Hermon clasped him in his arms with passionate affection, and after confessing that he, too, felt drawn with the utmost power toward Daphne, and urging him to anticipate complete recovery instead of an early death, he held out his hand to his friend; but Myrtilus clasped it a long time in his own, saying earnestly: “Only this one frank warning: An Arachne like the model which Althea presented yesterday evening would deal the past of your art a blow in the face. No one at Rhodes—and this is just what I prize in you—hated imitation more, yet what would using the Arachne on the pedestal for a model be except showing the world not how Hermon, but how Althea imagines the hapless transformed mortal? Even if Ledscha withdraws from you, hold fast to her image. It will live on in your soul. Recall it there, free it from whatever is superfluous, supply whatever it lacks, animate it with the idea of the tireless artist, the mocking, defiant mortal woman who ended her life as the weaver of weavers in the insect world, as you have so often vividly described her to me. Then, my dear fellow, you will remain loyal to yourself, and therefore also to the higher truth, toward which every one of us who labours earnestly strives, and, myself included, there is no one who wields hammer and chisel in Greece who could contest the prize with you.”
When the sun was approaching the western horizon the travellers started.
Light mists veiled the radiant right eye of the goddess of heaven. The blood of the contending spirits of light and darkness, which usually dyed the west of Egypt crimson at the departure of the great sun god, to-day vanished from sight.
The sultry air was damp and oppressive, and experienced old Philippus, who had commanded a fleet of considerable size under the first Ptolemies, agreed with the captain of the vessel, who pointed to several small dark clouds under the silvery stratus, and expressed the fear that Selene would hardly illumine the ship’s course during the coming night.
But before the departure the travellers had offered sacrifices to the foam-born Cyprian Aphrodite and the Dioscuri, the protectors of mariners, and the conversation took the gayest turn.
In the harbour of the neighbouring seaport Tanis they went aboard of the commandant’s state galley, one of the largest and finest in the royal fleet, where a banquet awaited them.
Cushions were arranged on the high poop, and the sea was as smooth as the silver dishes in which viands were offered to the guests.
True, not a breath stirred the still, sultry air, but the three long double ranks of rowers in the hold of the ship provided for her swift progress, and if no contrary wind sprang up she would run into the harbour of Pelusium before the last goblet was emptied.
Soon after the departure it seemed as if the captain of the little vessel had erred in his prediction, for the moon burst victoriously through the black clouds, only its shining orb was surrounded by a dull, glimmering halo.