been greatly agitated by this experience, for while, hitherto, whenever he was interrupted by Hermon he had retained his composure, and could not refrain from occasionally connecting a practical application with his report, now, mastered by the power of the remembrance, he uttered what he wished to tell his master in an oppressed tone, while bright drops of perspiration bedewed the speaker's brow.
A large merchant ship had approached them, and three men came on board the Hydra—old Satabus, his son Labaja, and a gray-haired, bearded seafarer of tall stature and dignified bearing, Schalit, Ledscha's father.
The meeting between the Biamite ship-owner and his child, after so long a separation, was a singular one; for the young wife held out her hand to her father timidly, with downcast eyes, and he refused to take it. Directly after, however, as if constrained by an irresistible impulse, he drew his unruly daughter toward him and kissed her brow and cheeks.
Roast meat and the best wine had been served in the large ship's cabin; but though Myrtilus and Bias had been locked up as if a bloody battle was expected, the loud, angry uproar of men's deep voices reached them, and Ledscha's shrill tones shrieking in passionate wrath blended in the strife. Furniture must have been upset and dishes broken, yet the giants who were disputing here did not come to blows.
At last the savage turmoil subsided.
When Bias and his master were again released, Ledscha was standing, in the dusk of evening, at the foot of the mainmast, pressing her brow against the wood as if she needed some support to save herself from falling.
She checked Myrtilus's words with an imperious "Let me alone!" The next day she had paced restlessly up and down the deck like a caged beast of prey, and would permit no one to speak to her.
At noon Hanno was about to get into a boat to go to her father's ship, and she insisted upon accompanying him. But this time the corsair seemed completely transformed, and with the pitiless sternness, which he so well knew how to use in issuing commands, ordered her to remain on the Hydra.
She, however, by no means obeyed her husband's mandate without resistance, and, at the recollection of the conflict which now occurred between the pair, in which she raged like a tigress, the narrator's cheeks crimsoned.
The quarrel was ended by the powerful seaman's taking in his arms his lithe, slender wife, who resisted him with all her strength and had already touched the side of the boat with her foot, and putting her down on the deck of his ship.
Then Hanno leaped back into the skiff, while Ledscha, groaning with rage, retired to the cabin.
An hour after she again appeared on deck, called Myrtilus and Bias and, showing them her eyes, reddened by tears, told them, as if in apology for her weakness, that she had not been permitted to bid her father farewell. Then, pallid as a corpse, she had turned the conversation upon Hermon, and informed Myrtilus that an Alexandrian pilot had told her father that he was blind, and her brother-in-law Labaja had heard the same thing. While saying this, her lips curled scornfully, but when she saw how deeply their friend's misfortune moved her two prisoners, she waved her hand, declaring that he did not need their sympathy; the pilot had reported that he was living in magnificence and pleasure, and the people in the capital honoured and praised him as if he were a god.
Thereupon she had laughed shrilly and reviled so bitterly the contemptible blind Fortune that remains most loyal to those who deserve to perish in the deepest misery, that Bias avoided repeating her words to his master.
The news of Myrtilus's legacy had not reached her ears, and Bias, too, had just heard of it for the first time.
Ledscha's object had been to relieve her troubled soul by attacks upon the man whom she hated, but she suddenly turned to the master and servant to ask if they desired to obtain their liberty.
Oh, how quickly a hopeful "Yes" reached the ears of the gloomy woman! how ready both were to swear, by a solemn oath, to fulfil the conditions the Biamite desired to impose!
As soon as opportunity offered, both were to leave the Hydra with one other person who, like Bias and herself, understood how to mange a boat.
The favourable moment soon came. One moonless night, when the steering of the Hydra was intrusted to the Gaul, Ledscha waked the two prisoners and, with the Gaul Lutarius, Myrtilus, and the slave, entered the boat, which conveyed them to the shore without accident or interruption.
Bias knew the name of the place where it had anchored, it is true, but the oath which Ledscha had made him swear there was so terrible that he would not have broken it at any cost.
This oath required the slave, who, three days after their landing, was sent to Alexandria by the first ship that sailed for that port, to maintain the most absolute secrecy concerning Myrtilus's hiding place until he was authorized to speak. Bias was to go to Alexandria without delay, and there obtain from Archias, who managed Myrtilus's property, the sums which Ledscha intended to use in the following manner: Two attic talents Bias was to bring back. These were for the Gaul, probably in payment for his assistance. Two more were to be taken by the slave to the Temple of Nemesis. Lastly, Bias was to deliver five talents to old Tabus, who kept the treasure of the pirate family on the Owl's Nest, and tell her that Ledscha, in this money, sent back the bridal dowry which Hanno had paid her father for his daughter. With this she released herself from the husband who inspired her with feelings very unlike love.
Hermon asked to have this commission repeated, and received the directions Myrtilus had given to the slave. The blind man's hope that they must also include greetings and news from his friend's hand was destroyed by Bias, whom Myrtilus, in the leisure hours on the Hydra, had taught to read. This was not so difficult a task for the slave, who longed for knowledge, and had already tried it before. But with writing, on the other hand, he could make no headway. He was too old, and his hand had become too clumsy to acquire this difficult art.
In reply to Hermon's anxious question whether his friend needed anything in his present abode, the slave reported that he was at liberty to move about at will, and was not even obliged to share Ledscha's lodgings. He lacked nothing, for the Biamite, besides some gold, had left with him also gems and pearls of such great value that they would suffice to support him several years. As for himself, she had supplied him more than abundantly with money for travelling expenses.
Myrtilus was awaiting his return in a city prospering under a rich and wise regent, and sent whole cargoes of affectionate remembrances. The sculptor, too, was firmly resolved to keep the oath imposed upon him.
As soon as he, Bias, had performed the commission intrusted to him, he and Myrtilus would be released from their vow, and Hermon would learn his friend's residence.
No morning brightened Hermon's night of darkness.
When the returned slave had finished his report, the sun was already shining into his master's room.
Without lying down again, the latter went at once to the Tennis notary, who had moved to Alexandria two months before, and with his assistance raised the money which his friend needed.
Worthy Melampus had received the news that Myrtilus was still alive in a very singular manner. Even now he could grasp only one thing at a time, and he loved Hermon with sincere devotion. Therefore the lawyer who had so zealously striven to expedite the blind man's entering into possession of his friend's inheritance would very willingly have permitted Myrtilus—doubtless an invalid—to continue to rest quietly among the dead. Yet his kind heart rejoiced at the deliverance of the famous young artist, and so during Hermon's story he had passed from sincere regret to loud expressions of joyous sympathy.
Lastly, he had placed his whole property at the disposal of Hermon, who had paid him liberally for his work, to provide for the blind sculptor's future. This generous offer had been declined; but he now assisted Hermon to prepare the emancipation papers for his faithful Bias, and found a ship that was bound to Tanis. Toward evening he accompanied Hermon to the harbour and, after a cordial farewell from his helpful friend, the artist, with the new "freedman" Bias and the slave clerk Patran, went on board the vessel, now ready to sail.
The voyage was one of the speediest, yet the end came too soon for both master and servant—Hermon had not yet heard enough of the friend beyond his reach, and Bias was far from having related everything he desired to tell about Myrtilus and Ledscha; yet he was now permitted to express every opinion that entered his mind, and this had occupied a great deal of time.
Bias also sought to know much more about Hermon's past and future than he had yet learned, not merely from curiosity, but because he foresaw that Myrtilus would not cease to question him about his blind friend.
The misfortune must have produced a deep and lasting effect upon the artist's joyous nature, for his whole bearing was pervaded by such earnestness and dignity that years, instead of months, seemed to have elapsed since their separation.
It was characteristic of Daphne that her lover's blindness did not alienate her from him; yet why had not the girl, who still desired to become his wife, been able to wed the helpless man who had lost his sight? If the father did not wish to be separated from his daughter, surely he could live with the young couple. A home was quickly made everywhere for the rich, and, if Archias was tired of his house in Alexandria, as Hermon had intimated, there was room enough in the world for a new one.
But that was the way with things here below! Man was the cause of man's misfortune! Daphne and Hermon remained the same; but Archias from an affectionate father had become transformed into an entirely different person. If the former had been allowed to follow their inclinations, they would now be united and happy, while, because a third person so willed, they must go their way solitary and wretched.
He expressed this view to his master, and insisted upon his opinion until Hermon confided to him what had driven Archias from Alexandria.
Patran, Bias's successor, was by no means satisfactory to him. Had Hermon retained his sight, he certainly would not have purchased him, in spite of his skill as a scribe, for the Egyptian had a "bad face."
Oh, if only he could have been permitted to stay with his benefactor instead of this sullen man! How carefully he would have removed the stones from his darkened pathway!
During the voyage he was obliged to undergo severe struggles to keep the oath of secrecy imposed upon him; but perjury threatened him with the most horrible tortures, not to mention the sorceress Tabus, whom he was to meet.
So Myrtilus's abode remained unknown to Hermon.
Bias approved his master's intention of going into the desert. He had often seen the oracle of Amon tested, and he himself had experienced the healthfulness of the desert air. Besides, it made him proud to see that Hermon was disposed to follow his suggestion of pitching his tent in a spot which he designated. This was at the end of the arm of the sea at Clysma. Several trees grew there beside small springs, and a peaceful family of Amalekites raised vegetables in their little garden, situated on higher ground, watered by the desert wells.
When a boy, before the doom of slavery had been pronounced upon him and his father, his mother, by the priest's advice, took him there to recover from the severe attack of fever which he could not shake off amid the damp papyrus plantations surrounding his parents' house. In the dry, pure air of the desert he recovered, and he would guide Hermon there before returning to Myrtilus.
From Tanis they reached Tennis in a few hours, and found shelter in the home of the superintendent of Archias's weaving establishments, whose hospitality Myrtilus and Hermon had enjoyed before their installation in the white house, now burned to the ground. The Alexandrian bills of exchange were paid in gold by the lessee of the royal bank, who was a good friend of Hermon. Toward evening, both rowed to the Owl's Nest, taking the five talents with which the runaway wife intended to purchase freedom from her husband.
As the men approached the central door of the pirates' house, a middy-aged Biamite woman appeared and rudely ordered them to leave the island. Tabus was weak, and refused to see visitors. But she was mistaken; for when Bias, in the dialect of his tribe, shouted loudly that messengers from the wife of her grandson Hanno had arrived, there was a movement at the back of the room, and broken sentences, gasped with difficulty, expressed the old dame's wish to receive the strangers.
On a sheep's-wool couch, over which was spread a wolfskin, the last gift of her son Satabus, lay the sorceress, who raised herself as Hermon passed through the door.
After his greeting, she pointed to her deaf ear and begged him to speak louder. At the same time she gazed into his eyes with a keen, penetrating glance, and interrupted him by the question: "The Greek sculptor whose studio was burned over his head? And blind? Blind still?"
"In both eyes," Bias answered for his master.
"And you, fellow?" the old dame asked; then, recollecting herself, stopped the reply on the servant's lips with the hasty remark: "You are the blackbeard's slave—a Biamite? Oh, I remember perfectly! You disappeared with the burning house."
Then she gazed intently and thoughtfully from one to the other, and at last, pointing to Bias, muttered in a whisper: "You alone come from Hanno and Ledscha, and were with them on the Hydra? Very well. What news have you for the old woman from the young couple?"
The freedman began to relate what brought him to the Owl's Nest, and the gray-haired crone listened eagerly until he said that Ledscha lived unhappily with her husband, and therefore had left him. She sent back to her, as the head of Hanno's family, the bridal dowry with which Hanno had bought her from her father as his wife.
Then Tabus struggled into a little more erect posture, and asked: "What does this mean? Five talents—and gold, not silver talents? And she sends the money to me? To me? And she ran away from her husband? But no—no! Once more—you are a Biamite—repeat it in our own language—and loudly. This ear is the better one."
Bias obeyed, and the old dame listened to the end without interrupting him: then raising her brown right hand, covered with a network of blue-black veins, she clinched it into a fist, which she shook far more violently than Bias would have believed possible in her weak condition. At the same time she pressed her lips so tightly together that her toothless mouth deepened into a hole, and her dim eyes shone with a keen, menacing light. For some time she found no reply, though strange, rattling, gasping sounds escaped her heaving breast.
At last she succeeded in uttering words, and shrieked shrilly: "This—this—away with the golden trash! With the bridal dowry of the family rejected, and once more free, the base fool thinks she would be like the captive fox that gnawed the rope! Oh, this age, these people! And this, this is the haughty, strong Ledscha, the daughter of the Biamites, who—there stands the blind girl—deceiver!—who so admirably avenged herself?"
Here her voice failed, and Hermon began to speak to assure her that she understood Ledscha's wish aright. Then he asked her for a token by which she acknowledged the receipt of the gold, which he handed her in a stout linen bag.
But his purpose was not fulfilled, for suddenly, flaming with passionate wrath, she thrust the purse aside, groaning: "Not an obol of the accursed destruction of souls shall come back to Hanno, nor even into the family store. Until his heart and hers stop beating, the most indissoluble bond will unite both. She desires to ransom herself from a lawful marriage concluded by her father, as if she were a captive of war; perhaps she even wants to follow another. Hanno, brave lad, was ready to go to death for her sake, and she rewards him by bringing shame on his head and disgrace on us all. Oh, these times, this world! Everything that is inviolable and holy trampled in the dust! But they are not all so! In spite of Grecian infidelity, marriage is still honoured among our people. But she who mocks what is sacred, and tramples holy customs under foot, shall be accursed, execrated, given over to want, hunger, disease, death!"
With rattling breath and closed eyes she leaned farther back against the cushions that supported her; but Bias, in their common language, tried to soothe her, and informed her that, though Ledscha had probably run away from her husband, she had by no means renounced her vengeance. He was bringing two talents with him to place in the Temple of Nemesis.
"Of Nemesis?" repeated the old dame. Then she tried to raise herself and, as she constantly sank back again, Bias aided her. But she had scarcely recovered her sitting posture when she gasped to the freedman: "Nemesis, who helped, and is to continue to help her to destroy her foe? Well, well! Five talents—a great sum, a great sum! But the more the better! To Nemesis with them, to Ate and the Erinyes! The talons of the avenging goddess shall tear the beautiful face, the heart, and the liver of the accursed one! A twofold malediction on her who has wronged the son of my Satabus!"
While speaking, her head nodded swiftly up and down, and when at last she bowed it wearily, her visitors heard her murmur the names of Satabus and Hanno, sometimes tenderly, sometimes mournfully.
Finally she asked whether any one else was concerned in Ledscha's flight; and when she learned that a Gallic bridge-builder accompanied the fugitive wife, she again started up as if frantic, exclaiming: "Yes, to Nemesis with the gold! We neither need nor want it, and Satabus, my son, he will bless me for renunciation—"
Here exhaustion again silenced her. She gazed mutely and thoughtfully into vacancy, until at last, turning to Bias, she began more calmly: "You will see her again, man, and must tell her what the clan of Tabus bought with her talents. Take her my curse, and let her know that her friends would be my foes, and her foes should find in Tabus a benefactress!"
Then, deeply buried in thought, she again fixed her eyes on the floor; but at last she called to Hermon, saying: "You, blind Greek—am I not right?—the torch was thrust into your face, and you lost the sight of both eyes?"
The artist assented to this question; but she bade him sit down before her, and when he bent his face near her she raised one lid after the other with trembling fingers, yet lightly and skilfully, gazed long and intently into his eyes, and murmured: "Like black Psoti and lawless Simeon, and they are both cured."
"Can you restore me?" Hermon now asked in great excitement. "Answer me honestly, you experienced woman! Give me back my sight, and demand whatever gold and valuables I still possess—"
"Keep them," Tabus contemptuously interrupted. "Not for gold or goods will I restore you the best gift man can lose. I will cure you because you are the person to whom the infamous wretch most ardently wished the sorest trouble. When she hoped to destroy you, she perceived in this deed the happiness which had been promised to her on a night when the full moon was shining. To-day—this very night—the disk between Astarte's horns rounds again, and presently—wait a little while!—presently you shall have what the light restores you—" Then she called the Biamite woman, ordered her to bring the medicine chest, and took from it one vessel after another. The box she was seeking was among the last and, while handing it to Bias, she muttered: "Oh, yes, certainly—it does one good to destroy a foe, but no less to make her foe happy!"
Turning to the freedman, she went on in a louder tone: "You, slave, shall inform Hanno's wife that old Tabus gave the sculptor, whose blindness she caused, the remedy which restored the sight of black Psoti, whom she knew." Here she paused, gazed upward, and murmured almost unintelligibly: "Satabus, Hanno! If this is the last act of the old mother, it will give ye pleasure."
Then she told Hermon to kneel again, and ordered the slave to hold the lamp which her nurse Tasia had just lighted at the hearth fire.
"The last," she said, looking into the box, "but it will be enough. The odour of the herb in the salve is as strong as if it had been prepared yesterday."
She laid the first bandage on Hermon's eyes with her own weak fingers, at the same time muttering an incantation; but it did not seem to satisfy her. Great excitement had taken possession of her, and as the silver light of the full moon shone into her room she waved her hands before the artist's eyes and fixed her gaze upon the threshold illumined by the moonbeams, ejaculating sentences incomprehensible to the blind man. Bias supported her, for she had risen to her full height, and he felt how she tottered and trembled.
Yet her strength held out to whisper to Hermon: "Nearer, still nearer! By the light of the august one whose rays greet us, let it be said: You will see again. Await your recovery patiently in a quiet place in the pure air, not in the city. Refrain from everything with which the Greeks intoxicate themselves. Shun wine, and whatever heats the blood. Recovery is coming; I see it drawing near. You will see again as surely as I now curse the woman who abandoned the husband to whom she vowed fidelity. She rejoiced over your blindness, and she will gnash her teeth with rage and grief when she hears that it was Tabus who brought light into the darkness that surrounds you."
With these words she pushed off the freedman's supporting arms and sank back upon the couch.
Again Hermon tried to thank her; but she would not permit it, and said in an almost inaudible tone: "I really did not give the salve to do you good—the last act of all—"
Finally she murmured a few words of direction for its use, and added that he must keep the sunlight from his blind eyes by bandages and shades, as if it were a cruel foe.
When she paused, and Bias asked her another question, she pointed to the door, exclaiming as loudly as her weakness permitted, "Go, I tell you, go!"
Hermon obeyed and left her, accompanied by the freedman, who carried the box of salve so full of precious promise.
The next morning Bias delivered to the astonished priest of Nemesis the large gifts intended for the avenging goddess.
Before Hermon entered the boat with him and his Egyptian slave, the freedman told his master that Gula was again living in perfect harmony with the husband who had cast her off, and Taus, Ledscha's younger sister, was the wife of the young Biamite who, she had feared, would give up his wooing on account of her visit to Hermon's studio.
After a long voyage through the canal which had been dug a short time before, connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, the three men reached Clysma. Opposite to it, on the eastern shore of the narrow northern point of the Erythraean sea—[Red Sea]—lay the goal of their journey, and thither Bias led his blind master, followed by the slave, on shore.
It was long since Hermon had felt so free and light-hearted as during this voyage.
He firmly believed in his recovery.
A few days before he had escaped death in the royal palace as if by a miracle, and he owed his deliverance to the woman he loved.
In the Temple of Nemesis at Tennis the conviction that the goddess had ceased to persecute him took possession of his mind.
True, his blind eyes had been unable to see her menacing statue, but not even the slightest thrill of horror had seized him in its presence. In Alexandria, after his departure from Proclus's banquet, she had desisted from pursuing him. Else how would she have permitted him to escape uninjured when he was already standing upon the verge of an abyss, and a wave of her hand would have sufficed to hurl him into the death-dealing gulf?
But his swift confession, and the transformation which followed it, had reconciled him not only with her, but also with the other gods; for they appeared to him in forms as radiant and friendly as in the days of his boyhood, when, while Bias took the helm on the long voyage through the canal and the Bitter Lakes, he recalled the visible world to his memory and, from the rising sun, Phoebus Apollo, the lord of light and purity, gazed at him from his golden chariot, drawn by four horses, and Aphrodite, the embodiment of all beauty, rose before him from the snowy foam of the azure waves. Demeter, in the form of Daphne, appeared, dispensing prosperity, above the swaying golden waves of the ripening grain fields and bestowing peace beside the domestic hearth. The whole world once more seemed peopled with deities, and he felt their rule in his own breast.
The place of which Bias had told him was situated on a lofty portion of the shore. Beside the springs which there gushed from the soil of the desert grew green palm trees and thorny acacias. Farther on flourished the fragrant betharan. About a thousand paces from this spot the faithful freedman pitched the little tent obtained in Tennis under the shade of several tall palm trees and a sejal acacia.
Not far from the springs lived the same family of Amalekites whom Bias had known from boyhood. They raised a few vegetables in little beds, and the men acted as guards to the caravans which came from Egypt through the peninsula of Sinai to Petrea and Hebron. The daughter of the aged sheik whose men accompanied the trains of goods, a pleasant, middle-aged woman, recognised the Biamite, who when a boy had recovered under her mother's nursing, and promised Bias to honour his blind master as a valued guest of the tribe.
Not until after he had done everything in his power to render life in the wilderness endurable, and had placed a fresh bandage over his eyes, would Bias leave his master.
The freedman entered the boat weeping, and Hermon, deeply agitated, turned his face toward him.
When he was left alone with his Egyptian slave, with whom he rarely exchanged a word, he fancied that, amid the murmur of the waves washing the strand at his feet, blended the sounds of the street which led past his house in Alexandria, and with them all sorts of disagreeable memories crowded upon him; but soon he no longer heard them, and the next night brought refreshing sleep.
Even on the second day he felt that the profound silence which surrounded him was a benefit. The stillness affected him like something physical.
The life was certainly monotonous, and at first there were hours when the course of the new existence, so devoid of any change, op pressed him, but he experienced no tedium. His mental life was too rich, and the unburdening of his anxious soul too great a relief for that.
He had shunned serious thought since he left the philosopher's school; but here it soon afforded him the highest pleasure, for never had his mind moved so freely, so undisturbed by any limit or obstacle.
He did not need to search for what he hoped to find in the wilderness. His whole past life passed before him as if by its own volition. All that he had ever experienced, learned, thought, felt, rose before his mind with wonderful distinctness, and when he overlooked all his mental possessions, as if from a high watch-tower in the bright sunshine, he began to consider how he had used the details and how he could continue to do so.
Whatever he had seen incorrectly forced itself resistlessly upon him, yet here also the Greek nature, deeply implanted in his soul, guarded him, and it was easy for him to avoid self-torturing remorse. He only desired to utilize for improvement what he recognised as false.
When in this delicious silence he listened to the contradictory demands of his intellect and his senses, it often seemed as though he was present at a discussion between two guests who were exchanging their opinions concerning the subject that occupied his mind.
Here he first learned to deepen sound intellectual power and listen to the demands of the heart, or to repulse and condemn them.
Ah, yes, he was still blind; but never had he observed and recognised human life and its stage, down to the minutest detail, which his eyes refused to show him, so keenly as during these clays. The phenomena which had attracted or repelled his vision here appeared nearer and more distinctly.
What he called "reality" and believed he understood thoroughly and estimated correctly, now disclosed many a secret which had previously remained concealed.
How defective his visual perception had been! how necessary it now seemed to subject his judgment to a new test! Doubtless a wealth of artistic subjects had come to him from the world of reality which he had placed far above everything else, but a greater and nobler one from the sphere which he had shunned as unfruitful and corrupting.
As if by magic, the world of ideality opened before him in this exquisite silence. He again found in his own soul the joyous creative forces of Nature, and the surrounding stillness increased tenfold his capacity of perceiving it; nay, he felt as if creative energy dwelt in solitude itself.
His mind had always turned toward greatness. The desire to impress his works with the stamp of his own overflowing power had carried him far beyond moderation in modelling his struggling Maenads.
Now, when he sought for subjects, beside the smaller and more simple ones appeared mighty and manifold ones, often of superhuman grandeur.
Oh, if a higher power would at some future day permit him to model with his strong hands this battle of the Amazons, this Phoebus Apollo, radiant in beauty and the glow of victory, conquering the dragons of darkness!
Arachne, too, returned to his mind, and also Demeter. But she did not hover before him as the peaceful dispenser of blessings, the preserver of peace, but as the maternal earth goddess, robbed of her daughter Proserpina. How varied in meaning was this myth!—and he strove to follow it in every direction.
Nothing more could come to the blind artist from Nature by the aid of his physical vision. The realm of reality was closed to him; but he had found the key to that of the ideal, and what he found in it proved to be no less true than the objects the other had offered.
How rich in forms was the new world which forced itself unbidden on his imagination! He who, a short time before, had believed whatever could not be touched by the hands was useless for his art, now had the choice among a hundred subjects, full of glowing life, which were attainable by no organ of the senses. He need fear to undertake none, if only it was worthy of representation; for he was sure of his ability, and difficulty did not alarm him, but promised to lend creating for the first time its true charm.
And, besides, without the interest of animated conversation, without festal scenes where, with garlanded head and intoxicating pleasure soaring upward from the dust of earth, existence had seemed to him shallow and not worth the trouble it imposed upon mortals, solitude now offered him hours as happy as he had ever experienced while revelling with gay companions.
At first many things had disturbed them, especially the dissatisfied, almost gloomy disposition of his Egyptian slave, who, born in the city and accustomed to its life, found it unbearable to stay in the desert with the strange blind master, who lived like a porter, and ordered him to prepare his wretched fare with the hands skilled in the use of the pen.
But this living disturber of the peace was not to annoy the recluse long. Scarcely a fortnight after Bias's departure, the slave Patran, who had cost so extravagant a sum, vanished one morning with the sculptor's money and silver cup.
This rascally trick of a servant whom he had treated with almost brotherly kindness wounded Hermon, but he soon regarded the morose fellow's disappearance as a benefit.
When for the first time he drank water from an earthen jug, instead of a silver goblet, he thought of Diogenes, who cast his cup aside when he saw a boy raise water to his lips in his hand, yet with whom the great Macedonian conqueror of the world would have changed places "if he had not been Alexander."
The active, merry son of Bias's Amalekite friend gladly rendered him the help and guidance for which he had been reluctant to ask his ill-tempered slave, and he soon became accustomed to the simple fare of the nomads. Bread and milk, fruits and vegetables from his neighbour's little garden, satisfied him, and when the wine he had drunk was used, he contented himself, obedient to old Tabus's advice, with pure water.
As he still had several gold coins on his person, and wore two costly rings on his finger, he doubtless thought of sending to Clysma for meat, poultry, and wine, but he had refrained from doing so through the advice of the Amalekite woman, who anointed his eyes with Tabus's salve and protected them by a shade of fresh leaves from the dazzling rays of the desert sun. She, like the sorceress on the Owl's Nest, warned him against all viands that inflamed the blood, and he willingly allowed her to take away what she and her gray-haired father, the experienced head of the tribe, pronounced detrimental to his recovery.
At first the "beggar's fare" seemed repulsive, but he soon felt that it was benefiting him after the riotous life of the last few months.
One day, when the Amalekite took off his bandage, he thought he saw a faint glimmer of light, and how his heart exulted at this faint foretaste of the pleasure of sight!
In an instant hope sprang up with fresh power in his excitable soul, and his lost cheerfulness returned to him like a butterfly to the newly opened flower. The image of his beloved Daphne rose before him in sunny radiance, and he saw himself in his studio in the service of his art.
He had always been fond of children, and the little ones in the Amalekite family quickly discovered this, and crowded around their blind friend, who played all sorts of games with them, and in spite of the bandaged eyes, over which spread a broad shade of green leaves, could make whistles with his skilful artist hands from the reeds and willow branches they brought.
He saw before him the object to which his heart still clung as distinctly as if he need only stretch out his hand to draw it nearer, and perhaps—surely and certainly, the Amalekite said—the time would come when he would behold it also with his bodily eyes.
If the longing should be fulfilled! If his eyes were again permitted to convey to him what formerly filled his soul with delight! Yes, beauty—was entitled to a higher place than truth, and if it again unfolded itself to his gaze, how gladly and gratefully he would pay homage to it with his art!
The hope that he might enjoy it once more now grew stronger, for the glimmer of light became brighter, and one day, when his skilful nurse again took the bandage from his milk-white pupils, he saw something long appear, as if through, a mist. It was only the thorny acacia tree at his tent; but the sight of the most beautiful of beautiful things never filled him with more joyful gratitude.
Then he ordered the less valuable of his two rings to be sold to offer a sacrifice to health-bestowing Isis, who had a little temple in Clysma.
How fervently he now prayed also to the great Apollo, the foe of darkness and the lord of everything light and pure! How yearningly he besought Aphrodite to bless him again with the enjoyment of eternal beauty, and Eros to heal the wound which his arrow had inflicted upon his heart and Daphne's, and bring them together after so much distress and need!
When, after the lapse of another week, the bandage was again removed, his inmost soul rejoiced, for his eyes showed him the rippling emerald-green surface of the Red Sea, and the outlines of the palms, the tents, the Amalekite woman, her boy, and her two long-eared goats.
How ardently he thanked the gracious deities who, in spite of Straton's precepts, were no mere figments of human imagination and, as if he had become a child again, poured forth his overflowing heart with mute gratitude to his mother's soul!
The artist nature, yearning to create, began to stir within more ceaselessly than ever before. Already he saw clay and wax assuming forms beneath his skilful hands; already he imagined himself, with fresh power and delight, cutting majestic figures from blocks of marble, or, by hammering, carving, and filing, shaping them from gold and ivory.
And he would not take what he intended to create solely from the world of reality perceptible to the senses. Oh, no! He desired to show through his art the loftiest of ideals. How could he still shrink from using the liberty which he had formerly rejected, the liberty of drawing from his own inner consciousness what he needed in order to bestow upon the ideal images he longed to create the grandeur, strength, and sublimity in which he beheld them rise before his purified soul!
Yet, with all this, he must remain faithful to truth, copy from Nature what he desired to represent. Every finger, every lock of hair, must correspond with reality to the minutest detail, and yet the whole must be pervaded and penetrated, as the blood flows through the body, by the thought that filled his mind and soul.
A reflected image of the ideal and of his own mood, faithful to truth, free, and yet obedient to the demands of moderation—in this sentence Hermon summed up the result of his solitary meditations upon art and works of art. Since he had found the gods again, he perceived that the Muse had confided to him a sacerdotal office. He intended to perform its duties, and not only attract and please the beholder's eyes through his works, but elevate his heart and mind, as beauty, truth, grandeur, and eternity uplifted his own soul. He recognised in the tireless creative power which keeps Nature ever new, fresh, and bewitching, the presence of the same deity whose rule manifested itself in the life of his own soul.
So long as he denied its existence, he had recognised no being more powerful than himself; now that he again felt insignificant beside it, he knew himself to be stronger than ever before, that the greatest of all powers had become his ally. Now it was difficult for him to understand how he could have turned away from the deity. As an artist he, too, was a creator, and, while he believed those who considered the universe had come into existence of itself, instead of having been created, he had robbed himself of the most sublime model. Besides, the greatest charm of his noble profession was lost to him. Now he knew it, and was striving toward the goal attainable by the artist alone among mortals—to hold intercourse with the deity, and by creations full of its essence elevate the world to its grandeur and beauty.
One day, at the end of the second month of his stay in the desert, when the Amalekite woman removed the bandage, her boy, whose form he distinguished as if through a veil, suddenly exclaimed: "The white cover on your eyes is melting! They are beginning to sparkle a little, and soon they will be perfectly well, and you can carve the lion's head on my cane."
Perhaps the artist might really have succeeded in doing so, but he forbade himself the attempt.
He thought that the time for departure had now arrived, and an irresistible longing urged him back to the world and Daphne.
But he could not resist the entreaties of the old sheik and his daughter not to risk what he had gained, so he continued to use the shade of leaves, and allowed himself to be persuaded to defer his departure until the dimness which still prevented his seeing anything distinctly passed away.
True, the beautiful peace which he had enjoyed of late was over and, besides, anxiety for the dear ones in distant lands was constantly increasing. He had had no news of them for a long time, and when he imagined what fate might have overtaken Archias, and his daughter with him, if he had been carried back to the enraged King in Alexandria, a terrible dread took possession of him, which scattered even joy in his wonderful recovery to the four winds, and finally led him to the resolution to return to the world at any risk and devote himself to those whose fate was nearer to his heart than his own weal and woe.
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Forbidden the folly of spoiling the present by remorse Two griefs always belong to one joy
By Georg Ebers
Hermon, filled with longing, went down toward evening to the shore.
The sun was setting, and the riot of colours in the western horizon seemed like a mockery of the torturing anxiety which had mastered his soul.
He did not notice the boat that was approaching the land; many travellers who intended to go through Arabia Petrea landed here, and for several days—he knew why—there had been more stir in these quiet waters.
Suddenly he was surprised by the ringing shout with which he had formerly announced his approach to Myrtilus.
Unconsciously agitated by joy, as if the sunset glow before him had suddenly been transformed into the dawn of a happy day, he answered by a loud cry glad with hope. Although his dim eyes did not yet permit him to distinguish who was standing erect in the boat, waving greetings to him, he thought he knew whom this exquisite evening was bringing.
Soon his own name reached him. It was his "wise Bias" who shouted, and soon, with a throbbing heart, he held out both hands to him.
The freedman had performed his commission in the best possible manner, and was now no longer bound to silence by oath.
Ledscha had left him and Myrtilus to themselves and, as Bias thought he had heard, had sailed with the Gaul Lutarius for Paraetonium, the frontier city between the kingdom of Egypt and that of Cyrene.
Myrtilus felt stronger than he had done for a long time, and had sent him back to the blind friend who would need him more than he did.
But worthy Bias also brought messages from Archias and Daphne. They were well, and his uncle now had scarcely any cause to fear pursuers.
Before the landing of the boat, the shade had covered Hermon's eyes; but when, after the freedman's first timid question about his sight, he raised it again, at the same time reporting and showing what progress he had already made toward recovery, the excess of joy overpowered the freedman, and sometimes laughing, sometimes weeping, he kissed the convalescent's hands and simple robe. It was some time before he calmed himself again, then laying his forefinger on the side of his nose, he said: "Therein the immortals differ from human beings. We sculptors can only create good work with good tools, but the immortals often use the very poorest of all to accomplish the best things. You owe your sight to the hate of this old witch and mother of pirates, so may she find peace in the grave. She is dead. I heard it from a fellow-countryman whom I met in Herocipolis. Her end came soon after our visit."
Then Bias related what he knew of Hermon's uncle, of Daphne, and Myrtilus.
Two letters were to give him further particulars.
They came from the woman he loved and from his friend, and as soon as Bias had lighted the lamp in the tent, at the same time telling his master in advance many items of news they contained, he set about the difficult task of reading.
He had certainly scarcely become a master of this art on board the Hydra, yet his slow performance did all honour to the patience of his teacher Myrtilus.
He began with Daphne's letter, but by the desire of prudent Archias it communicated few facts. But the protestations of love and expressions of longing which filled it pierced the freedman's soul so deeply that his voice more than once failed while reading them.
Myrtilus's letter, on the contrary, gave a minute description of his mode of life, and informed his friend what he expected for him and himself in the future. The contents of both relieved Hermon's sorely troubled heart, made life with those who were dearest to him possible, and explained many things which the reports of the slave had not rendered perfectly clear.
Archias had gone with Daphne to the island of Lesbos, his mother's native city. The ships which conveyed travellers to Pergamus, where Myrtilus was living, touched at this port, and Bias, to whom Hermon had confided the refuge of the father and daughter, had sought them there, and found them in a beautiful villa.
After being released from his oath, Myrtilus had put himself into communication with his uncle, and just before Bias's departure the merchant had come to Pergamus with his daughter. As he had the most cordial reception from the Regent Philetaerus, he seemed inclined to settle permanently there.
As for Myrtilus, he had cast anchor with Ledscha in the little Mysian seaport town of Pitane, near the mouth of the Caicus River, on which, farther inland, was the rapidly growing city of Pergamus.
She had found a hospitable welcome in the family of a seafarer who were relatives, while the Gaul continued his voyage to obtain information about his tribe in Syria. But he had already returned when Bias reached Pitane with the two talents intended for him. Myrtilus had availed himself of Ledscha's permission long before and gone to Pergamus, where he had lived and worked in secrecy until, after the freedman's return from Ledscha, who at once left Pitane with the Gaul, he was released from his oath.
During the absence of Bias he had modelled a large relief, a triumphal procession of Dionysus, and as the renown of his name had previously reached Pergamus, the artists and the most distinguished men in the city flocked to his studio to admire the work of the famous Alexandrian.
Soon Philetoerus, who had founded the Pergamenian kingdom seven years before, and governed it with great wisdom, came to Myrtilus.
Like his nephew and heir Eumenes, he was a friend to art, and induced the laurel-crowned Alexandrian to execute the relief, modelled in clay, in marble for the Temple of Dionysus at Pergamus.
The heir to the throne of Philetaerus, who was now advancing in years, was especially friendly to Myrtilus, and did everything in his power to bind him to Pergamus.
He succeeded, for in the beautiful house, located in an extremely healthful site, which Eumenes had assigned for a residence and studio to the Alexandrian artist, whose work he most ardently admired, and whom he regarded as the most welcome of guests, Myrtilus felt better physically than he had for years. Besides, he thought that, for many reasons, his friend would be less willing to settle in Alexandria, and that the presence of his uncle and Daphne would attract him to Pergamus.
Moreover, Hermon surely knew that if he came to him as a blind man he would find a brother; if he came restored to sight, he would also find a brother, and likewise a fellow-artist with whom he could live and work.
Myrtilus had told the heir to the throne of Pergamus of his richly gifted blind relative, and of the peculiarity of his art, and Eumenes eagerly endeavoured to induce his beloved guest to persuade his friend to remove to his capital, where there was no lack of distinguished leeches.
If Hermon remained blind, he would honour him; if he recovered his sight, he would give him large commissions.
How deeply these letters moved the heart of the recovering man! What prospects they opened for his future life, for love, friendship, and, not least, for his art!
If he could see—if he could only see again! This exclamation blended with everything he thought, felt, and uttered. Even in sleep it haunted him. To regain the clearness of vision he needed for his work, he would willingly have submitted to the severest tortures.
In Alexandria alone lived the great leeches who could complete the work which the salve of an ignorant old woman had begun. Thither he must go, though it cost him liberty and life. The most famous surgeon of the Museum at the capital had refused his aid under other circumstances. Perhaps he would relent if Philippus, a friend of Erasistratus, smoothed the way for him, and the old hero was now living very near. The ships, whose number on the sea at his feet was constantly increasing, were attracted hither by the presence of the Egyptian King and Queen on the isthmus which connects Asia and Africa. The priest of Apollo at Clysma, and other distinguished Greeks whom he met there, had told him the day before yesterday, and on two former visits to the place, what was going on in the world, and informed him how great an honour awaited the eastern frontier in these days. The appearance of their Majesties in person must not only mean the founding of a city, the reception of a victorious naval commander, and the consecration of a restored temple, but also have still deeper causes.
During the last few years severe physical suffering had brought the unfortunate second king of the house of Ptolemy to this place to seek the aid of the ancient Egyptian gods, and, besides the philosophy, busy himself with the mystic teachings and magic arts of their priesthood.
Only a short period of life seemed allotted to the invalid ruler, and the service of the time-honoured god of the dead, to whom he had erected one of the most magnificent temples in the world at Alexandria, to which Egyptians and Hellenes repaired with equal devotion, opened hopes for the life after death which seemed to him worthy of examination.
For this reason also he desired to secure the favour of the Egyptian priesthood.
For this purpose, for the execution of his wise and beneficent arrangements, as well as for the gratification of his expensive tastes, large sums of money were required; therefore he devoted himself with especial zeal to enlarging the resources of his country, already so rich by nature.
In all these things he had found an admirable assistant in his sister Arsinoe. As the daughter of the father and mother to whom he himself owed existence, he could claim for her unassailable legitimacy the same recognition from the priesthood, and the same submission from the people rendered to his own person, whom the religion of the country commanded them to revere as the representative of the sun god.
As marriages between brothers and sisters had been customary from ancient times, and were sanctioned by religion and myth, he had married the second Arsinoe, his sister, immediately after the banishment of the first Queen of this name.
After the union with her, he called himself Philadelphus—brotherly love—and honoured his sister and wife with the same name.
True, this led the sarcastic Alexandrians to utter many a biting, more or less witty jest, but he never had cause to regret his choice; in spite of her forty years, and more than one bloody deed which before her marriage to him she had committed as Queen of Thrace and as a widow, the second Arsinoe was always a pattern of regally aristocratic, dignified bearing and haughty womanly beauty.
Though the first Philadelphus could expect no descendants from her, he had provided for securing them through her, for he had induced her to adopt the first Arsinoe's three children, who had been taken from their exiled mother.
Arsinoe was now accompanying her royal husband Philadelphus to the eastern frontier. There the latter expected to name the city to be newly founded "Arsinoe" for her, and-to show his esteem for the priesthood—to consecrate in person the new Temple of Tum in the city of Pithom, near Heroopolis.
Lastly, the monarch had been endeavouring to form new connections with the coast countries of eastern Africa, and open them to Egyptian commerce.
Admiral Eumedes, the oldest son of Philippus and Thyone, had succeeded in doing this most admirably, for the distinguished commander had not only founded on the Ethiopian shore of the Red Sea a city which he named for the King "Ptolemais," but also won over the princes and tribes of that region to Egypt.
He was now returning from Ethiopia with a wealth of treasures.
After the brilliant festivals the invalid King, with his new wife, was to give himself up to complete rest for a month in the healthful air of the desert region which surrounded Pithom, far from the tumult of the capital and the exhausting duties of government.
The magnificent shows which were to be expected, and the presence of the royal pair, had attracted thousands of spectators on foot or horseback, and by water, and the morning after Bias's return the sea near Clysma was swarming with vessels of all kinds and sizes.
It was more than probable that Philippus, the father, and Thyone, the mother of the famous returning Admiral Eumedes, would not fail to be present at his reception on his native soil, and therefore Hermon wished to seek out his dear old friends in Heroopolis, where the greeting was to take place, and obtain their advice.
The boat on which the freedman had come was at the disposal of his master and himself. Before Hermon entered it, he took leave, with an agitated heart and open hand, of his Amalekite friends and, in spite of the mist which still obscured everything he beheld, he perceived how reluctantly the simple dwellers in the wilderness saw him depart.
When the master and servant entered the boat, in spite of the sturdy sailors who manned it, it proved even more difficult than they had feared to make any progress; for the whole narrow end of the arm of the sea, which here extended between Egypt and Arabia Petrea, was covered with war galleys and transports, boats and skiffs. The two most magnificent state galleys from Heroopolis were coming here, bearing the ambassadors who, in the King's name, were to receive the fleet and its commander. Other large and small, richly equipped, or unpretending ships and boats were filled with curious spectators.
What a gay, animated scene! What brilliant, varied, strange, hitherto unseen objects were gathered here: vessels of every form and size, sails white, brown, and black, and on the state galleys and boats purple, blue, and every colour, adorned with more or less costly embroidery! What rising and falling of swiftly or slowly moving oars!
"From Alexandria!" cried Bias, pointing to a state galley which the King was sending to the commander of the southern fleet.
"And there," remarked Hermon, proud of his regained power of distinguishing one thing from another, and letting his eyes rest on one of the returning transports, on whose deck stood six huge African elephants, whose trumpeting mingled with the roaring of the lions and tigers on the huge freight vessels, and the exulting shouts of the men and women in the ships and boats.
"After the King's heart!" exclaimed Bias. "He probably never received at one time before so large an accession to his collection of rare animals. What is the transport with the huge lotus flower on the prow probably bringing?"
"Oh, and the monkeys and parrots over yonder!" joyously exclaimed the Amalekite boy who had been Hermon's guide, and had accompanied him into the boat. Then he suddenly lowered his voice and, fearing that his delight might give pain to the less keen-sighted man whom he loved, he asked, "You can see them, my lord, can't you?"
"Certainly, my boy, though less plainly than you do," replied Hermon, stroking the lad's dark hair.
Meanwhile the admiral's ship had approached the shore.
Bias pointed to the poop, where the commander Eumedes was standing directing the course of the fleet.
As if moulded in bronze, a man thoroughly equal to his office, he seemed, in spite of the shouts, greetings, and acclamations thundering around him, to close his eyes and ears to the vessels thronging about his ship and devote himself body and soul to the fulfilment of his duty. He had just embraced his father and mother, who had come here to meet him.
"The King undoubtedly sent by his father the laurel wreath on his helmet," observed Bias, pointing to the admiral. "So many honours while he is still so young! When you went to the wrestling school in Alexandria, Eumedes was scarcely eight years older than you, and I remember how he preferred you to the others. A sign, and he will notice us and allow you to go on his ship, or, at any rate, send us a boat in which we can enter the canal."
"No, no," replied Hermon. "My call would disturb him now."
"Then let us make ourselves known to the Lady Thyone or her husband," the freedman continued. "They will certainly take us on their large state galley, from which, though your eyes do not yet see as far as a falcon's, not a ship, not a man, not a movement will escape them."
But Hermon added one more surprise to the many which he had already given, for he kindly declined Bias's well-meant counsel, and, resting his hand on the Amalekite boy's shoulder, said modestly: "I am no longer the Hermon whom Eumedes preferred to the others. And the Lady Thyone must not be reminded of anything sad in this festal hour for the mother's heart. I shall meet her to-morrow, or the day after, and yet I had intended to let no one who is loyal to me look into my healing eyes before Daphne."
Then he felt the freedman's hand secretly press his, and it comforted him, after the sorrowful thoughts to which he had yielded, amid the shouts of joy ringing around him. How quietly, with what calm dignity, Eumedes received the well-merited homage, and how disgracefully the false fame had bewildered his own senses!
Yet he had not passed through the purifying fire of misfortune in vain! The past should not cloud the glad anticipation of brighter days!
Drawing a long breath, he straightened himself into a more erect posture, and ordered the men to push the boat from the shore. Then he pressed a farewell kiss on the Amalekite boy's forehead, the lad sprang ashore, and the journey northward began.
At first the sailors feared that the crowd would be too great, and the boat would be refused admission to the canal; but the helmsman succeeded in keeping close behind a vessel of medium size, and the Macedonian guards of the channel put no obstacle in their countryman's way, while boats occupied by Egyptians and other barbarians were kept back.
In the Bitter Lakes, whose entire length was to be traversed, the ships had more room, and after a long voyage through dazzling sunlight, and along desolate shores, the boat anchored at nightfall at Heroopolis.
Hermon and Bias obtained shelter on one of the ships which the sovereign had placed at the disposal of the Greeks who came to participate in the festivals to be celebrated.
Before his master went to rest, the freedman—whom he had sent out to look for a vessel bound to Pelusium and Alexandria the next day or the following one—returned to the ship.
He had talked with the Lady Thyone, and told Hermon from her that she would visit or send for him the next day, after the festival.
His own mother, the freedman protested, could not have rejoiced more warmly over the commencement of his recovery, and she would have come with him at once had not Philippus prevented his aged wife, who was exhausted by the long journey.
The next morning the sun poured a wealth of radiant light upon the desert, the green water of the harbour, and the gray and yellow walls of the border fortress.
Three worlds held out their hands to one another on this water way surrounded by the barren wilderness—Egypt, Hellas, and Semitic Asia.
To the first belonged the processions of priests, who, with images of the gods, consecrated vessels, and caskets of relics, took their places at the edge of the harbour. The tawny and black, half-naked soldiers who, with high shields, lances, battle-axes and bows, gathered around strangely shaped standards, joined them, amid the beating of drums and blare of trumpets, as if for their protection. Behind them surged a vast multitude of Egyptians and dark-skinned Africans.
On the other side of the canal the Asiatics were moving to and fro. The best places for spectators had been assigned to the petty kings and princes of tribes, Phoenician and Syrian merchants, and well-equipped, richly armed warriors. Among them thronged owners of herds and seafarers from the coast. Until the reception began, fresh parties of bearded sons of the desert, in floating white bernouse, mounted on noble steeds, were constantly joining the other Asiatics.
The centre was occupied by the Greeks. The appearance of every individual showed that they were rulers of the land, and that they deserved to be. How free and bold was their bearing! how brightly and joyously sparkled the eyes of these men, whose wreaths of green leaves and bright-hued flowers adorned locks anointed for the festivals! Strong and slender, they were conspicuous in their stately grace among the lean Egyptians, unbridled in their jests and jeers, and the excitable Asiatics.
Now the blare of trumpets and the roll of drums shook the air like echoing lightning and heavy peals of thunder; the Egyptian priests sang a hymn of praise to the God King and Goddess Queen, and the aristocratic priestesses of the deity tinkled the brass rings on the sistrum. Then a chorus of Hellenic singers began a polyphonous hymn, and amid its full, melodious notes, which rose above the enthusiastic shouts of "Hail!" from the multitude, King Ptolemy and his sister-wife showed themselves to the waiting throng. Seated on golden thrones borne on the broad shoulders of gigantic black Ethiopians, and shaded by lofty canopies, both were raised above the crowd, whom they saluted by gracious gestures.
The athletic young bearers of the large round ostrich-feather fans which protected them from the sunbeams were followed in ranks by the monarch's "relatives" and "friends," the dignitaries, the dark and fair-haired bands of the guards of Grecian youths and boys, as well as divisions of the picked corps of the Hetairoi, Diadochi, and Epigoni, in beautiful plain Macedonian armour.
They were followed in the most informal manner by scholars from the Museum, many Hellenic artists, and wealthy gentlemen of Alexandria of Greek and Jewish origin, whom the King had invited to the festival.
In his train they went on board the huge galley on which the reception was to take place. Scarcely had the last one stepped on the deck when it began.
Eumedes came from the admiral's galley to the King's. Ptolemy embraced him like a friend, and Arsinoe added a wreath of fresh roses to the laurel crown which the sovereign had sent the day before.
At the same time thundering plaudits echoed from the walls of the fortifications and broke, sometimes rising, sometimes falling, against the ships and masts in the calm water of the harbour.
The King had little time to lose. Even festal joy must move swiftly. There were many and varied things to be seen and done; but in the course of an hour—so ran the order—this portion of the festivities must be over, and it was fully obeyed.
The hands and feet of the woolly-headed blacks who, amid loud acclamations, carried on shore the cages in which lions, panthers, and leopards shook the bars with savage fury, moved as if they were winged. The slender, dark-brown Ethiopians who led giraffes, apes, gazelles, and greyhounds past the royal pair rushed along as if they were under the lash; and the sixty elephants which Eumedes and his men had caught in the land of Chatyth moved at a rapid pace past the royal state galley.
At the sight of them the King joined in the cheers of thousands of voices on the shore; these giant animals were to him auxiliaries who could put to flight a whole corps of hostile cavalry, and Arsinoe-Philadelphus, the Queen, sympathized with his pleasure.
She raised her voice with her royal husband, and it seemed to the spectators on the shore as if they had a share in the narrative when she listened to Eumedes's first brief report.
Only specimens of the gold and ivory, spices and rare woods, juniper trees and skins of animals which the ships brought home could be borne past their Majesties, and the black and brown men who carried them moved at a breathless rate.
The sun was still far from the meridian when the royal couple and their train withdrew from the scene of the reception ceremonial, and drove, in a magnificent chariot drawn by four horses, to the neighbouring city of Pithoin, where new entertainments and a long period of rest awaited them. Hermon had seen, as if through a veil of white mists, the objects that aroused the enthusiasm of the throng, and so, he said to himself, it had been during the whole course of his life. Only the surface of the phenomena on which he fixed his eyes had been visible to him; he had not learned to penetrate further into their nature, fathom them to their depths, until he became blind.
If the gods fulfilled his hope, if he regained his vision entirely, and even the last mists had vanished, he would hold firmly to the capacity he had gained, and use it in life as well as in art.
The messenger from Philippus appeared in the afternoon. It was the young hipparch who had studied in Athens and accompanied the commandant of Pelusium to Tennis the year before. He came charged with the commission to convey the artist, in the carriage of the gray-haired comrade of Alexander, to the neighbouring city of Pithom, where Philippus, by the King's command, was now residing.
On the way the hipparch told the sculptor that the Lady Thyone had recently done things unprecedented for a woman of her age.
She had been present at the founding of the city of Arsinoe, as well as at the laying of the corner stone of the temple which was to be consecrated to the new god Serapis in the neighbourhood. The day before she had welcomed her returning son before the entry of the fleet into the canal, and to-day had remained from the beginning to the end of his reception by the King, without being unduly wearied.
Her first thought, after the close of the ceremony, had concerned her convalescing young friend. New entertainments, in which the Queen commanded her to participate, awaited her in Pithom, but pleasure at the return of her famous son appeared to double her power of endurance.
Pithom was the sacred name of the temple precincts of the desert city of Thekut—[The biblical Suchot]—near Heroopolis, where the citizens lived and pursued their business.
The travellers reached the place very speedily. Garlands of flowers and hangings adorned the houses. The sacred precinct Pithom, above which towered the magnificently restored temple of the god Turn, was also still adorned with many superb ones, as well as lofty masts, banners, and triumphal arches.
Before they reached it the equipage passed the sumptuous tents which had been erected for the royal pair and their attendants. If Hermon had not known how long the monarch intended to remain here, their size and number would have surprised him.
A regular messenger and carrier-dove service had been established between Alexandria and Pithom for the period of Ptolemy's relaxation; and the sovereign was accompanied not only by several of the chief councillors and secretaries, but artists and some of the Museum scientists with whom he was on specially intimate terms, who were to adorn the festival on the frontier with their presence, and cheer the invalid King, who needed entertainment. Singers and actors also belonged to the train.
As they passed the encampment of the troops who accompanied the sovereign, the hipparch could show Hermon a magnificent military spectacle.
Heroopolis was fortified, and belonged to the military colonies which Alexander the Great had established throughout all Egypt in order to win it over more quickly to Grecian customs. A Hellenic phalanx and Libyan mercenaries formed the garrison there, but at Pithom the King had gathered the flower of his troops around him, and this circumstance showed how little serious consideration the cautious ruler, who usually carefully regarded every detail, gave to the war with Cyrene, in which he took no personal part. The four thousand Gauls whom he had sent across the frontier as auxiliary troops promised to become perilous to the foe, who was also threatened in the rear by one of the most powerful Libyan tribes.
Therefore, the artist was assured by his military companion, Philadelphus could let the campaign take its course, and permit himself the brief period of rest in this strangely chosen place, which the leeches had advised.
The house where the aged couple lived with their son, Admiral Eumedes, was on the edge of the precincts of the temple. It belonged to the most distinguished merchant in the place, and consisted of a large open courtyard in the form of a square, surrounded by the building and its communicating wings.
When the hipparch led Hermon into this place a number of people had already assembled there. Soldiers and sailors stood in groups in the centre, awaiting the orders of the old general and his subordinate officers. Messengers and slaves, coming and going on various errands, were crossing it, and on the shady side benches and chairs stood under a light awning. Most of these were occupied by visitors who came to congratulate the mother of the fame-crowned admiral.
Thyone was reclining on a divan in their midst, submitting with a sigh to the social duties which her high position imposed upon her.
Her face was turned toward the large doorway of the main entrance, while she sometimes greeted newly introduced guests, sometimes bade farewell to departing ones, and meanwhile answered and asked questions.
She had been more wearied by the exertions of the last few days than her animated manner revealed. Yet as soon as Hermon, leaning on the young hipparch's arm, approached her, she rose and cordially extended both hands to him. True, the recovering man was still unable to see her features distinctly, but he felt the maternal kindness with which she received him, and what his eyes could not distinguish his ears taught him in her warm greetings. His heart dilated and, after he had kissed her dear old hand more than once with affectionate devotion, she led him among her guests and presented him to them as the son of her dearest friend.
A strange stir ran through the assembled group, nearly all whose members belonged to the King's train, and the low whispers and murmurs around him revealed to Hermon that the false wreaths he wore had by no means been forgotten in this circle.
A painful feeling of discomfort overwhelmed the man accustomed to the silence of the desert, and a voice within cried with earnest insistence, "Away from here!"
But he had no time to obey it; an unusually tall, broad-shouldered man, with a thick gray beard and grave, well-formed features, in whom he thought he recognised the great physician Erasistratus, approached Thyone, and asked, "The recluse from the desert with restored sight?"
"The same," replied the matron, and whispered to the other, who was really the famous scientist and leech whom Hermon had desired to seek in Alexandria. "Exhaustion will soon overcome me, and how many important matters I had to discuss with you and the poor fellow yonder!"
The physician laid his hand on the matron's temples, and, raising his voice, said in a tone of grave anxiety: "Exhaustion! It would be better for you, honoured lady, to keep your bed."
"Surely and certainly!" the wife of the chief huntsman instantly assented. "We have already taxed your strength far too long, my noble friend."
This welcome confession produced a wonderful effect upon the other visitors, and very soon the last one had vanished from the space under the awning and the courtyard. Not a single person had vouchsafed Hermon a greeting; for the artist, divested of the highest esteem, had been involved in the ugly suspicion of having driven his uncle from Alexandria, and the monarch was said to have spoken unfavourably of him.
When the last one had left the courtyard, the leech exchanged a quick glance of understanding, which also included Hermon, with Thyone, and the majordomo received orders to admit no more visitors, while Erasistratus exclaimed gaily, "It is one of the physician's principal duties to keep all harmful things—including living ones—from his patient."
Then he turned to Hermon and had already begun to question him about his health, when the majordomo announced another visitor. "A very distinguished gentleman, apparently," he said hastily; "Herophilus of Chalcedon, who would not be denied admittance."
Again the eyes of Erasistratus and the matron met, and the former hastened toward his professional colleague.
The two physicians stopped in the middle of the courtyard and talked eagerly together, while Thyone, with cordial interest, asked Hermon to tell her what she had already partially learned through the freedman Bias.
Finally Erasistratus persuaded the matron, who seemed to have forgotten her previous exhaustion, to share the consultation, but the convalescent's heart throbbed faster as he watched the famous leeches.
If these two men took charge of his case, the most ardent desire of his soul might be fulfilled, and Thyone was certainly trying to induce them to undertake his treatment; what else would have drawn her away from him before she had said even one word about Daphne?
The sculptor saw, as if through a cloud of dust, the three consulting together in the centre of the courtyard, away from the soldiers and messengers.
Hermon had only seen Erasistratus indistinctly, but before his eyes were blinded he had met him beside the sick-bed of Myrtilus, and no one who had once beheld it could forget the manly bearded face, with the grave, thoughtful eyes, whose gaze deliberately sought their goal.
The other also belonged to the great men in the realm of intellect. Hermon knew him well, for he had listened eagerly in the Museum to the lectures of the famous Herophilus, and his image also had stamped itself upon his soul.
Even at that time the long, smooth hair of the famous investigator had turned gray. From the oval of his closely shaven, well-formed face, with the long, thin, slightly hooked nose, a pair of sparkling eyes had gazed with penetrating keenness at the listeners. Hermon had imagined Aristotle like him, while the bust of Pythagoras, with which he was familiar, resembled Erasistratus.
The convalescent could scarcely expect anything more than beneficial advice from Herophilus; for this tireless investigator rarely rendered assistance to the sick in the city, because the lion's share of his time and strength were devoted to difficult researches. The King favoured these by placing at his disposal the criminals sentenced to death. In his work of dissection he had found that the human brain was the seat of the soul, and the nerves originated in it.
Erasistratus, on the contrary, devoted himself to a large medical practice, though science owed him no less important discoveries.
The circle of artists had heard what he taught concerning the blood in the veins and the air bubbles in the arteries, how he explained the process of breathing, and what he had found in the investigation of the beating of the heart.
But he performed his most wonderful work with the knife in his hand as a surgeon. He had opened the body of one of Archias's slaves, who had been nursed by Daphne, and cured him after all other physicians had given him up.
When this man's voice reached Hermon, he repeated to himself the words of refusal with which the great physician had formerly declined to devote his time and skill to him. Perhaps he was right then—and how differently he treated him to-day!
Thyone had informed the famous scientist of everything which she knew from Hermon, and had learned of the last period of his life through Bias.
She now listened with eager interest, sometimes completing Hermon's acknowledgments by an explanatory or propitiating word, as the leeches subjected him to a rigid examination, but the latter felt that his statements were not to serve curiosity, but an honest desire to aid him. So he spoke to them with absolute frankness.
When the examination was over, Erasistratus exclaimed to his professional colleague: "This old woman! Precisely as I would have prescribed. She ordered the strictest diet with the treatment. She rejected every strong internal remedy, and forbade him wine, much meat, and all kinds of seasoning. Our patient was directed to live on milk and the same simple gifts of Nature which I would have ordered for him. The herb juice in the clever sorceress's salve proved the best remedy. The incantations could do no harm. On the contrary, they often produce a wonderful effect on the mind, and from it proceed further."
Here Erasistratus asked to have a description of the troubles which still affected Hermon's vision, and the passionate eagerness with which the leeches gazed into his eyes strengthened the artist's budding hope. Never had he wished more ardently that Daphne was back at his side.
He also listened with keen attention when the scientists finally discussed in low tones what they had perceived, and caught the words, "White scar on the cornea," "leucoma," and "operation." He also heard Herophilus declare that an injury of the cornea by the flame of the torch was the cause of the blindness. In the work which led him to the discovery of the retina in the eye he had devoted himself sedulously to the organs of sight. This case seemed as if it had been created for his friend's keen knife.
What expectations this assurance aroused in the half-cured man, who felt as if the goal was already gained, when, shortly after, Erasistratus, the greatest physician of his time, offered to make the attempt in Alexandria to remove, by a few little incisions, what still dimmed his impaired vision!
Hermon, deeply agitated, thanked the leech, and when Thyone perceived what was passing in his mind she ventured to ask the question whether it would not be feasible to perform the beneficent work here, and, if possible, the next day, and the surgeon was ready to fulfil the wish of the matron and the sufferer speedily. He would bring the necessary instruments with him. It only depended upon whether a suitable room could be found in the crowded city, and Thyone believed that such a one could not be lacking in the great building at her disposal.
A short conversation with the steward confirmed this opinion.
Then Erasistratus appointed the next morning for the operation. During the ceremony of consecrating the temple it would be quiet in the house and its vicinity. The preliminary fasting which he imposed upon his patients Hermon had already undergone.
"The pure desert air here," he added, "will be of the utmost assistance in recovery. The operation is slight, and free from danger. A few days will determine its success. I shall remain here with their Majesties, only"—and here he hesitated doubtfully—"where shall I find a competent assistant?"
Herophilus looked his colleague in the face with a sly smile, saying, "If you credit the old man of Chalcedon with the needful skill, he is at your disposal."
"Herophilus!" cried Thyone, and tears of emotion wet her aged eyes, which easily overflowed; but when Hermon tried to give expression to his fervent gratitude in words, Erasistratus interrupted him, exclaiming, as he grasped his comrade's hand, "It honours the general in his purple robe, when he uses the spade in the work of intrenchment."
Many other matters were discussed before the professional friends withdrew, promising to go to work early the next morning.
They kept their word, and while the temple of the god Turn resounded with music and the chanting of hymns by the priests, whose dying notes entered the windows of the sick-room, while Queen Arsinoe-Philadelphus led the procession, and the King, who was prevented by the gout from entering and passing around the sanctuary at her side, ordered a monument to be erected in commemoration of this festival, the famous leeches toiled busily.
When the music and the acclamations of the crowd died away, their task was accomplished. The great Herophilus had rendered his equally distinguished colleague the aid of an apprentice. When Hermon's lips again tried to pour forth his gratitude, Herophilus interrupted him with the exclamation: "Use the sight you have regained, young master, in creating superb works of art, and I shall be in your debt, since, with little trouble, I was permitted to render a service to the whole Grecian world."
Hermon spent seven long days and nights full of anxious expectation in a darkened room. Bias and a careful old female slave of the Lady Thyone watched him faithfully. Philippus, his wife, and his famous son Eumedes were allowed to pay him only brief visits; but Erasistratus watched the success of the operation every morning. True, it had been by no means dangerous, and certainly would not have required his frequent visits, but it pleased the investigator, reared in the school of Stoics, to watch how this warm-blooded young artist voluntarily submitted to live in accord with reason and Nature—the guiding stars of his own existence.
But Hermon opened his soul to his learned friend, and what Erasistratus thus learned strengthened the conviction of this great alleviator of physical pain that suffering and knowledge of self were the best physicians for the human soul. The scientist, who saw in the arts the noblest ornament of mortal life, anticipated with eager interest Hermon's future creative work.