"Didn't you," interrupted Jason, raising his voice--"didn't you vow this morning that you would prepare Phaon's wedding-feast with your own hands as soon as you yourself offered a sacrifice to the Cyprian goddess to induce her to unite their hearts?"
"And I'll stick to it, so surely as the gracious goddess--"
"I hold you to your promise!" exclaimed Jason. "Your sucking-pig has just been offered to Aphrodite. The priest gladly accepted it and slaughtered it before my eyes, imploring the goddess with me, to fill Xanthe's heart with love for Phaon."
The house-keeper clenched her hands, approached Jason, and so plainly showed her intention of attacking him that the steward, who had assailed many a wild-boar, retreated--by no means fearlessly.
She forced him back to the marble bench, screaming:
"So that's why the priest found no word of praise for my beautiful pig!
You're a thief, a cheat! You took my dear little pig, which all the other gods might envy the mother of Eros, put in its place a wretched animal just like yourself, and falsely said it came from me. Oh, I see through the whole game! That fine Mopsus was your accomplice; but so true as I--"
"Mopsus has entered our service," replied Jason, laughing; "and, if our Phaon's bride will permit, he wants to wed the dark-haired Dorippe.
Henceforth our property is yours."
"And ours yours," replied Xanthe--"Be good-natured, Semestre; I will marry no man but Phaon, and shall soon win my father over to our side, rely upon that."
The house-keeper was probably forced to believe these very resolute words, for, like a vanquished but skilful general, she began to think of covering her retreat, saying:
"I was outwitted; but, what I vowed in a moment of weakness. I have now sworn again. I am only sorry for your poor father, who needed a trustworthy son, and the good Leonax--"
At this moment, as if he had heard his name and obediently appeared at her call, the son of Alciphron, of Messina, appeared with Phaon's father, Protarch, from the shadow of the myrtle-grove.
He was a gay, handsome youth, richly and carefully dressed. After many a pressure of the hand and cordial words of welcome, Phaon took the young girl's hand and led her to the new-comers, saying:
"Give me Xanthe for a wife, my father. We have grown up together like the ivy and wild vine on the wall, and cannot part."
"No certainly not," added Xanthe, blushing and nestling closely to her lover's side, as she gazed beseechingly first at her uncle, and then at the young visitor from Messina.
"Children, children!" cried Protarch, "you spoil my best plans. I had destined Agariste, the rich Mentor's only child, for you, foolish boy, and already had come to terms with the old miser. But who can say I will, or this and that shall happen to-morrow? You are very sweet and charming my girl, and I don't say that I shouldn't be glad, but--mighty Zeus! what will my brother Alciphron say--and you, Leonax?"
"I?" asked the young man, smiling. "I came here like a dutiful son, but I confess I rejoice over what has happened, for now my parents will hardly say 'No' a second time, when I beg them to give me Codrus's daughter, Ismene, for my wife."
"And there stands a maiden who seems to like to hear such uncivil words better than Helen loved Paris's flattering speeches!" exclaimed Phaon's father, first kissing his future daughter's cheek and then his son's forehead.
"But now let us go to father," pleaded Xanthe.
"Only one moment," replied Protarch, "to look after the boxes the people are bringing.--Take care of the large chest with the Phoenician dishes and matron's robes, my lads."
During the first moments of the welcome, Semestre had approached her darling's son, told him who she was, received his father's messages of remembrance, kissed his hand, and stroked his arm.
His declaration that he wished another maiden than Xanthe for his wife soothed her not a little, and when she now heard of matrons' dresses, and not merely one robe, her eyes sparkled joyously, and, fixing them on the ground, she asked:
"Is there a blue one among them? I'm particularly fond of blue."
"I've selected a blue one, too," replied Protarch. "I'll explain for what purpose up yonder. Now we'll go and greet my brother."
Xanthe, hand in hand with her lover, hurried on in advance of the procession, lovingly prepared her father for what had happened, told him how much injustice he, old Semestre, and she herself had done poor Phaon, led the youth to him, and, deeply agitated, sank on her knees before him as he laid her hand in her playfellow's, exclaiming in a trembling voice:
"I have always loved you, curly-head, and Xanthe wants you for her husband. Then I, too, should have a son!--Hear, lofty Olympians, a good, strong, noble son! Help me up, my boy. How well I feel! Haven't I gained in you two stout legs and arms? Only let the old woman come to me to-day! The conjurer taught me how to meet her."
Leaning on Phaon's strong shoulder he joyously went out of the house, greeted his handsome young nephew as well as his brother, and said:
"Let Phaon live with Xanthe in my house, which will soon be his own, for I am feeble and need help."
"With all my heart," cried Protarch, "and it will be well on every account, for, for--well, it must come out, for I, foolish graybeard--"
"Well?" asked Lysander, and Semestre curved her hand into a shell and held it to her ear to hear better.
"I--just look at me--I, Protarch, Dionysius's son, can no longer bear to stay in the house all alone with that silent youth and old Jason, and so I have--perhaps it is a folly, but certainly no crime--so I have chosen a new wife in Messina."
"Protarch!" cried Lysander, raising his hands in astonishment; but Phaon nodded to his father approvingly, exchanging a joyous glance with Xanthe.
"He has chosen my mother's younger sister," said Leonax.
"The younger, yes, but not the youngest," interrupted Protarch. "You must have your wedding in three days, children. Phaon will live here in your house, Lysander, with his Xanthe, end I in the old one yonder with my Praxilla. Directly after your marriage I shall go back to Messina with Leonax and bring home my wife."
"We have long needed a mistress in the house, and I bless your bold resolution!" exclaimed Jason.
"Yes, you were always brave," said the invalid.
"But not so very courageous this time as it might seem," answered Protarch, smiling. "Praxilla is an estimable widow, and it was for her I purchased in Messina the matron's robes for which you asked, Semestre."
"For her?" murmured the old woman. "There is a blue one among them too, which will be becoming, for she has light brown hair very slightly mixed with gray. But she is cheerful, active, and clever, and will aid Phaon and Xanthe in their young house-keeping with many a piece of good advice."
"I shall go to my daughter in Agrigentum," said Semestre, positively.
"Go," replied Lysander, kindly, "and enjoy yourself in your old age on the money you have saved."
"Which my father," added Leonax, "will increase by the sum of a thousand drachmae.
"My Alciphron has a heart!" cried the house-keeper.
"You shall receive from me, on the day of your departure, the same sum and a matron's blue robe," said Lysander.
Shortly after the marriage of Xanthe and Phaon, Semestre went to live with her daughter.
The dike by the sea was splendidly repaired without any dispute, for the estate once more belonged to the two brothers in common, and Xanthe found in Praxilla a new, kind mother.
The marble seat, on which the young people's fate was decided, was called by the grandchildren of the wedded pair, who lived to old age in love and harmony, "the bench of the question."