Thoth: A Romance/Chapter 20
THE RETURN TO ATHENS.
Although Thoth assured Daphne in the most explicit manner that the whole assembly of the royal race must have perished, she insisted upon instant flight.
The danger had been so great and the culminating events so appalling, that she desired above everything to be hundreds of leagues from the scene.
Thoth became silent and gloomy, and most reluctantly agreed to obey her requests. Daphne attempted to soothe him, and to make his deed appear great and noble, but without effect.
"Surely thou dost not repent?" she said.
He replied as if he had not heard her question—
"Canst thou not remain with me a few months in this city until I arrange some kind of order? There are none left now but the people thou hast seen, as harmless as sheep, and, without a ruler, as helpless. My brothers were weaker than I, but every one played some necessary part. If I leave the city without a guiding mind, a disaster is possible. Why art thou in such haste to be gone? Thine enemies are irrevocably dead."
"I fear even the dead," she answered. "I cannot stay in this place."
"Not even with me—in the first glow of our love?"
"Restore me to Greece," she said, "and then, if thou wilt, return hither and put in order the affairs of thy giants and pigmies."
"And this," he said bitterly, "is thy love, when for thee I have sacrificed everything."
"Restore me to Greece," she said; "I can stay no longer in this dreadful place."
He yielded, and in silence conducted her to the car. Then he said to her with gentle, affectionate persuasion—
"Drink again of the nepenthe, and thou shalt awake in Athens."
She hesitated, as if with distrust, and he said with a tone of reproach—
"Nay, if I intended harm to thee, there are still a thousand ways in which I could show my power."
She drank as he bade her, and again felt the strange soothing effect of the drug.
She was awakened by the words of Thoth.
"Thou art at the rocks from which we departed, and the dawn is near at hand. Here is abundance of gold and jewels. Meet me at daybreak in the same place in ten days."
He kissed her hand and said—
"I return to my people to set the city in order."
And without further farewell he entered the car and disappeared.
Some peasants found Daphne and took her into the city.
The plague had vanished, and she found that many friends and companions had survived. When questioned as to her journey, she said simply that the vessel had been wrecked, and that she alone had been saved, and after much toil and suffering she had been restored to Athens by a man of Grecian birth, who wished to take her to wife. She showed the treasures in token of the truth of her words.
Every day, as the old familiar life was renewed, the recollection of Thoth and his city became more odious to her.
On all sides she saw vestiges of the plague, and she could not efface from her mind the thought that he and his companions had first implanted it in Greece. How could she love a man who had done such a deed?
She began to dread his return. She knew not what to do. She feared if she let him depart from her in anger that he might renew the work of destruction.
She feared to disclose the secret to the people and those in authority. She doubted if, against his will, they could overpower him,—and in her heart she wished him no harm—least of all, death by her devices.
She could not forget the fate from which he had rescued her, and the sacrifice which he had made.
The appointed day arrived, and still her mind was divided by doubt.
Before daybreak she was at the meeting-place—alone. The scene of her former departure rose before her, and she wondered if again she could trust herself with this man.
The first light of day appeared, and she saw no one. The light became stronger and larger, and she saw, as it were, a large bird in the distance, advancing rapidly towards her over the sea. She knew that Thoth would soon be beside her.
Nearer and nearer he came, and she pictured to herself his face aflame with eagerness and love.
Suddenly, about fifty paces from the shore, without warning, the car fell, like a wounded bird, into the sea. Daphne waited in breathless expectation, and in a few moments Thoth rose to the surface, and, swimming with great difficulty, made his way to the shore.
She ran down to meet him, and when he reached the land, she observed that he was pallid with suffering.
The water at the place was deep, and the rocks rough and cruel. She bent down and assisted him to land, and as he felt her touch, a look of pleasure crossed his suffering face.
"Art thou hurt?" she said.
"My bodily hurt," he said, "is nothing, but I fear to tell thee the whole of my evil fortune. My city, with all its people and wealth and power, is buried in the sands of the desert—not a trace is left. There, in the depth of the sea, lies the last remnant of our skill. I stand before thee a nameless, powerless. Yet if thou wilt only love me, I regret nothing," and he looked with longing into her eyes.
"Tell me but one thing," she said; "assure me that thou thyself didst not bring hither the pestilence that destroyed my race."
His face darkened, and he said—
"That is long since past, and I have become a different being."
She shrank back, and said—
"At least, say that it was thy companions—that thine own hands are guiltless."
"Surely thou didst know before that I alone did it," he said.
Horror seized her, and she cried—
"How can I forget? How can I dwell with thee or love thee?"
But he said with passionate entreaty—
"Now I am altogether different. Since I knew thee, it is as if I had been born again."
But she looked at him with dismay and undisguised terror.
"Alas! these are empty words, and the dreadful deed cannot be undone. How can a man be born again?"
Thoth looked at her, and for a moment seemed to wait for some sign of relenting, and then he said, hopelessly—
"Then there is but one course left."
He seized her hand passionately, and she tried to escape.
"Nay," he said, "fear no violence. I have always treated thee with honour and respect."
She left her hand quietly in his, and he raised it to his lips and kissed it.
"Farewell," he said; "but hereafter, when thou thinkest of me, remember that my last words were true, and that the man who loved thee was not the man who did this wrong."
Then he turned, and, without a word, plunged into the sea.
In a moment bitter repentance seized on Daphne's mind. Her memory was filled with recollections of the kindness of the man.
"Come back! come back!" she cried. "I believe thee! I love thee!"
But there was no answer, save the lapping of the waves on the shore.