In the service of Areluas, his present master’s uncle, who had given him to his nephew, and as the slave of the impetuous yet anything but cruel sculptor, Hermon, he had become accustomed to bondage, but was still far more strongly attached to his Biamite race than to the Greek, to whom, it is true, his master belonged, but who had robbed him and his family of freedom.
The man of forty did not lack mother wit, and as his hard fate rendered him thoughtful and often led him to use figurative turns of speech, which were by no means intended as jests, he had been called by his first master “Bias” for the sage of Priene.
In the house of Hermon, who associated with the best artists in Alexandria, he had picked up all sorts of knowledge and gladly welcomed instruction. His highest desire was to win esteem, and he often did so.
Hermon prized the useful fellow highly. He had no secrets from him, and was sure of his silence and good will.
Bias had managed to lure many a young beauty in Alexandria, in whom the sculptor had seen a desirable model, to his studio, even under the most difficult circumstances; but he was vexed to find that his master had cast his eye upon the daughter of one of the most distinguished families among his own people. He knew, too, that the Biamites jealously guarded the honour of their women, and had represented to Hermon what a dangerous game he was playing when he began to offer vows of love to Ledscha.
So it was an extremely welcome task to be permitted to inform her that she was awaiting his master in vain.
In reply to her inquiry whether it was the aristocrat who had just arrived who kept Hermon from her, he admitted that she was right, but added that the gods were above even kings, and his master was obliged to yield to the Alexandrian’s will.
Ledscha laughed incredulously: “He—obey a woman!”
“He certainly would not submit to a man,” replied the slave. “Artists, you must know, would rather oppose ten of the most powerful men than one weak woman, if she is only beautiful. As for the daughter of Archias— thereby hangs a tale.”
“Archias?” interrupted the girl. “The rich Alexandrian who owns the great weaving house?”
“The very man.”
“So it is his daughter who is keeping Hermon? And you say he is obliged to serve her?”
“As men serve the Deity, to the utmost, or truth,” replied the slave importantly. “Archias, the father, it is true, imposed upon us the debt which is most tardily paid, and which people, even in this country, call ‘gratitude.’ We are under obligations to the old man—there’s no denying it—and therefore also to his only child.”
“For what?” Ledscha indignantly exclaimed, and the dark eyebrows which met above her delicate nose contracted suspiciously. “I must know!”
“Must!” repeated the slave. “That word is a ploughshare which suits only loose soil, and mine, now that my master is waiting for me, can not be tilled even by the sharpest. Another time! But if, meanwhile, you have any message for Hermon——”