Suddenly from the deck, shaded by an awning, the loud laugh of a woman’s shrill voice reached his ear, blended with the deeper tones of the grammateus, whose attacks on the previous night Hermon had not forgotten.
He stopped as if the laugh had pierced him to the heart. Proclus appeared to be on the most familiar terms with Althea, and to meet him with the Thracian now seemed impossible. He longed for mirth and pleasure, but was unwilling to share it with these two. As he dared not disturb Myrtilus, there was only one place where he could find what he needed, and this was—he had said so to himself when he turned his back on his sleeping friend—in Daphne’s society.
Only yesterday he would have sought her without a second thought, but to-day Althea’s declaration that he was the only man whom the daughter of Archias loved stood between him and his friend.
He knew that from childhood she had watched his every step with sisterly affection. A hundred times she had proved her loyalty; yet, dear as she was to him, willingly as he would have risked his life to save her from a danger, it had never entered his mind to give the tie that united them the name of love.
An older relative of both in Alexandria had once advised him, when he was complaining of his poverty, to seek her hand, but his pride of manhood rebelled against having the wealth which fate denied flung into his lap by a woman. When she looked at him with her honest eyes, he could never have brought himself to feign anything, least of all a passion of which, tenderly attached to her though he had been for years, hitherto he had known nothing.
“Do you love her?” Hermon asked himself as he walked toward Daphne’s tent, and the anticipated “No” had pressed itself upon him far less quickly than he expected.
One thing was undeniably certain: whoever won her for a wife—even though she were the poorest of the poor—must be numbered among the most enviable of men. And should he not recognise in his aversion to every one of her suitors, and now to the aristocratic young Philotas, a feeling which resembled jealousy?
No! He did not and would not love Daphne. If she were really his, and whatever concerned him had become hers, with whom could he have sought in hours like these soothing, kind, and sensible counsel, comfort that calmed the heart, and the refreshing dew which his fading courage and faltering creative power required?
The bare thought of touching clay and wax with his fingers, or taking hammer, chisel, and file in his hands, was now repulsive; and when, just outside of the tent, a Biamite woman who was bringing fish to the cook reminded him of Ledscha, and that he had lost in her the right model for his Arachne, he scarcely regretted it.
By Georg Ebers