The house-keeper was still talking, when one of the folding doors opened a little, and Dorippe called through the crack:
“May we come in? Here’s a messenger from Protarch.”
“Admit him,” cried Semestre, eagerly. The door flew wide open, and the two girls entered the women’s apartment with Mopsus, the brother of the lively Chloris. The latter was clinging to his arm, and as he came into the hall removed the broad-brimmed travelling-hat from his brown locks, while dark-skinned Dorippe went behind him and pushed the hesitating youth across the threshold, as a boat is launched into the sea.
In reply to the house-keeper’s excited questions, he related that Protarch had sold his master’s oil at Messina for as high a price as his own, bought two new horses for his neighbor Cleon, and sent Mopsus himself forward with them. If the wind didn’t change, he would arrive that day.
While speaking, he drew from the girdle which confined his blue chiton, bordered with white, around his waist, a strip of papyrus, and handed it to Semestre with a greeting from his master.
The house-keeper looked at both sides of the yellow sheet, turned it over and over, held it close to her eyes, and then glanced hesitatingly at Jason. He would know that she could not read; but Xanthe could decipher written sentences, and the young girl must soon appear at breakfast.
“Shall I read it?” asked the old man.
“I could do so myself, if I chose,” replied the house-keeper, drawing her staff over the floor in sharp and blunt angles, as if she were writing. “I could, but I don’t like to hear news on an empty stomach, and what is said in this letter concerns myself, I should suppose, and nobody else. Go and call Xanthe to breakfast, Dorippe.”
“I know what is in it,” cried the girl, reluctant to part from her companion’s brother, whom she loved, and who still had a great deal to tell her about his journey to Messina. “Mopsus has told us. Our master’s nephew, Leonax, Alciphron’s son, will accompany his uncle and stay for a week or longer as a guest, not over yonder with Protarch, but here in our house. He is a, handsome youth, even taller than Phaon, and Mopsus says Alciphron’s wife, by our master’s request, dipped deep into his purse at Messina, and bought from her husband’s merchant friends gold bracelets and women’s garments, such as matrons wear.”
At these words a smile of joy and hope flitted over Semestre’s wrinkled face, like a spring breeze sweeping across a leafless garden. She no longer thought of the harm a piece of news might do her empty stomach, and, while mentally seeing the flutter of a matron’s beautiful blue garment and the flash of Xanthe’s rich dowry, eagerly asked the welcome messenger:
“Does she speak the truth? And what is this about the robes?”
“I brought the clothes myself,” replied Mopsus, “and packed them in a beautiful chest inlaid with ivory, like those newlywedded youths receive with the bridal dowry. Praxilla, the handsome sister of Alciphron’s wife, also gave—”