A Question by Georg Ebers
Chapter IV. The Two Sucking-Pigs.
Fifteen minutes had passed, and the old house-keeper's face still glowed --no longer from anger, but because, full of zeal, she now moulded cakes before the bright flames on the hearth, now basted the roast on the spit with its own juices.
Beside her stood old Jason, who could not give up his young master's cause for lost, and exposed himself once more to the arrows of Semestre's angry words, because he bitterly repented having irritated instead of winning her.
Unfortunately, his soothing speeches fell on hard ground, for Semestre scarcely vouchsafed a reply, and at last distinctly intimated that he interrupted her.
"Attention," she said, "is the mother of every true success. It is even more needful in cooking than in weaving; and if Leonax, for whom my hands are busy, resembles his father, he knows how to distinguish bad from good."
"Alciphron," replied Jason, "liked the figs on our arbor by the house better than yours."
"And while he was enjoying them," cried the old woman, "you beat him with a hazel rod. I can hear him cry now, poor little dear."
"Too many figs are bad for the stomach," replied the old man, very slowly and distinctly, but not too loud, that he might not remind her of her deafness. Then seeing Semestre smile, he drew nearer, and with winning cheerfulness continued: "Be sensible, and don't try to part the children, who belong to each other. Xanthe, too, is fond of figs, and, if Leonax shares his father's taste, how will the sweet fruit of your favorite trees fare, if Hymen unites them in marriage? Phaon doesn't care for sweet things. But seriously: though his father may seek twenty brides for him, he himself wants no one but Xanthe. And can you deny that he is a handsome, powerful fellow?"
"So is the other," cried Semestre, wholly unmoved by these words. "Have you seen your favorite this morning? No! Do you know where he slept last night and the night before?"
"On his couch, I suppose."
"In your house?"
"I don't run after the youth, now he is grown up."
"Neither shall we! You are giving yourself useless trouble, Jason, and I earnestly beg you not to disturb me any longer now, for a dark spot is already appearing on the roast. Quick, Chloris--lift the spit from the fire!"
"I should like to bid Lysander good-morning."
"He is tired, and wants to see no one. The servants have vexed him."
"Then I'll stay awhile in the garden."
"To try your luck with Xanthe? I tell you, it's trouble wasted, for she's dressing her hair to receive our guest from Messina; and, if she were standing where those cabbage-leaves be, she wouldn't contradict me if I were to repeat what you heard from my lips this morning at sunrise. Our girl will never become Phaon's wife until I myself offer a sacrifice to Aphrodite, that she may fill Xanthe's heart with love for him."
Jason shrugged his shoulders, and was preparing to turn his back on the old woman, when Dorippe entered and approached the hearth. Her eyes were red with weeping, and in her arms she carried a round, yellowish-white creature that, struggling and stretching it's little legs in the air, squealed in a clear, shrill voice, even more loudly and piteously than a hungry babe.
It was a pretty, well-fattened sucking pig.
Jason looked at it significantly, but Semestre snatched it out of the girl's arms, pressed it to her own bosom, turned her back upon the old man with resolute meaning, and said, just loud enough for him alone to hear:
"A roast for the banquet."
As soon as Jason had left the room, she put the nicely-washed pig on a little wooden bench, ordered Chloris to see that it did not soil itself; drew from a small box, standing beside the loom, one blue ribbon and two red ones; tied the former carefully around the little creature's curly tail, and the latter about its cars; lifted the pig again, looked at it as a mother gazes at her prettily-dressed darling, patted its fattest parts with her right-hand, and ordered Dorippe to carry it to Aphrodite's temple immediately.
It's a beautiful creature, absolutely faultless, and the priest must slay it at once in Honor of the gracious goddess. I will come myself, as soon as everything is ready here; and, after such a gift, foam-born Cypris will surely grant my petition. Hide the little treasure carefully under your robe, that no one may see it."
"It struggles and squeals when I carry it," replied the girl.
"Yes, it does squeal," said the old woman. "Wait, I'll look for a suitable basket."
The house-keeper went out, and, when she returned, cried:
"Mopsus is standing outside with our donkey, to carry bag and baggage to his mother's house, but he's still in Lysander's service to-day. Let him put the creature in a basket on the donkey's back, and then he can quickly carry it to the temple--at once and without delay, for, if I don't find it on the goddess's altar in an hour, you shall answer for it! Tell him this, and then get some rosemary and myrtle to garland our hearth."
Mopsus did not hasten to perform the errand. He had first to help Dorippe cut the green branches, and, while thus engaged, sought pleasant gifts not only on the ground, but from his sweetheart's red lips, then moved up the mountain with his donkey, very slowly, without urging the animal. The latter carried one basket on the right and one on the left of its saddle, wore bright cock's feathers on its head, and had a fiery- red bridle. It looked gay enough in its finery, yet hung its head, though far less sorrowfully than its young driver, whom Semestre had exiled from his master's house and the girl he loved.
He spent half an hour in reaching the sanctuary.
Old Jason, at the same time, was standing before the little grove beside the steps leading to the cella.
The worthy man cradled in his arms, as Dorippe had just done in Lysander's house, a little squealing creature, and this, too, was a pig; but it wore no ribbon around its little tail and ears, was not particularly fat, and had numerous black spots under its scanty bristles and on its sharp snout.
The old man was gazing at the innocent creature by no means tenderly, but with the utmost indignation. He had good reason to be angry, for the priest had not thought it fit for a sacrifice to the goddess, it was so poor in fat and full of bad marks.
Alas, and Jason had no second pig, and was so eager to win the goddess to Phaon's cause.
As soon as he saw Semestre's offering, he had hurried home to anticipate her with his own, and first win the goddess's heart for his young master.
Now he stood considering whether he should strangle the unlucky creature, or carry it back to its mother.
Like a frugal steward, he decided upon the latter course, and, just as he was comparing the image of the lean, spotted animal with its future well- rounded condition, he heard the hoofs of the donkey driven by Mopsus, the heavy thud of a stick on the elastic flesh, and after every blow, the shout, "Semestre!"
Directly after Mopsus and his donkey reached the old man, and as the youth, without looking to the right or left, dealt the animal another thwack, again uttering the house-keeper's name, and in connection with it a succession of harsh, abusive words, Jason looked at the young man with approval, nay, almost tenderly.
The latter usually shouted a loud "Joy be with you!" whenever he met the old man, but to-day answered his greeting only with a sorrowful nod and low murmur.
The steward had stepped in front of him, laid his hard hand on the donkey's head, and asked:
"Do you call your ass Semestre?" Mopsus blushed, and answered:
"In future I shall call all she-asses that, but the old Megaera named this one Jason."
"Why, see," cried the steward, "how kindly the worthy woman remembers me! But she, too, was not forgotten, for, whenever you lifted your stick, you thought, I should suppose, of her."
"Indeed I did!" cried Mopsus; then, while stroking the stripes on the donkey's flanks, added kindly:
"Poor Jason, you too have nothing for which to thank the old woman. If you only knew how abominable this woman is--"
"I do know," the steward interrupted, "but she is an old woman, and it does not beseem you to abuse her; she represents the house under its invalid ruler."
"I'd willingly lay both these hands under his feet," cried the youth, "but Semestre has driven me out of his service for nothing, away from here and Dorippe, and where can I find a place in the neighborhood?"
The almost whining tone of the complaint contrasted oddly with the appearance of the tall, broad-shouldered Mopsus, yet tears filled his eyes, as he now told the steward about the juggler, the dance, Semestre's anger, his banishment from Lysander's house, and the house-keeper's commission to carry a sucking-pig to Aphrodite's temple for her.
Jason listened with only partial attention, for the low grunting of a pig, that reached his ears from one of the baskets on the donkey, seemed to him far more interesting than the poor fellow's story. He knew the ways of every domestic animal, and such sounds were only uttered by a little pig that felt comfortably fat, and lived under favorable circumstances.
A great thought awoke in his mind, and must have pleased him hugely, for his eyes began to sparkle, his mouth puckered in a smile, and he looked exactly like a satyr thrusting his thick lips toward the largest and ripest bunches of grapes in the vineyard.
When Mopsus paused, he angrily noticed what an enlivening influence his sorrowful story had had upon the old man, but soon laughed too; for, ere he could give expression to his dissatisfaction, Jason had opened the basket on the left of the donkey, taken out Semestre's gayly-decked pig, put his own lanky animal in its place, and said, giggling with pleasure:
"After what Semestre has done to a poor fellow like you, she doesn't deserve the favor of our goddess. Let me offer Aphrodite this most charming of pigs, and you offer my little beast in the house-keeper's name; then her petition will certainly find no hearing."
At these words Mopsus's broad face brightened, and, after laughing loudly, he struck his fist in the palm of his left hand, turned on the heel of his right foot, and exclaimed:
"Yes, that will be just right."
True, directly after, he looked as doubtful as if an invisible myrtle- staff had been swung over his back, and asked:
"But if she notices it?"
"I know how we'll manage it," replied the old man, and, putting Semestre's pig in Mopsus's arms, took the ribbons from its ears and curly tail.
Meantime, the little animal grunted as piteously as if it noticed that its finery was being stolen and its beauty impaired.
And when Jason, with Mopsus's assistance, put the same ribbons on his own lank pig, it looked neither better nor prouder than before, for it was no lucky animal and did not appreciate beautiful gifts.