Dorippe, the younger of the two, grasped her disordered black tresses, over which thousands of rebellious little hairs seemed to weave a veil of mist, drew from the mass of curls falling on her neck a bronze arrow, with which she extinguished the feeble light of both lamps, and, turning to the house-keeper, said:
“There, then! We can’t yet tell a black thread from a white one, and I must put out the lamps, as if this rich house were a beggar’s hut. Two hundred jars of shining oil were standing in the storehouses a week ago. Why did the master let them be put on the ship and taken to Messina by his brother and Mopsus?”
“And why isn’t the fruit gathered yet?” asked Chloris. “The olives are overripe, and the thieves have an easy task, now the watchmen have gone to Messina as rowers. We must save by drops, while we own more gnarled olive-trees than there are days in the year. How many jars of oil might be had from the fruit that has dropped on the ground alone! The harvest at neighbor Protarch’s was over long ago, and if I were like Lysander—”
“There would probably be an end of saving,” cried the house-keeper, interrupting the girl. “Well, I confess it wasn’t easy for me to part with the golden gift of the gods, but what could I do? Our master’s brother, Alciphron, wanted it, and there was a great barter. Alciphron is clever, and has a lucky hand, in which the liquid gold we press from the olives with so much toil, and keep so carefully, becomes coined metal. He’s like my own child, for I was his nurse. Here in the country we increase our riches by care, patience and frugality, while the city merchant must have farseeing eyes, and know how to act speedily. Even when a boy, my Alciphron was the wisest of Dionysius’s three sons, and, if there was anything sweet to be divided, always knew how to get the largest share. When his mother was alive, she once told the lad to give her the best of some freshly-baked cakes, that she might take it to the temple for an offering, and what was his answer? ’It will be well for me to taste them all, that I may be certain not to make a mistake;’ and when Clytemnestra—”
“Is Alciphron younger than our poor master?” interrupted Dorippe.
“They were sesame cakes with honey,” replied the house-keeper, whose hearing was impaired by age, and who therefore frequently misunderstood words uttered in a low tone. “Is the linen ready for the wash?”
“I didn’t ask about the cakes,” replied Dorippe, exchanging a mischievous glance with Chloris; “I only wanted to know—”
“You girls are deaf; I’ve noticed it a long time,” interrupted the house-keeper. “You’ve grown hard of hearing, and I know why. Hundreds of times I’ve forbidden you to throw yourselves on the dewy grass in the evening, when you were heated by dancing. How often I get absurd answers, when I ask you anything!”
The girls both laughed merrily.