IT was early noon, and the forum was crowded alike with the busy and the idle. As at Paris at this day, so at that time in the cities of Italy, men lived almost wholly out of doors: the public buildings, the forum, the porticoes, the baths, the temples themselves, might be considered their real homes; it was no wonder that they decorated so gorgeously these favorite places of resort — they felt for them a sort of domestic affection as well as a public pride. And animated was, indeed, the aspect of the forum of Pompeii at that time! Along its broad pavement, composed of large flags of marble, were assembled various groups, conversing in that energetic fashion which appropriates a gesture to every word, and which is still the characteristic of the people of the south. Here, in seven stalls on one side the colonnade, sat the money-changers, with their glittering heaps before them, and merchants and seamen in various costumes crowding round their stalls. On one side, several men in long togas were seen bustling rapidly up to a stately edifice, where the magistrates administered justice — these were the lawyers, active, chattering, joking, and punning, as you may find them at this day in Westminster. In the centre of the space, pedestals supported various statues, of which the most remarkable was the stately form of Cicero. Around the court ran a regular and symmetrical colonnade of Doric architecture; and there several, whose business drew them early to the place, were taking the slight morning repast which made an Italian breakfast, talking vehemently on the earthquake of the preceding night as they dipped pieces of bread in their cups of diluted wine. In the open space, too, you might perceive various petty traders exercising the arts of their calling. Here one man was holding out ribands to a fair dame from the country; another man was vaunting to a stout farmer the excellence of his shoes; a third, a kind of stall-restaurateur, still so common in the Italian cities, was supplying many a hungry mouth with hot messes from his small and itinerant stove, while — contrast strongly typical of the mingled bustle and intellect of the time — close by, a schoolmaster was expounding to his puzzled pupils the elements of the Latin grammar.’ A gallery above the portico, which was ascended by small wooden staircases, had also its throng; though, as here the immediate business of the place was mainly carried on, its groups wore a more quiet and serious air.
Every now and then the crowd below respectfully gave way as some senator swept along to the Temple of Jupiter (which filled up one side of the forum, and was the senators’ hall of meeting), nodding with ostentatious condescension to such of his friends or clients as he distinguished amongst the throng. Mingling amidst the gay dresses of the better orders you saw the hardy forms of the neighboring farmers, as they made their way to the public granaries. Hard by the temple you caught a view of the triumphal arch, and the long street beyond swarming with inhabitants; in one of the niches of the arch a fountain played, cheerily sparkling in the sunbeams; and above its cornice rose the bronzed and equestrian statue of Caligula, strongly contrasting the gay summer skies. Behind the stalls of the money-changers was that building now called the Pantheon; and a crowd of the poorer Pompeians passed through the small vestibule which admitted to the interior, with panniers under their arms, pressing on towards a platform, placed between two columns, where such provisions as the priests had rescued from sacrifice were exposed for sale.
At one of the public edifices appropriated to the business of the city, workmen were employed upon the columns, and you heard the noise of their labor every now and then rising above the hum of the multitude: the columns are unfinished to this day!
All, then, united, nothing could exceed in variety the costumes, the ranks, the manners, the occupations of the crowd — nothing could exceed the bustle, the gaiety, the animation — where pleasure and commerce, idleness and labor, avarice and ambition, mingled in one gulf their motley rushing, yet harmonius, streams.
Facing the steps of the Temple of Jupiter, with folded arms, and a knit and contemptuous brow, stood a man of about fifty years of age. His dress was remarkably plain — not so much from its material, as from the absence of all those ornaments which were worn by the Pompeians of every rank — partly from the love of show, partly, also, because they were chiefly wrought into those shapes deemed most efficacious in resisting the assaults of magic and the influence of the evil eye. His forehead was high and bald; the few locks that remained at the back of the head were concealed by a sort of cowl, which made a part of his cloak, to be raised or lowered at pleasure, and was now drawn half-way over the head, as a protection from the rays of the sun. The color of his garments was brown, no popular hue with the Pompeians; all the usual admixtures of scarlet or purple seemed carefully excluded. His belt, or girdle, contained a small receptacle for ink, which hooked on to the girdle, a stilus (or implement of writing), and tablets of no ordinary size. What was rather remarkable, the cincture held no purse, which was the almost indispensable appurtenance of the girdle, even when that purse had the misfortune to be empty!
It was not often that the gay and egotistical Pompeians busied themselves with observing the countenances and actions of their neighbors; but there was that in the lip and eye of this bystander so remarkably bitter and disdainful, as he surveyed the religious procession sweeping up the stairs of the temple, that it could not fail to arrest the notice of many.
‘Who is yon cynic?’ asked a merchant of his companion, a jeweller.
‘It is Olinthus,’ replied the jeweller; ‘a reputed Nazarene.’
The merchant shuddered. ‘A dread sect!’ said he, in a whispered and fearful voice. ‘It is said that when they meet at nights they always commence their ceremonies by the murder of a new-born babe; they profess a community of goods, too — the wretches! A community of goods! What would become of merchants, or jewellers either, if such notions were in fashion?’
‘That is very true,’ said the jeweller; ‘besides, they wear no jewels — they mutter imprecations when they see a serpent; and at Pompeii all our ornaments are serpentine.’
‘Do but observe,’ said a third, who was a fabricant of bronze, ‘how yon Nazarene scowls at the piety of the sacrificial procession. He is murmuring curses on the temple, be sure. Do you know, Celcinus, that this fellow, passing by my shop the other day, and seeing me employed on a statue of Minerva, told me with a frown that, had it been marble, he would have broken it; but the bronze was too strong for him. “Break a goddess!” said I. “A goddess!” answered the atheist; “it is a demon — an evil spirit!” Then he passed on his way cursing. Are such things to be borne? What marvel that the earth heaved so fearfully last night, anxious to reject the atheist from her bosom? — An atheist, do I say? worse still — a scorner of the Fine Arts! Woe to us fabricants of bronze, if such fellows as this give the law to society!’
‘These are the incendiaries that burnt Rome under Nero,’ groaned the jeweller.
While such were the friendly remarks provoked by the air and faith of the Nazarene, Olinthus himself became sensible of the effect he was producing; he turned his eyes round, and observed the intent faces of the accumulating throng, whispering as they gazed; and surveying them for a moment with an expression, first of defiance and afterwards of compassion, he gathered his cloak round him and passed on, muttering audibly, ‘Deluded idolaters! — did not last night’s convulsion warn ye? Alas! how will ye meet the last day?’
The crowd that heard these boding words gave them different interpretations, according to their different shades of ignorance and of fear; all, however, concurred in imagining them to convey some awful imprecation. They regarded the Christian as the enemy of mankind; the epithets they lavished upon him, of which ‘Atheist’ was the most favored and frequent, may serve, perhaps, to warn us, believers of that same creed now triumphant, how we indulge the persecution of opinion Olinthus then underwent, and how we apply to those whose notions differ from our own the terms at that day lavished on the fathers of our faith.
As Olinthus stalked through the crowd, and gained one of the more private places of egress from the forum, he perceived gazing upon him a pale and earnest countenance, which he was not slow to recognize.
Wrapped in a pallium that partially concealed his sacred robes, the young Apaecides surveyed the disciple of that new and mysterious creed, to which at one time he had been half a convert.
‘Is he, too, an impostor? Does this man, so plain and simple in life, in garb, in mien — does he too, like Arbaces, make austerity the robe of the sensualist? Does the veil of Vesta hide the vices of the prostitute?’
Olinthus, accustomed to men of all classes, and combining with the enthusiasm of his faith a profound experience of his kind, guessed, perhaps, by the index of the countenance, something of what passed within the breast of the priest. He met the survey of Apaecides with a steady eye, and a brow of serene and open candour.
‘Peace be with thee!’ said he, saluting Apaecides.
‘Peace!’ echoed the priest, in so hollow a tone that it went at once to the heart of the Nazarene.
‘In that wish,’ continued Olinthus, ‘all good things are combined — without virtue thou canst not have peace. Like the rainbow, Peace rests upon the earth, but its arch is lost in heaven. Heaven bathes it in hues of light — it springs up amidst tears and clouds — it is a reflection of the Eternal Sun — it is an assurance of calm — it is the sign of a great covenant between Man and God. Such peace, O young man! is the smile of the soul; it is an emanation from the distant orb of immortal light. PEACE be with you!’
‘Alas!’ began Apaecides, when he caught the gaze of the curious loiterers, inquisitive to know what could possibly be the theme of conversation between a reputed Nazarene and a priest of Isis. He stopped short, and then added in a low tone: ‘We cannot converse here, I will follow thee to the banks of the river; there is a walk which at this time is usually deserted and solitary.’
Olinthus bowed assent. He passed through the streets with a hasty step, but a quick and observant eye. Every now and then he exchanged a significant glance, a slight sign, with some passenger, whose garb usually betokened the wearer to belong to the humbler classes; for Christianity was in this the type of all other and less mighty revolutions — the grain of mustard-seed was in the heart of the lowly. Amidst the huts of poverty and labor, the vast stream which afterwards poured its broad waters beside the cities and palaces of earth took its neglected source.
‘BUT tell me, Glaucus,’ said Ione, as they glided down the rippling Sarnus in their boat of pleasure, ‘how camest thou with Apaecides to my rescue from that bad man?’
‘Ask Nydia yonder,’ answered the Athenian, pointing to the blind girl, who sat at a little distance from them, leaning pensively over her lyre; ‘she must have thy thanks, not we. It seems that she came to my house, and, finding me from home, sought thy brother in his temple; he accompanied her to Arbaces; on their way they encountered me, with a company of friends, whom thy kind letter had given me a spirit cheerful enough to join. Nydia’s quick ear detected my voice — a few words sufficed to make me the companion of Apaecides; I told not my associates why I left them — could I trust thy name to their light tongues and gossiping opinion? — Nydia led us to the garden gate, by which we afterwards bore thee — we entered, and were about to plunge into the mysteries of that evil house, when we heard thy cry in another direction. Thou knowest the rest.’
Ione blushed deeply. She then raised her eyes to those of Glaucus, and he felt all the thanks she could not utter. ‘Come hither, my Nydia,’ said she, tenderly, to the Thessalian.
‘Did I not tell thee that thou shouldst be my sister and friend? Hast thou not already been more? — my guardian, my preserver!’
‘It is nothing,’ answered Nydia coldly, and without stirring.
‘Ah! I forgot,’ continued Ione, ‘I should come to thee’; and she moved along the benches till she reached the place where Nydia sat, and flinging her arms caressingly round her, covered her cheeks with kisses.
Nydia was that morning paler than her wont, and her countenance grew even more wan and colorless as she submitted to the embrace of the beautiful Neapolitan. ‘But how camest thou, Nydia,’ whispered Ione, ‘to surmise so faithfully the danger I was exposed to? Didst thou know aught of the Egyptian?’
‘Yes, I knew of his vices.’
‘Noble Ione, I have been a slave to the vicious — those whom I served were his minions.’
‘And thou hast entered his house since thou knewest so well that private entrance?’
‘I have played on my lyre to Arbaces,’ answered the Thessalian, with embarrassment.
‘And thou hast escaped the contagion from which thou hast saved Ione?’ returned the Neapolitan, in a voice too low for the ear of Glaucus.
‘Noble Ione, I have neither beauty nor station; I am a child, and a slave, and blind. The despicable are ever safe.’
It was with a pained, and proud, and indignant tone that Nydia made this humble reply; and Ione felt that she only wounded Nydia by pursuing the subject. She remained silent, and the bark now floated into the sea.
‘Confess that I was right, Ione,’ said Glaucus, ‘in prevailing on thee not to waste this beautiful noon in thy chamber — confess that I was right.’
‘Thou wert right, Glaucus,’ said Nydia, abruptly.
‘The dear child speaks for thee,’ returned the Athenian. ‘But permit me to move opposite to thee, or our light boat will be over-balanced.’
So saying, he took his seat exactly opposite to Ione, and leaning forward, he fancied that it was her breath, and not the winds of summer, that flung fragrance over the sea.
‘Thou wert to tell me,’ said Glaucus, ‘why for so many days thy door was closed to me?’
‘Oh, think of it no more!’ answered Ione, quickly; ‘I gave my ear to what I now know was the malice of slander.’
‘And my slanderer was the Egyptian?’
Ione’s silence assented to the question.
‘His motives are sufficiently obvious.’
‘Talk not of him,’ said Ione, covering her face with her hands, as if to shut out his very thought.
‘Perhaps he may be already by the banks of the slow Styx,’ resumed Glaucus; ‘yet in that case we should probably have heard of his death. Thy brother, methinks, hath felt the dark influence of his gloomy soul. When we arrived last night at thy house he left me abruptly. Will he ever vouchsafe to be my friend?’
‘He is consumed with some secret care,’ answered Ione, tearfully. ‘Would that we could lure him from himself! Let us join in that tender office.’
‘He shall be my brother,’ returned the Greek.
‘How calmly,’ said Ione, rousing herself from the gloom into which her thoughts of Apaecides had plunged her —‘how calmly the clouds seem to repose in heaven; and yet you tell me, for I knew it not myself, that the earth shook beneath us last night.’
‘It did, and more violently, they say, than it has done since the great convulsion sixteen years ago: the land we live in yet nurses mysterious terror; and the reign of Pluto, which spreads beneath our burning fields, seems rent with unseen commotion. Didst thou not feel the earth quake, Nydia, where thou wert seated last night? and was it not the fear that it occasioned thee that made thee weep?’
‘I felt the soil creep and heave beneath me, like some monstrous serpent,’ answered Nydia; ‘but as I saw nothing, I did not fear: I imagined the convulsion to be a spell of the Egyptian’s. They say he has power over the elements.’
‘Thou art a Thessalian, my Nydia,’ replied Glaucus, ‘and hast a national right to believe in magic.
‘Magic! — who doubts it?’ answered Nydia, simply: ‘dost thou?’
‘Until last night (when a necromantic prodigy did indeed appal me), methinks I was not credulous in any other magic save that of love!’ said Glaucus, in a tremulous voice, and fixing his eyes on Ione.
‘Ah!’ said Nydia, with a sort of shiver, and she awoke mechanically a few pleasing notes from her lyre; the sound suited well the tranquility of the waters, and the sunny stillness of the noon.
‘Play to us, dear Nydia, said Glaucus —‘play and give us one of thine old Thessalian songs: whether it be of magic or not, as thou wilt — let it, at least, be of love!’
‘Of love!’ repeated Nydia, raising her large, wandering eyes, that ever thrilled those who saw them with a mingled fear and pity; you could never familiarize yourself to their aspect: so strange did it seem that those dark wild orbs were ignorant of the day, and either so fixed was their deep mysterious gaze, or so restless and perturbed their glance, that you felt, when you encountered them, that same vague, and chilling, and half-preternatural impression, which comes over you in the presence of the insane — of those who, having a life outwardly like your own, have a life within life — dissimilar — unsearchable — unguessed!
‘Will you that I should sing of love?’ said she, fixing those eyes upon Glaucus.
‘Yes,’ replied he, looking down.
She moved a little way from the arm of Ione, still cast round her, as if that soft embrace embarrassed; and placing her light and graceful instrument on her knee, after a short prelude, she sang the following strain:
The Wind and the Beam loved the Rose,
And the Rose loved one;
For who recks the wind where it blows?
Or loves not the sun?
None knew whence the humble Wind stole,
Poor sport of the skies —
None dreamt that the Wind had a soul,
In its mournful sighs!
Oh, happy Beam! how canst thou prove
That bright love of thine?
In thy light is the proof of thy love.
Thou hast but — to shine!
How its love can the Wind reveal?
Unwelcome its sigh;
Mute — mute to its Rose let it steal —
Its proof is — to die!
‘Thou singest but sadly, sweet girl,’ said Glaucus; ‘thy youth only feels as yet the dark shadow of Love; far other inspiration doth he wake, when he himself bursts and brightens upon us.
‘I sing as I was taught,’ replied Nydia, sighing.
‘Thy master was love-crossed, then — try thy hand at a gayer air. Nay, girl, give the instrument to me.’ As Nydia obeyed, her hand touched his, and, with that slight touch, her breast heaved — her cheek flushed. Ione and Glaucus, occupied with each other, perceived not those signs of strange and premature emotions, which preyed upon a heart that, nourished by imagination, dispensed with hope.
And now, broad, blue, bright, before them, spread that halcyon sea, fair as at this moment, seventeen centuries from that date, I behold it rippling on the same divinest shores. Clime that yet enervates with a soft and Circean spell — that moulds us insensibly, mysteriously, into harmony with thyself, banishing the thought of austerer labor, the voices of wild ambition, the contests and the roar of life; filling us with gentle and subduing dreams, making necessary to our nature that which is its least earthly portion, so that the very air inspires us with the yearning and thirst of love. Whoever visits thee seems to leave earth and its harsh cares behind — to enter by the Ivory gate into the Land of Dreams. The young and laughing Hours of the PRESENT— the Hours, those children of Saturn, which he hungers ever to devour, seem snatched from his grasp. The past — the future — are forgotten; we enjoy but the breathing time. Flower of the world’s garden — Fountain of Delight — Italy of Italy — beautiful, benign Campania! — vain were, indeed, the Titans, if on this spot they yet struggled for another heaven! Here, if God meant this working-day life for a perpetual holiday, who would not sigh to dwell for ever — asking nothing, hoping nothing, fearing nothing, while thy skies shine over him — while thy seas sparkle at his feet — while thine air brought him sweet messages from the violet and the orange — and while the heart, resigned to — beating with — but one emotion, could find the lips and the eyes, which flatter it (vanity of vanities!) that love can defy custom, and be eternal?
It was then in this clime — on those seas, that the Athenian gazed upon a face that might have suited the nymph, the spirit of the place: feeding his eyes on the changeful roses of that softest cheek, happy beyond the happiness of common life, loving, and knowing himself beloved.
In the tale of human passion, in past ages, there is something of interest even in the remoteness of the time. We love to feel within us the bond which unites the most distant era — men, nations, customs perish; THE AFFECTIONS ARE IMMORTAL! — they are the sympathies which unite the ceaseless generations. The past lives again, when we look upon its emotions — it lives in our own! That which was, ever is! The magician’s gift, that revives the dead — that animates the dust of forgotten graves, is not in the author’s skill — it is in the heart of the reader!
Still vainly seeking the eyes of Ione, as, half downcast, half averted, they shunned his own, the Athenian, in a low and soft voice, thus expressed the feelings inspired by happier thoughts than those which had colored the song of Nydia.
As the bark floateth on o’er the summer-lit sea,
Floats my heart o’er the deeps of its passion for thee;
All lost in the space, without terror it glides,
For bright with thy soul is the face of the tides.
Now heaving, now hush’d, is that passionate ocean,
As it catches thy smile or thy sighs;
And the twin-stars that shine on the wanderer’s devotion
Its guide and its god — are thine eyes!
The bark may go down, should the cloud sweep above,
For its being is bound to the light of thy love.
As thy faith and thy smile are its life and its joy,
So thy frown or thy change are the storms that destroy.
Ah! sweeter to sink while the sky is serene,
If time hath a change for thy heart!
If to live be to weep over what thou hast been,
Let me die while I know what thou art!
As the last words of the song trembled over the sea, Ione raised her looks — they met those of her lover. Happy Nydia! — happy in thy affliction, that thou couldst not see that fascinated and charmed gaze, that said so much — that made the eye the voice of the soul — that promised the impossibility of change!
But, though the Thessalian could not detect that gaze, she divined its meaning by their silence — by their sighs. She pressed her hands lightly across her breast, as if to keep down its bitter and jealous thoughts; and then she hastened to speak — for that silence was intolerable to her.
‘After all, O Glaucus!’ said she, ‘there is nothing very mirthful in your strain!’
‘Yet I meant it to be so, when I took up thy lyre, pretty one. Perhaps happiness will not permit us to be mirthful.’
‘How strange is it,’ said Ione, changing a conversation which oppressed her while it charmed —‘that for the last several days yonder cloud has hung motionless over Vesuvius! Yet not indeed motionless, for sometimes it changes its form; and now methinks it looks like some vast giant, with an arm outstretched over the city. Dost thou see the likeness — or is it only to my fancy?’
‘Fair Ione! I see it also. It is astonishingly distinct. The giant seems seated on the brow of the mountain, the different shades of the cloud appear to form a white robe that sweeps over its vast breast and limbs; it seems to gaze with a steady face upon the city below, to point with one hand, as thou sayest, over its glittering streets, and to raise the other (dost thou note it?) towards the higher heaven. It is like the ghost of some huge Titan brooding over the beautiful world he lost; sorrowful for the past — yet with something of menace for the future.’
‘Could that mountain have any connection with the last night’s earthquake? They say that, ages ago, almost in the earliest era of tradition, it gave forth fires as AEtna still. Perhaps the flames yet lurk and dart beneath.’
‘It is possible,’ said Glaucus, musingly.
‘Thou sayest thou art slow to believe in magic,’ said Nydia, suddenly. ‘I have heard that a potent witch dwells amongst the scorched caverns of the mountain, and yon cloud may be the dim shadow of the demon she confers with.’
‘Thou art full of the romance of thy native Thessaly,’ said Glaucus; ‘and a strange mixture of sense and all conflicting superstitions.’
‘We are ever superstitious in the dark,’ replied Nydia. ‘Tell me,’ she added, after a slight pause, ‘tell me, O Glaucus! do all that are beautiful resemble each other? They say you are beautiful, and Ione also. Are your faces then the same? I fancy not, yet it ought to be so.’
‘Fancy no such grievous wrong to Ione,’ answered Glaucus, laughing. ‘But we do not, alas! resemble each other, as the homely and the beautiful sometimes do. Ione’s hair is dark, mine light; Ione’s eyes are — what color, Ione? I cannot see, turn them to me. Oh, are they black? no, they are too soft. Are they blue? no, they are too deep: they change with every ray of the sun — I know not their color: but mine, sweet Nydia, are grey, and bright only when Ione shines on them! Ione’s cheek is . . . ’
‘I do not understand one word of thy description,’ interrupted Nydia, peevishly. ‘I comprehend only that you do not resemble each other, and I am glad of it.’
‘Why, Nydia?’ said Ione.
Nydia colored slightly. ‘Because,’ she replied, coldly, ‘I have always imagined you under different forms, and one likes to know one is right.’
‘And what hast thou imagined Glaucus to resemble?’ asked Ione, softly.
‘Music!’ replied Nydia, looking down.
‘Thou art right,’ thought Ione.
‘And what likeness hast thou ascribed to Ione?’
‘I cannot tell yet,’ answered the blind girl; ‘I have not yet known her long enough to find a shape and sign for my guesses.’
‘I will tell thee, then,’ said Glaucus, passionately; ‘she is like the sun that warms — like the wave that refreshes.’
‘The sun sometimes scorches, and the wave sometimes drowns,’ answered Nydia.
‘Take then these roses,’ said Glaucus; ‘let their fragrance suggest to thee Ione.’
‘Alas, the roses will fade!’ said the Neapolitan, archly.
Thus conversing, they wore away the hours; the lovers, conscious only of the brightness and smiles of love; the blind girl feeling only its darkness — its tortures — the fierceness of jealousy and its woe!
And now, as they drifted on, Glaucus once more resumed the lyre, and woke its strings with a careless hand to a strain, so wildly and gladly beautiful, that even Nydia was aroused from her reverie, and uttered a cry of admiration.
‘Thou seest, my child,’ cried Glaucus, ‘that I can yet redeem the character of love’s music, and that I was wrong in saying happiness could not be gay. Listen, Nydia! listen, dear Ione! and hear:
Like a Star in the seas above,
Like a Dream to the waves of sleep —
Up — up — THE INCARNATE LOVE—
She rose from the charmed deep!
And over the Cyprian Isle
The skies shed their silent smile;
And the Forest’s green heart was rife
With the stir of the gushing life —
The life that had leap’d to birth,
In the veins of the happy earth!
Hail! oh, hail!
The dimmest sea-cave below thee,
The farthest sky-arch above,
In their innermost stillness know thee:
And heave with the Birth of Love!
Gale! soft Gale!
Thou comest on thy silver winglets,
From thy home in the tender west,
Now fanning her golden ringlets,
Now hush’d on her heaving breast.
And afar on the murmuring sand,
The Seasons wait hand in hand
To welcome thee, Birth Divine,
To the earth which is henceforth thine.
Behold! how she kneels in the shell,
Bright pearl in its floating cell!
Behold! how the shell’s rose-hues,
The cheek and the breast of snow,
And the delicate limbs suffuse,
Like a blush, with a bashful glow.
Sailing on, slowly sailing
O’er the wild water;
All hail! as the fond light is hailing
We are thine, all thine evermore:
Not a leaf on the laughing shore,
Not a wave on the heaving sea,
Nor a single sigh
In the boundless sky,
But is vow’d evermore to thee!
And thou, my beloved one — thou,
As I gaze on thy soft eyes now,
Methinks from their depths I view
The Holy Birth born anew;
Thy lids are the gentle cell
Where the young Love blushing lies;
See! she breaks from the mystic shell,
She comes from thy tender eyes!
Hail! all hail!
She comes, as she came from the sea,
To my soul as it looks on thee;
She comes, she comes!
She comes, as she came from the sea,
To my soul as it looks on thee!
Hail! all hail!
FOLLOWED by Apaecides, the Nazarene gained the side of the Sarnus — that river, which now has shrunk into a petty stream, then rushed gaily into the sea, covered with countless vessels, and reflecting on its waves the gardens, the vines, the palaces, and the temples of Pompeii. From its more noisy and frequented banks, Olinthus directed his steps to a path which ran amidst a shady vista of trees, at the distance of a few paces from the river. This walk was in the evening a favorite resort of the Pompeians, but during the heat and business of the day was seldom visited, save by some groups of playful children, some meditative poet, or some disputative philosophers. At the side farthest from the river, frequent copses of box interspersed the more delicate and evanescent foliage, and these were cut into a thousand quaint shapes, sometimes into the forms of fauns and satyrs, sometimes into the mimicry of Egyptian pyramids, sometimes into the letters that composed the name of a popular or eminent citizen. Thus the false taste is equally ancient as the pure; and the retired traders of Hackney and Paddington, a century ago, were little aware, perhaps, that in their tortured yews and sculptured box, they found their models in the most polished period of Roman antiquity, in the gardens of Pompeii, and the villas of the fastidious Pliny.
This walk now, as the noonday sun shone perpendicularly through the chequered leaves, was entirely deserted; at least no other forms than those of Olinthus and the priest infringed upon the solitude. They sat themselves on one of the benches, placed at intervals between the trees, and facing the faint breeze that came languidly from the river, whose waves danced and sparkled before them — a singular and contrasted pair; the believer in the latest — the priest of the most ancient — worship of the world!
‘Since thou leftst me so abruptly,’ said Olinthus, ‘hast thou been happy? has thy heart found contentment under these priestly robes? hast thou, still yearning for the voice of God, heard it whisper comfort to thee from the oracles of Isis? That sigh, that averted countenance, give me the answer my soul predicted.’
‘Alas!’ answered Apaecides, sadly, ‘thou seest before thee a wretched and distracted man! From my childhood upward I have idolized the dreams of virtue! I have envied the holiness of men who, in caves and lonely temples, have been admitted to the companionship of beings above the world; my days have been consumed with feverish and vague desires; my nights with mocking but solemn visions. Seduced by the mystic prophecies of an impostor, I have indued these robes; — my nature (I confess it to thee frankly)— my nature has revolted at what I have seen and been doomed to share in! Searching after truth, I have become but the minister of falsehoods. On the evening in which we last met, I was buoyed by hopes created by that same impostor, whom I ought already to have better known. I have — no matter — no matter! suffice it, I have added perjury and sin to rashness and to sorrow. The veil is now rent for ever from my eyes; I behold a villain where I obeyed a demigod; the earth darkens in my sight; I am in the deepest abyss of gloom; I know not if there be gods above; if we are the things of chance; if beyond the bounded and melancholy present there is annihilation or an hereafter — tell me, then, thy faith; solve me these doubts, if thou hast indeed the power!’
‘I do not marvel,’ answered the Nazarene, ‘that thou hast thus erred, or that thou art thus sceptic. Eighty years ago there was no assurance to man of God, or of a certain and definite future beyond the grave. New laws are declared to him who has ears — a heaven, a true Olympus, is revealed to him who has eyes — heed then, and listen.’
And with all the earnestness of a man believing ardently himself, and zealous to convert, the Nazarene poured forth to Apaecides the assurances of Scriptural promise. He spoke first of the sufferings and miracles of Christ — he wept as he spoke: he turned next to the glories of the Saviour’s Ascension — to the clear predictions of Revelation. He described that pure and unsensual heaven destined to the virtuous — those fires and torments that were the doom of guilt.
The doubts which spring up to the mind of later reasoners, in the immensity of the sacrifice of God to man, were not such as would occur to an early heathen. He had been accustomed to believe that the gods had lived upon earth, and taken upon themselves the forms of men; had shared in human passions, in human labours, and in human misfortunes. What was the travail of his own Alcmena’s son, whose altars now smoked with the incense of countless cities, but a toil for the human race? Had not the great Dorian Apollo expiated a mystic sin by descending to the grave? Those who were the deities of heaven had been the lawgivers or benefactors on earth, and gratitude had led to worship. It seemed therefore, to the heathen, a doctrine neither new nor strange, that Christ had been sent from heaven, that an immortal had indued mortality, and tasted the bitterness of death. And the end for which He thus toiled and thus suffered — how far more glorious did it seem to Apaecides than that for which the deities of old had visited the nether world, and passed through the gates of death! Was it not worthy of a God to, descend to these dim valleys, in order to clear up the clouds gathered over the dark mount beyond — to satisfy the doubts of sages — to convert speculation into certainty — by example to point out the rules of life — by revelation to solve the enigma of the grave — and to prove that the soul did not yearn in vain when it dreamed of an immortality? In this last was the great argument of those lowly men destined to convert the earth. As nothing is more flattering to the pride and the hopes of man than the belief in a future state, so nothing could be more vague and confused than the notions of the heathen sages upon that mystic subject. Apaecides had already learned that the faith of the philosophers was not that of the herd; that if they secretly professed a creed in some diviner power, it was not the creed which they thought it wise to impart to the community. He had already learned, that even the priest ridiculed what he preached to the people — that the notions of the few and the many were never united. But, in this new faith, it seemed to him that philosopher, priest, and people, the expounders of the religion and its followers, were alike accordant: they did not speculate and debate upon immortality, they spoke of as a thing certain and assured; the magnificence of the promise dazzled him — its consolations soothed. For the Christian faith made its early converts among sinners! many of its fathers and its martyrs were those who had felt the bitterness of vice, and who were therefore no longer tempted by its false aspect from the paths of an austere and uncompromising virtue. All the assurances of this healing faith invited to repentance — they were peculiarly adapted to the bruised and sore of spirit! the very remorse which Apaecides felt for his late excesses, made him incline to one who found holiness in that remorse, and who whispered of the joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.
‘Come,’ said the Nazarene, as he perceived the effect he had produced, ‘come to the humble hall in which we meet — a select and a chosen few; listen there to our prayers; note the sincerity of our repentant tears; mingle in our simple sacrifice — not of victims, nor of garlands, but offered by white-robed thoughts upon the altar of the heart. The flowers that we lay there are imperishable — they bloom over us when we are no more; nay, they accompany us beyond the grave, they spring up beneath our feet in heaven, they delight us with an eternal odor, for they are of the soul, they partake of its nature; these offerings are temptations overcome, and sins repented. Come, oh come! lose not another moment; prepare already for the great, the awful journey, from darkness to light, from sorrow to bliss, from corruption to immortality! This is the day of the Lord the Son, a day that we have set apart for our devotions. Though we meet usually at night, yet some amongst us are gathered together even now. What joy, what triumph, will be with us all, if we can bring one stray lamb into the sacred fold!’
There seemed to Apaecides, so naturally pure of heart, something ineffably generous and benign in that spirit of conversation which animated Olinthus — a spirit that found its own bliss in the happiness of others — that sought in its wide sociality to make companions for eternity. He was touched, softened, and subdued. He was not in that mood which can bear to be left alone; curiosity, too, mingled with his purer stimulants — he was anxious to see those rites of which so many dark and contradictory rumours were afloat. He paused a moment, looked over his garb, thought of Arbaces, shuddered with horror, lifted his eyes to the broad brow of the Nazarene, intent, anxious, watchful — but for his benefits, for his salvation! He drew his cloak round him, so as wholly to conceal his robes, and said, ‘Lead on, I follow thee.’
Olinthus pressed his hand joyfully, and then descending to the river side, hailed one of the boats that plyed there constantly; they entered it; an awning overhead, while it sheltered them from the sun, screened also their persons from observation: they rapidly skimmed the wave. From one of the boats that passed them floated a soft music, and its prow was decorated with flowers — it was gliding towards the sea.
‘So,’ said Olinthus, sadly, ‘unconscious and mirthful in their delusions, sail the votaries of luxury into the great ocean of storm and shipwreck! we pass them, silent and unnoticed, to gain the land.’
Apaecides, lifting his eyes, caught through the aperture in the awning a glimpse of the face of one of the inmates of that gay bark — it was the face of Ione. The lovers were embarked on the excursion at which we have been made present. The priest sighed, and once more sunk back upon his seat. They reached the shore where, in the suburbs, an alley of small and mean houses stretched towards the bank; they dismissed the boat, landed, and Olinthus, preceding the priest, threaded the labyrinth of lanes, and arrived at last at the closed door of a habitation somewhat larger than its neighbors. He knocked thrice — the door was opened and closed again, as Apaecides followed his guide across the threshold.
They passed a deserted atrium, and gained an inner chamber of moderate size, which, when the door was closed, received its only light from a small window cut over the door itself. But, halting at the threshold of this chamber, and knocking at the door, Olinthus said, ‘Peace be with you!’ A voice from within returned, ‘Peace with whom?’ ‘The Faithful!’ answered Olinthus, and the door opened; twelve or fourteen persons were sitting in a semicircle, silent, and seemingly absorbed in thought, and opposite to a crucifix rudely carved in wood.
They lifted up their eyes when Olinthus entered, without speaking; the Nazarene himself, before he accosted them, knelt suddenly down, and by his moving lips, and his eyes fixed steadfastly on the crucifix, Apaecides saw that he prayed inly. This rite performed, Olinthus turned to the congregation —‘Men and brethren,’ said he, ‘start not to behold amongst you a priest of Isis; he hath sojourned with the blind, but the Spirit hath fallen on him — he desires to see, to hear, and to understand.’
‘Let him,’ said one of the assembly; and Apaecides beheld in the speaker a man still younger than himself, of a countenance equally worn and pallid, of an eye which equally spoke of the restless and fiery operations of a working mind.
‘Let him,’ repeated a second voice, and he who thus spoke was in the prime of manhood; his bronzed skin and Asiatic features bespoke him a son of Syria — he had been a robber in his youth.
‘Let him,’ said a third voice; and the priest, again turning to regard the speaker, saw an old man with a long grey beard, whom he recognized as a slave to the wealthy Diomed.
‘Let him,’ repeated simultaneously the rest — men who, with two exceptions, were evidently of the inferior ranks. In these exceptions, Apaecides noted an officer of the guard, and an Alexandrian merchant.
‘We do not,’ recommenced Olinthus —‘we do not bind you to secrecy; we impose on you no oaths (as some of our weaker brethren would do) not to betray us. It is true, indeed, that there is no absolute law against us; but the multitude, more savage than their rulers, thirst for our lives. So, my friends, when Pilate would have hesitated, it was the people who shouted “Christ to the cross!” But we bind you not to our safety — no! Betray us to the crowd — impeach, calumniate, malign us if you will — we are above death, we should walk cheerfully to the den of the lion, or the rack of the torturer — we can trample down the darkness of the grave, and what is death to a criminal is eternity to the Christian.’
A low and applauding murmur ran through the assembly.
‘Thou comest amongst us as an examiner, mayest thou remain a convert! Our religion? you behold it! Yon cross our sole image, yon scroll the mysteries of our Caere and Eleusis! Our morality? it is in our lives! — sinners we all have been; who now can accuse us of a crime? we have baptized ourselves from the past. Think not that this is of us, it is of God. Approach, Medon,’ beckoning to the old slave who had spoken third for the admission of Apaecides, ‘thou art the sole man amongst us who is not free. But in heaven, the last shall be first: so with us. Unfold your scroll, read and explain.’
Useless would it be for us to accompany the lecture of Medon, or the comments of the congregation. Familiar now are those doctrines, then strange and new. Eighteen centuries have left us little to expound upon the lore of Scripture or the life of Christ. To us, too, there would seem little congenial in the doubts that occurred to a heathen priest, and little learned in the answers they receive from men uneducated, rude, and simple, possessing only the knowledge that they were greater than they seemed.
There was one thing that greatly touched the Neapolitan: when the lecture was concluded, they heard a very gentle knock at the door; the password was given, and replied to; the door opened, and two young children, the eldest of whom might have told its seventh year, entered timidly; they were the children of the master of the house, that dark and hardy Syrian, whose youth had been spent in pillage and bloodshed. The eldest of the congregation (it was that old slave) opened to them his arms; they fled to the shelter — they crept to his breast — and his hard features smiled as he caressed them. And then these bold and fervent men, nursed in vicissitude, beaten by the rough winds of life — men of mailed and impervious fortitude, ready to affront a world, prepared for torment and armed for death — men, who presented all imaginable contrast to the weak nerves, the light hearts, the tender fragility of childhood, crowded round the infants, smoothing their rugged brows and composing their bearded lips to kindly and fostering smiles: and then the old man opened the scroll and he taught the infants to repeat after him that beautiful prayer which we still dedicate to the Lord, and still teach to our children; and then he told them, in simple phrase, of God’s love to the young, and how not a sparrow falls but His eye sees it. This lovely custom of infant initiation was long cherished by the early Church, in memory of the words which said, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not’; and was perhaps the origin of the superstitious calumny which ascribed to the Nazarenes the crime which the Nazarenes, when victorious, attributed to the Jew, viz. the decoying children to hideous rites, at which they were secretly immolated.
And the stern paternal penitent seemed to feel in the innocence of his children a return into early life — life ere yet it sinned: he followed the motion of their young lips with an earnest gaze; he smiled as they repeated, with hushed and reverent looks, the holy words: and when the lesson was done, and they ran, released, and gladly to his knee, he clasped them to his breast, kissed them again and again, and tears flowed fast down his cheek — tears, of which it would have been impossible to trace the source, so mingled they were with joy and sorrow, penitence and hope — remorse for himself and love for them!
Something, I say, there was in this scene which peculiarly affected Apaecides; and, in truth, it is difficult to conceive a ceremony more appropriate to the religion of benevolence, more appealing to the household and everyday affections, striking a more sensitive chord in the human breast.
It was at this time that an inner door opened gently, and a very old man entered the chamber, leaning on a staff. At his presence, the whole congregation rose; there was an expression of deep, affectionate respect upon every countenance; and Apaecides, gazing on his countenance, felt attracted towards him by an irresistible sympathy. No man ever looked upon that face without love; for there had dwelt the smile of the Deity, the incarnation of divinest love — and the glory of the smile had never passed away.
‘My children, God be with you!’ said the old man, stretching his arms; and as he spoke the infants ran to his knee. He sat down, and they nestled fondly to his bosom. It was beautiful to see that mingling of the extremes of life — the rivers gushing from their early source — the majestic stream gliding to the ocean of eternity! As the light of declining day seems to mingle earth and heaven, making the outline of each scarce visible, and blending the harsh mountain-tops with the sky, even so did the smile of that benign old age appear to hallow the aspect of those around, to blend together the strong distinctions of varying years, and to diffuse over infancy and manhood the light of that heaven into which it must so soon vanish and be lost.
‘Father,’ said Olinthus, ‘thou on whose form the miracle of the Redeemer worked; thou who wert snatched from the grave to become the living witness of His mercy and His power; behold! a stranger in our meeting — a new lamb gathered to the fold!’
‘Let me bless him,’ said the old man: the throng gave way. Apaecides approached him as by an instinct: he fell on his knees before him — the old man laid his hand on the priest’s head, and blessed him, but not aloud. As his lips moved, his eyes were upturned, and tears — those tears that good men only shed in the hope of happiness to another — flowed fast down his cheeks.
The children were on either side of the convert; his heart was theirs — he had become as one of them — to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
DAYS are like years in the love of the young, when no bar, no obstacle, is between their hearts — when the sun shines, and the course runs smooth — when their love is prosperous and confessed. Ione no longer concealed from Glaucus the attachment she felt for him, and their talk now was only of their love. Over the rapture of the present the hopes of the future glowed like the heaven above the gardens of spring. They went in their trustful thoughts far down the stream of time: they laid out the chart of their destiny to come; they suffered the light of today to suffuse the morrow. In the youth of their hearts it seemed as if care, and change, and death, were as things unknown. Perhaps they loved each other the more because the condition of the world left to Glaucus no aim and no wish but love; because the distractions common in free states to men’s affections existed not for the Athenian; because his country wooed him not to the bustle of civil life; because ambition furnished no counterpoise to love: and, therefore, over their schemes and projects, love only reigned. In the iron age they imagined themselves of the golden, doomed only to live and to love.
To the superficial observer, who interests himself only in characters strongly marked and broadly colored, both the lovers may seem of too slight and commonplace a mould: in the delineation of characters purposely subdued, the reader sometimes imagines that there is a want of character; perhaps, indeed, I wrong the real nature of these two lovers by not painting more impressively their stronger individualities. But in dwelling so much on their bright and birdlike existence, I am influenced almost insensibly by the forethought of the changes that await them, and for which they were so ill prepared. It was this very softness and gaiety of life that contrasted most strongly the vicissitudes of their coming fate. For the oak without fruit or blossom, whose hard and rugged heart is fitted for the storm, there is less fear than for the delicate branches of the myrtle, and the laughing clusters of the vine.
They had now advanced far into August — the next month their marriage was fixed, and the threshold of Glaucus was already wreathed with garlands; and nightly, by the door of Ione, he poured forth the rich libations. He existed no longer for his gay companions; he was ever with Ione. In the mornings they beguiled the sun with music: in the evenings they forsook the crowded haunts of the gay for excursions on the water, or along the fertile and vine-clad plains that lay beneath the fatal mount of Vesuvius. The earth shook no more; the lively Pompeians forgot even that there had gone forth so terrible a warning of their approaching doom. Glaucus imagined that convulsion, in the vanity of his heathen religion, an especial interposition of the gods, less in behalf of his own safety than that of Ione. He offered up the sacrifices of gratitude at the temples of his faith; and even the altar of Isis was covered with his votive garlands — as to the prodigy of the animated marble, he blushed at the effect it had produced on him. He believed it, indeed, to have been wrought by the magic of man; but the result convinced him that it betokened not the anger of a goddess.
Of Arbaces, they heard only that he still lived; stretched on the bed of suffering, he recovered slowly from the effect of the shock he had sustained — he left the lovers unmolested — but it was only to brood over the hour and the method of revenge.
Alike in their mornings at the house of Ione, and in their evening excursions, Nydia was usually their constant, and often their sole companion. They did not guess the secret fires which consumed her — the abrupt freedom with which she mingled in their conversation — her capricious and often her peevish moods found ready indulgence in the recollection of the service they owed her, and their compassion for her affliction. They felt an interest in her, perhaps the greater and more affectionate from the very strangeness and waywardness of her nature, her singular alternations of passion and softness — the mixture of ignorance and genius — of delicacy and rudeness — of the quick humors of the child, and the proud calmness of the woman. Although she refused to accept of freedom, she was constantly suffered to be free; she went where she listed; no curb was put either on her words or actions; they felt for one so darkly fated, and so susceptible of every wound, the same pitying and compliant indulgence the mother feels for a spoiled and sickly child — dreading to impose authority, even where they imagined it for her benefit. She availed herself of this license by refusing the companionship of the slave whom they wished to attend her. With the slender staff by which she guided her steps, she went now, as in her former unprotected state, along the populous streets: it was almost miraculous to perceive how quickly and how dexterously she threaded every crowd, avoiding every danger, and could find her benighted way through the most intricate windings of the city. But her chief delight was still in visiting the few feet of ground which made the garden of Glaucus — in tending the flowers that at least repaid her love. Sometimes she entered the chamber where he sat, and sought a conversation, which she nearly always broke off abruptly — for conversation with Glaucus only tended to one subject — Ione; and that name from his lips inflicted agony upon her. Often she bitterly repented the service she had rendered to Ione: often she said inly, ‘If she had fallen, Glaucus could have loved her no longer’; and then dark and fearful thoughts crept into her breast.
She had not experienced fully the trials that were in store for her, when she had been thus generous. She had never before been present when Glaucus and Ione were together; she had never heard that voice so kind to her, so much softer to another. The shock that crushed her heart with the tidings that Glaucus loved, had at first only saddened and benumbed — by degrees jealousy took a wilder and fiercer shape; it partook of hatred — it whispered revenge. As you see the wind only agitate the green leaf upon the bough, while the leaf which has lain withered and seared on the ground, bruised and trampled upon till the sap and life are gone, is suddenly whirled aloft — now here — now there — without stay and without rest; so the love which visits the happy and the hopeful hath but freshness on its wings! its violence is but sportive. But the heart that hath fallen from the green things of life, that is without hope, that hath no summer in its fibres, is torn and whirled by the same wind that but caresses its brethren — it hath no bough to cling to — it is dashed from path to path — till the winds fall, and it is crushed into the mire for ever.
The friendless childhood of Nydia had hardened prematurely her character; perhaps the heated scenes of profligacy through which she had passed, seemingly unscathed, had ripened her passions, though they had not sullied her purity. The orgies of Burbo might only have disgusted, the banquets of the Egyptian might only have terrified, at the moment; but the winds that pass unheeded over the soil leave seeds behind them. As darkness, too, favors the imagination, so, perhaps, her very blindness contributed to feed with wild and delirious visions the love of the unfortunate girl. The voice of Glaucus had been the first that had sounded musically to her ear; his kindness made a deep impression upon her mind; when he had left Pompeii in the former year, she had treasured up in her heart every word he had uttered; and when any one told her that this friend and patron of the poor flower-girl was the most brilliant and the most graceful of the young revellers of Pompeii, she had felt a pleasing pride in nursing his recollection. Even the task which she imposed upon herself, of tending his flowers, served to keep him in her mind; she associated him with all that was most charming to her impressions; and when she had refused to express what image she fancied Ione to resemble, it was partly, perhaps, that whatever was bright and soft in nature she had already combined with the thought of Glaucus. If any of my readers ever loved at an age which they would now smile to remember — an age in which fancy forestalled the reason, let them say whether that love, among all its strange and complicated delicacies, was not, above all other and later passions, susceptible of jealousy? I seek not here the cause: I know that it is commonly the fact.
When Glaucus returned to Pompeii, Nydia had told another year of life; that year, with its sorrows, its loneliness, its trials, had greatly developed her mind and heart; and when the Athenian drew her unconsciously to his breast, deeming her still in soul as in years a child — when he kissed her smooth cheek, and wound his arm round her trembling frame, Nydia felt suddenly, and as by revelation, that those feelings she had long and innocently cherished were of love. Doomed to be rescued from tyranny by Glaucus — doomed to take shelter under his roof — doomed to breathe, but for so brief a time, the same air — and doomed, in the first rush of a thousand happy, grateful, delicious sentiments of an overflowing heart, to hear that he loved another; to be commissioned to that other, the messenger, the minister; to feel all at once that utter nothingness which she was — which she ever must be, but which, till then, her young mind had not taught her — that utter nothingness to him who was all to her; what wonder that, in her wild and passionate soul, all the elements jarred discordant; that if love reigned over the whole, it was not the love which is born of the more sacred and soft emotions? Sometimes she dreaded only lest Glaucus should discover her secret; sometimes she felt indignant that it was not suspected: it was a sign of contempt — could he imagine that she presumed so far? Her feelings to Ione ebbed and flowed with every hour; now she loved her because he did; now she hated him for the same cause. There were moments when she could have murdered her unconscious mistress; moments when she could have laid down life for her. These fierce and tremulous alternations of passion were too severe to be borne long. Her health gave way, though she felt it not — her cheek paled — her step grew feebler — tears came to her eyes more often, and relieved her less.
One morning, when she repaired to her usual task in the garden of the Athenian, she found Glaucus under the columns of the peristyle, with a merchant of the town; he was selecting jewels for his destined bride. He had already fitted up her apartment; the jewels he bought that day were placed also within it — they were never fated to grace the fair form of Ione; they may be seen at this day among the disinterred treasures of Pompeii, in the chambers of the studio at Naples.
‘Come hither, Nydia; put down thy vase, and come hither. Thou must take this chain from me — stay — there, I have put it on. There, Servilius, does it not become her?’
‘Wonderfully!’ answered the jeweller; for jewellers were well-bred and flattering men, even at that day. ‘But when these ear-rings glitter in the ears of the noble Ione, then, by Bacchus! you will see whether my art adds anything to beauty.’
‘Ione?’ repeated Nydia, who had hitherto acknowledged by smiles and blushes the gift of Glaucus.
‘Yes,’ replied the Athenian, carelessly toying with the gems; ‘I am choosing a present for Ione, but there are none worthy of her.’
He was startled as he spoke by an abrupt gesture of Nydia; she tore the chain violently from her neck, and dashed it on the ground.
‘How is this? What, Nydia, dost thou not like the bauble? art thou offended?’
‘You treat me ever as a slave and as a child,’ replied the Thessalian, with ill-suppressed sobs, and she turned hastily away to the opposite corner of the garden.
Glaucus did not attempt to follow, or to soothe; he was offended; he continued to examine the jewels and to comment on their fashion — to object to this and to praise that, and finally to be talked by the merchant into buying all; the safest plan for a lover, and a plan that any one will do right to adopt, provided always that he can obtain an Ione!
When he had completed his purchase and dismissed the jeweller, he retired into his chamber, dressed, mounted his chariot, and went to Ione. He thought no more of the blind girl, or her offence; he had forgotten both the one and the other.
He spent the forenoon with his beautiful Neapolitan, repaired thence to the baths, supped (if, as we have said before, we can justly so translate the three o’clock coena of the Romans) alone, and abroad, for Pompeii had its restaurateurs — and returning home to change his dress ere he again repaired to the house of Ione, he passed the peristyle, but with the absorbed reverie and absent eyes of a man in love, and did not note the form of the poor blind girl, bending exactly in the same place where he had left her. But though he saw her not, her ear recognized at once the sound of his step. She had been counting the moments to his return. He had scarcely entered his favorite chamber, which opened on the peristyle, and seated himself musingly on his couch, when he felt his robe timorously touched, and, turning, he beheld Nydia kneeling before him, and holding up to him a handful of flowers — a gentle and appropriate peace-offering — her eyes, darkly upheld to his own, streamed with tears.
‘I have offended thee,’ said she, sobbing, ‘and for the first time. I would die rather than cause thee a moment’s pain — say that thou wilt forgive me. See! I have taken up the chain; I have put it on: I will never part from it — it is thy gift.’
‘My dear Nydia,’ returned Glaucus, and raising her, he kissed her forehead, ‘think of it no more! But why, my child, wert thou so suddenly angry? I could not divine the cause?’
‘Do not ask!’ said she, coloring violently. ‘I am a thing full of faults and humors; you know I am but a child — you say so often: is it from a child that you can expect a reason for every folly?’
‘But, prettiest, you will soon be a child no more; and if you would have us treat you as a woman, you must learn to govern these singular impulses and gales of passion. Think not I chide: no, it is for your happiness only I speak.’
‘It is true,’ said Nydia, ‘I must learn to govern myself I must bide, I must suppress, my heart. This is a woman’s task and duty; methinks her virtue is hypocrisy.’
‘Self-control is not deceit, my Nydia,’ returned the Athenian; and that is the virtue necessary alike to man and to woman; it is the true senatorial toga, the badge of the dignity it covers!’
‘Self-control! self-control! Well, well, what you say is right! When I listen to you, Glaucus, my wildest thoughts grow calm and sweet, and a delicious serenity falls over me. Advise, ah! guide me ever, my preserver!’
‘Thy affectionate heart will be thy best guide, Nydia, when thou hast learned to regulate its feelings.’
‘Ah! that will be never,’ sighed Nydia, wiping away her tears.
‘Say not so: the first effort is the only difficult one.’
‘I have made many first efforts,’ answered Nydia, innocently. ‘But you, my Mentor, do you find it so easy to control yourself? Can you conceal, can you even regulate, your love for Ione?’
‘Love! dear Nydia: ah! that is quite another matter,’ answered the young preceptor.
‘I thought so!’ returned Nydia, with a melancholy smile. ‘Glaucus, wilt thou take my poor flowers? Do with them as thou wilt — thou canst give them to Ione,’ added she, with a little hesitation.
‘Nay, Nydia,’ answered Glaucus, kindly, divining something of jealousy in her language, though he imagined it only the jealousy of a vain and susceptible child; ‘I will not give thy pretty flowers to any one. Sit here and weave them into a garland; I will wear it this night: it is not the first those delicate fingers have woven for me.’
The poor girl delightedly sat down beside Glaucus. She drew from her girdle a ball of the many-colored threads, or rather slender ribands, used in the weaving of garlands, and which (for it was her professional occupation) she carried constantly with her, and began quickly and gracefully to commence her task. Upon her young cheeks the tears were already dried, a faint but happy smile played round her lips — childlike, indeed, she was sensible only of the joy of the present hour: she was reconciled to Glaucus: he had forgiven her — she was beside him — he played caressingly with her silken hair — his breath fanned her cheek — Ione, the cruel Ione, was not by — none other demanded, divided, his care. Yes, she was happy and forgetful; it was one of the few moments in her brief and troubled life that it was sweet to treasure, to recall. As the butterfly, allured by the winter sun, basks for a little in the sudden light, ere yet the wind awakes and the frost comes on, which shall blast it before the eve — she rested beneath a beam, which, by contrast with the wonted skies, was not chilling; and the instinct which should have warned her of its briefness, bade her only gladden in its smile.
‘Thou hast beautiful locks,’ said Glaucus. ‘They were once, I ween well, a mother’s delight.’
Nydia sighed; it would seem that she had not been born a slave; but she ever shunned the mention of her parentage, and, whether obscure or noble, certain it is that her birth was never known by her benefactors, nor by any one in those distant shores, even to the last. The child of sorrow and of mystery, she came and went as some bird that enters our chamber for a moment; we see it flutter for a while before us, we know not whence it flew or to what region it escapes.
Nydia sighed, and after a short pause, without answering the remark, said: ‘But do I weave too many roses in my wreath, Glaucus? They tell me it is thy favorite flower.’
‘And ever favored, my Nydia, be it by those who have the soul of poetry: it is the flower of love, of festival; it is also the flower we dedicate to silence and to death; it blooms on our brows in life, while life be worth the having; it is scattered above our sepulchre when we are no more.’
‘Ah! would,’ said Nydia, ‘instead of this perishable wreath, that I could take thy web from the hand of the Fates, and insert the roses there!’
‘Pretty one! thy wish is worthy of a voice so attuned to song; it is uttered in the spirit of song; and, whatever my doom, I thank thee.’
‘Whatever thy doom! is it not already destined to all things bright and fair? My wish was vain. The Fates will be as tender to thee as I should.’
‘It might not be so, Nydia, were it not for love! While youth lasts, I may forget my country for a while. But what Athenian, in his graver manhood, can think of Athens as she was, and be contented that he is happy, while she is fallen? — fallen, and for ever?’
‘And why for ever?’
‘As ashes cannot be rekindled — as love once dead can never revive, so freedom departed from a people is never regained. But talk we not of these matters unsuited to thee.’
‘To me, oh! thou errest. I, too, have my sighs for Greece; my cradle was rocked at the foot of Olympus; the gods have left the mountain, but their traces may be seen — seen in the hearts of their worshippers, seen in the beauty of their clime: they tell me it is beautiful, and I have felt its airs, to which even these are harsh — its sun, to which these skies are chill. Oh! talk to me of Greece! Poor fool that I am, I can comprehend thee! and methinks, had I yet lingered on those shores, had I been a Grecian maid whose happy fate it was to love and to be loved, I myself could have armed my lover for another Marathon, a new Plataea. Yes, the hand that now weaves the roses should have woven thee the olive crown!’
‘If such a day could come!’ said Glaucus, catching the enthusiasm of the blind Thessalian, and half rising. —‘But no! the sun has set, and the night only bids us be forgetful — and in forgetfulness be gay — weave still the roses!’
But it was with a melancholy tone of forced gaiety that the Athenian uttered the last words: and sinking into a gloomy reverie, he was only wakened from it, a few minutes afterwards, by the voice of Nydia, as she sang in a low tone the following words, which he had once taught her:—
Who will assume the bays
That the hero wore?
Wreaths on the Tomb of Days
Who shall disturb the brave,
Or one leaf on their holy grave?
The laurel is vowed to them,
Leave the bay on its sacred stem!
But this, the rose, the fading rose,
Alike for slave and freeman grows.
If Memory sit beside the dead
With tombs her only treasure;
If Hope is lost and Freedom fled,
The more excuse for Pleasure.
Come, weave the wreath, the roses weave,
The rose at least is ours:
To feeble hearts our fathers leave,
In pitying scorn, the flowers!
On the summit, worn and hoary,
Of Phyle’s solemn hill,
The tramp of the brave is still!
And still in the saddening Mart,
The pulse of that mighty heart,
Whose very blood was glory!
Glaucopis forsakes her own,
The angry gods forget us;
But yet, the blue streams along,
Walk the feet of the silver Song;
And the night-bird wakes the moon;
And the bees in the blushing noon
Haunt the heart of the old Hymettus.
We are fallen, but not forlorn,
If something is left to cherish;
As Love was the earliest born,
So Love is the last to perish.
Wreathe then the roses, wreathe
The BEAUTIFUL still is ours,
While the stream shall flow and the sky shall glow,
The BEAUTIFUL still is ours!
Whatever is fair, or soft, or bright,
In the lap of day or the arms of night,
Whispers our soul of Greece — of Greece,
And hushes our care with a voice of peace.
Wreathe then the roses, wreathe!
They tell me of earlier hours;
And I hear the heart of my Country breathe
From the lips of the Stranger’s flowers.
‘WHAT happiness to Ione! what bliss to be ever by the side of Glaucus, to hear his voice! — And she too can see him!’
Such was the soliloquy of the blind girl, as she walked alone and at twilight to the house of her new mistress, whither Glaucus had already preceded her. Suddenly she was interrupted in her fond thoughts by a female voice.
‘Blind flower-girl, whither goest thou? There is no pannier under thine arm; hast thou sold all thy flowers?’
The person thus accosting Nydia was a lady of a handsome but a bold and unmaidenly countenance: it was Julia, the daughter of Diomed. Her veil was half raised as she spoke; she was accompanied by Diomed himself, and by a slave carrying a lantern before them — the merchant and his daughter were returning home from a supper at one of their neighbors’.
‘Dost thou not remember my voice?’ continued Julia. ‘I am the daughter of Diomed the wealthy.’
‘Ah! forgive me; yes, I recall the tones of your voice. No, noble Julia, I have no flowers to sell.’
‘I heard that thou wert purchased by the beautiful Greek Glaucus; is that true, pretty slave?’ asked Julia.
‘I serve the Neapolitan, Ione,’ replied Nydia, evasively.
‘Ah! and it is true, then . . . ’
‘Come, come!’ interrupted Diomed, with his cloak up to his mouth, ‘the night grows cold; I cannot stay here while you prate to that blind girl: come, let her follow you home, if you wish to speak to her.’
‘Do, child,’ said Julia, with the air of one not accustomed to be refused; ‘I have much to ask of thee: come.’
‘I cannot this night, it grows late,’ answered Nydia. ‘I must be at home; I am not free, noble Julia.’
‘What, the meek Ione will chide thee? — Ay, I doubt not she is a second Thalestris. But come, then, tomorrow: do — remember I have been thy friend of old.’
‘I will obey thy wishes,’ answered Nydia; and Diomed again impatiently summoned his daughter: she was obliged to proceed, with the main question she had desired to put to Nydia unasked.
Meanwhile we return to Ione. The interval of time that had elapsed that day between the first and second visit of Glaucus had not been too gaily spent: she had received a visit from her brother. Since the night he had assisted in saving her from the Egyptian, she had not before seen him.
Occupied with his own thoughts — thoughts of so serious and intense a nature — the young priest had thought little of his sister; in truth, men, perhaps of that fervent order of mind which is ever aspiring above earth, are but little prone to the earthlier affections; and it had been long since Apaecides had sought those soft and friendly interchanges of thought, those sweet confidences, which in his earlier youth had bound him to Ione, and which are so natural to that endearing connection which existed between them.
Ione, however, had not ceased to regret his estrangement: she attributed it, at present, to the engrossing duties of his severe fraternity. And often, amidst all her bright hopes, and her new attachment to her betrothed — often, when she thought of her brother’s brow prematurely furrowed, his unsmiling lip, and bended frame, she sighed to think that the service of the gods could throw so deep a shadow over that earth which the gods created.
But this day when he visited her there was a strange calmness on his features, a more quiet and self-possessed expression in his sunken eyes, than she had marked for years. This apparent improvement was but momentary — it was a false calm, which the least breeze could ruffle.
‘May the gods bless thee, my brother!’ said she, embracing him.
‘The gods! Speak not thus vaguely; perchance there is but one God!’
‘What if the sublime faith of the Nazarene be true? What if God be a monarch — One — Invisible — Alone? What if these numerous, countless deities, whose altars fill the earth, be but evil demons, seeking to wean us from the true creed? This may be the case, Ione!’
‘Alas! can we believe it? or if we believed, would it not be a melancholy faith answered the Neapolitan. ‘What! all this beautiful world made only human! — mountain disenchanted of its Oread — the waters of their Nymph — that beautiful prodigality of faith, which makes everything divine, consecrating the meanest flowers, bearing celestial whispers in the faintest breeze — wouldst thou deny this, and make the earth mere dust and clay? No, Apaecides: all that is brightest in our hearts is that very credulity which peoples the universe with gods.’
Ione answered as a believer in the poesy of the old mythology would answer. We may judge by that reply how obstinate and hard the contest which Christianity had to endure among the heathens. The Graceful Superstition was never silent; every, the most household, action of their lives was entwined with it — it was a portion of life itself, as the flowers are a part of the thyrsus. At every incident they recurred to a god, every cup of wine was prefaced by a libation; the very garlands on their thresholds were dedicated to some divinity; their ancestors themselves, made holy, presided as Lares over their hearth and hall. So abundant was belief with them, that in their own climes, at this hour, idolatry has never thoroughly been outrooted: it changes but its objects of worship; it appeals to innumerable saints where once it resorted to divinities; and it pours its crowds, in listening reverence, to oracles at the shrines of St. Januarius or St. Stephen, instead of to those of Isis or Apollo.
But these superstitions were not to the early Christians the object of contempt so much as of horror. They did not believe, with the quiet scepticism of the heathen philosopher, that the gods were inventions of the priests; nor even, with the vulgar, that, according to the dim light of history, they had been mortals like themselves. They imagined the heathen divinities to be evil spirits — they transplanted to Italy and to Greece the gloomy demons of India and the East; and in Jupiter or in Mars they shuddered at the representative of Moloch or of Satan.
Apaecides had not yet adopted formally the Christian faith, but he was already on the brink of it. He already participated the doctrines of Olinthus — he already imagined that the lively imaginations of the heathen were the suggestions of the arch-enemy of mankind. The innocent and natural answer of Ione made him shudder. He hastened to reply vehemently, and yet so confusedly, that Ione feared for his reason more than she dreaded his violence.
‘Ah, my brother!’ said she, ‘these hard duties of thine have shattered thy very sense. Come to me, Apaecides, my brother, my own brother; give me thy hand, let me wipe the dew from thy brow — chide me not now, I understand thee not; think only that Ione could not offend thee!’
‘Ione,’ said Apaecides, drawing her towards him, and regarding her tenderly, ‘can I think that this beautiful form, this kind heart, may be destined to an eternity of torment?’
‘Dii meliora! the gods forbid!’ said Ione, in the customary form of words by which her contemporaries thought an omen might be averted.
The words, and still more the superstition they implied, wounded the ear of Apaecides. He rose, muttering to himself, turned from the chamber, then, stopping, half way, gazed wistfully on Ione, and extended his arms.
Ione flew to them in joy; he kissed her earnestly, and then he said:
‘Farewell, my sister! when we next meet, thou mayst be to me as nothing; take thou, then, this embrace — full yet of all the tender reminiscences of childhood, when faith and hope, creeds, customs, interests, objects, were the same to us. Now, the tie is to be broken!’
With these strange words he left the house.
The great and severest trial of the primitive Christians was indeed this; their conversion separated them from their dearest bonds. They could not associate with beings whose commonest actions, whose commonest forms of speech, were impregnated with idolatry. They shuddered at the blessing of love, to their ears it was uttered in a demon’s name. This, their misfortune, was their strength; if it divided them from the rest of the world, it was to unite them proportionally to each other. They were men of iron who wrought forth the Word of God, and verily the bonds that bound them were of iron also!
Glaucus found Ione in tears; he had already assumed the sweet privilege to console. He drew from her a recital of her interview with her brother; but in her confused account of language, itself so confused to one not prepared for it, he was equally at a loss with Ione to conceive the intentions or the meaning of Apaecides.
‘Hast thou ever heard much,’ asked she, ‘of this new sect of the Nazarenes, of which my brother spoke?’
‘I have often heard enough of the votaries,’ returned Glaucus, ‘but of their exact tenets know I naught, save that in their doctrine there seemeth something preternaturally chilling and morose. They live apart from their kind; they affect to be shocked even at our simple uses of garlands; they have no sympathies with the cheerful amusements of life; they utter awful threats of the coming destruction of the world; they appear, in one word, to have brought their unsmiling and gloomy creed out of the cave of Trophonius. Yet,’ continued Glaucus, after a slight pause, ‘they have not wanted men of great power and genius, nor converts, even among the Areopagites of Athens. Well do I remember to have heard my father speak of one strange guest at Athens, many years ago; methinks his name was PAUL. My father was amongst a mighty crowd that gathered on one of our immemorial hills to hear this sage of the East expound: through the wide throng there rang not a single murmur! — the jest and the roar, with which our native orators are received, were hushed for him — and when on the loftiest summit of that hill, raised above the breathless crowd below, stood this mysterious visitor, his mien and his countenance awed every heart, even before a sound left his lips. He was a man, I have heard my father say, of no tall stature, but of noble and impressive mien; his robes were dark and ample; the declining sun, for it was evening, shone aslant upon his form as it rose aloft, motionless, and commanding; his countenance was much worn and marked, as of one who had braved alike misfortune and the sternest vicissitude of many climes; but his eyes were bright with an almost unearthly fire; and when he raised his arm to speak, it was with the majesty of a man into whom the Spirit of a God hath rushed!
‘“Men of Athens!” he is reported to have said, “I find amongst ye an altar with this inscription:
Ye worship in ignorance the same Deity I serve.
To you unknown till now, to you be it now revealed.”
‘Then declared that solemn man how this great Maker of all things, who had appointed unto man his several tribes and his various homes — the Lord of earth and the universal heaven, dwelt not in temples made with hands; that His presence, His spirit, were in the air we breathed — our life and our being were with Him. “Think you,” he cried, “that the Invisible is like your statues of gold and marble? Think you that He needeth sacrifice from you: He who made heaven and earth?” Then spoke he of fearful and coming times, of the end of the world, of a second rising of the dead, whereof an assurance had been given to man in the resurrection of the mighty Being whose religion he came to preach.
‘When he thus spoke, the long-pent murmur went forth, and the philosophers that were mingled with the people, muttered their sage contempt; there might you have seen the chilling frown of the Stoic, and the Cynic’s sneer; and the Epicurean, who believeth not even in our own Elysium, muttered a pleasant jest, and swept laughing through the crowd: but the deep heart of the people was touched and thrilled; and they trembled, though they knew not why, for verily the stranger had the voice and majesty of a man to whom “The Unknown God” had committed the preaching of His faith.’
Ione listened with wrapt attention, and the serious and earnest manner of the narrator betrayed the impression that he himself had received from one who had been amongst the audience that on the hill of the heathen Mars had heard the first tidings of the word of Christ!
THE door of Diomed’s house stood open, and Medon, the old slave, sat at the bottom of the steps by which you ascended to the mansion. That luxurious mansion of the rich merchant of Pompeii is still to be seen just without the gates of the city, at the commencement of the Street of Tombs; it was a gay neighborhood, despite the dead. On the opposite side, but at some yards nearer the gate, was a spacious hostelry, at which those brought by business or by pleasure to Pompeii often stopped to refresh themselves. In the space before the entrance of the inn now stood wagons, and carts, and chariots, some just arrived, some just quitting, in all the bustle of an animated and popular resort of public entertainment. Before the door, some farmers, seated on a bench by a small circular table, were talking over their morning cups, on the affairs of their calling. On the side of the door itself was painted gaily and freshly the eternal sign of the chequers. By the roof of the inn stretched a terrace, on which some females, wives of the farmers above mentioned, were, some seated, some leaning over the railing, and conversing with their friends below. In a deep recess, at a little distance, was a covered seat, in which some two or three poorer travellers were resting themselves, and shaking the dust from their garments. On the other side stretched a wide space, originally the burial-ground of a more ancient race than the present denizens of Pompeii, and now converted into the Ustrinum, or place for the burning of the dead. Above this rose the terraces of a gay villa, half hid by trees. The tombs themselves, with their graceful and varied shapes, the flowers and the foliage that surrounded them, made no melancholy feature in the prospect. Hard by the gate of the city, in a small niche, stood the still form of the well-disciplined Roman sentry, the sun shining brightly on his polished crest, and the lance on which he leaned. The gate itself was divided into three arches, the centre one for vehicles, the others for the foot-passengers; and on either side rose the massive walls which girt the city, composed, patched, repaired at a thousand different epochs, according as war, time, or the earthquake had shattered that vain protection. At frequent intervals rose square towers, whose summits broke in picturesque rudeness the regular line of the wall, and contrasted well with the modern buildings gleaming whitely by.
The curving road, which in that direction leads from Pompeii to Herculaneum, wound out of sight amidst hanging vines, above which frowned the sullen majesty of Vesuvius.
‘Hast thou heard the news, old Medon?’ said a young woman, with a pitcher in her hand, as she paused by Diomed’s door to gossip a moment with the slave, ere she repaired to the neighboring inn to fill the vessel, and coquet with the travellers.
‘The news! what news?’ said the slave, raising his eyes moodily from the ground.
‘Why, there passed through the gate this morning, no doubt ere thou wert well awake, such a visitor to Pompeii!’
‘Ay,’ said the slave, indifferently.
‘Yes, a present from the noble Pomponianus.’
‘A present! I thought thou saidst a visitor?’
‘It is both visitor and present. Know, O dull and stupid! that it is a most beautiful young tiger, for our approaching games in the amphitheatre. Hear you that, Medon? Oh, what pleasure! I declare I shall not sleep a wink till I see it; they say it has such a roar!’
‘Poor fool!’ said Medon, sadly and cynically.
‘Fool me no fool, old churl! It is a pretty thing, a tiger, especially if we could but find somebody for him to eat. We have now a lion and a tiger; only consider that, Medon! and for want of two good criminals perhaps we shall be forced to see them eat each other. By-the-by, your son is a gladiator, a handsome man and a strong, can you not persuade him to fight the tiger? Do now, you would oblige me mightily; nay, you would be a benefactor to the whole town.’
‘Vah! vah!’ said the slave, with great asperity; ‘think of thine own danger ere thou thus pratest of my poor boy’s death.’
‘My own danger!’ said the girl, frightened and looking hastily around —‘Avert the omen! let thy words fall on thine own head!’ And the girl, as she spoke, touched a talisman suspended round her neck. ‘“Thine own danger!” what danger threatens me?’
‘Had the earthquake but a few nights since no warning?’ said Medon. ‘Has it not a voice? Did it not say to us all, “Prepare for death; the end of all things is at hand?”’
‘Bah, stuff!’ said the young woman, settling the folds of her tunic. ‘Now thou talkest as they say the Nazarenes talked — methinks thou art one of them. Well, I can prate with thee, grey croaker, no more: thou growest worse and worse — Vale! O Hercules, send us a man for the lion — and another for the tiger!’
Ho! ho! for the merry, merry show,
With a forest of faces in every row!
Lo, the swordsmen, bold as the son of Alcmena,
Sweep, side by side, o’er the hushed arena;
Talk while you may — you will hold your breath
When they meet in the grasp of the glowing death.
Tramp, tramp, how gaily they go!
Ho! ho! for the merry, merry show!
Chanting in a silver and clear voice this feminine ditty, and holding up her tunic from the dusty road, the young woman stepped lightly across to the crowded hostelry.
‘My poor son!’ said the slave, half aloud, ‘is it for things like this thou art to be butchered? Oh! faith of Christ, I could worship thee in all sincerity, were it but for the horror which thou inspirest for these bloody lists.’
The old man’s head sank dejectedly on his breast. He remained silent and absorbed, but every now and then with the corner of his sleeve he wiped his eyes. His heart was with his son; he did not see the figure that now approached from the gate with a quick step, and a somewhat fierce and reckless gait and carriage. He did not lift his eyes till the figure paused opposite the place where he sat, and with a soft voice addressed him by the name of:
‘My boy! my Lydon! is it indeed thou?’ said the old man, joyfully. ‘Ah, thou wert present to my thoughts.’
‘I am glad to hear it, my father,’ said the gladiator, respectfully touching the knees and beard of the slave; ‘and soon may I be always present with thee, not in thought only.’
‘Yes, my son — but not in this world,’ replied the slave, mournfully.
‘Talk not thus, O my sire! look cheerfully, for I feel so — I am sure that I shall win the day; and then, the gold I gain buys thy freedom. Oh! my father, it was but a few days since that I was taunted, by one, too, whom I would gladly have undeceived, for he is more generous than the rest of his equals. He is not Roman — he is of Athens — by him I was taunted with the lust of gain — when I demanded what sum was the prize of victory. Alas! he little knew the soul of Lydon!’
‘My boy! my boy!’ said the old slave, as, slowly ascending the steps, he conducted his son to his own little chamber, communicating with the entrance hall (which in this villa was the peristyle, not the atrium)— you may see it now; it is the third door to the right on entering. (The first door conducts to the staircase; the second is but a false recess, in which there stood a statue of bronze.) ‘Generous, affectionate, pious as are thy motives,’ said Medon, when they were thus secured from observation, ‘thy deed itself is guilt: thou art to risk thy blood for thy father’s freedom — that might be forgiven; but the prize of victory is the blood of another. Oh, that is a deadly sin; no object can purify it. Forbear! forbear! rather would I be a slave for ever than purchase liberty on such terms!’
‘Hush, my father!’ replied Lydon, somewhat impatiently; ‘thou hast picked up in this new creed of thine, of which I pray thee not to speak to me, for the gods that gave me strength denied me wisdom, and I understand not one word of what thou often preachest to me — thou hast picked up, I say, in this new creed, some singular fantasies of right and wrong. Pardon me if I offend thee: but reflect! Against whom shall I contend? Oh! couldst thou know those wretches with whom, for thy sake, I assort, thou wouldst think I purified earth by removing one of them. Beasts, whose very lips drop blood; things, all savage, unprincipled in their very courage: ferocious, heartless, senseless; no tie of life can bind them: they know not fear, it is true — but neither know they gratitude, nor charity, nor love; they are made but for their own career, to slaughter without pity, to die without dread! Can thy gods, whosoever they be, look with wrath on a conflict with such as these, and in such a cause? Oh, My father, wherever the powers above gaze down on earth, they behold no duty so sacred, so sanctifying, as the sacrifice offered to an aged parent by the piety of a grateful son!’
The poor old slave, himself deprived of the lights of knowledge, and only late a convert to the Christian faith, knew not with what arguments to enlighten an ignorance at once so dark, and yet so beautiful in its error. His first impulse was to throw himself on his son’s breast — his next to start away to wring his hands; and in the attempt to reprove, his broken voice lost itself in weeping.
‘And if,’ resumed Lydon —‘if thy Deity (methinks thou wilt own but one?) be indeed that benevolent and pitying Power which thou assertest Him to be, He will know also that thy very faith in Him first confirmed me in that determination thou blamest.’
‘How! what mean you?’ said the slave.
‘Why, thou knowest that I, sold in my childhood as a slave, was set free at Rome by the will of my master, whom I had been fortunate enough to please. I hastened to Pompeii to see thee — I found thee already aged and infirm, under the yoke of a capricious and pampered lord — thou hadst lately adopted this new faith, and its adoption made thy slavery doubly painful to thee; it took away all the softening charm of custom, which reconciles us so often to the worst. Didst thou not complain to me that thou wert compelled to offices that were not odious to thee as a slave, but guilty as a Nazarene? Didst thou not tell me that thy soul shook with remorse when thou wert compelled to place even a crumb of cake before the Lares that watch over yon impluvium? that thy soul was torn by a perpetual struggle? Didst thou not tell me that even by pouring wine before the threshold, and calling on the name of some Grecian deity, thou didst fear thou wert incurring penalties worse than those of Tantalus, an eternity of tortures more terrible than those of the Tartarian fields? Didst thou not tell me this? I wondered, I could not comprehend; nor, by Hercules! can I now: but I was thy son, and my sole task was to compassionate and relieve. Could I hear thy groans, could I witness thy mysterious horrors, thy constant anguish, and remain inactive? No! by the immortal gods! the thought struck me like light from Olympus! I had no money, but I had strength and youth — these were thy gifts — I could sell these in my turn for thee! I learned the amount of thy ransom — I learned that the usual prize of a victorious gladiator would doubly pay it. I became a gladiator — I linked myself with those accursed men, scorning, loathing, while I joined — I acquired their skill — blessed be the lesson! — it shall teach me to free my father!’
‘Oh, that thou couldst hear Olinthus!’ sighed the old man, more and more affected by the virtue of his son, but not less strongly convinced of the criminality of his purpose.
‘I will hear the whole world talk if thou wilt,’ answered the gladiator, gaily; ‘but not till thou art a slave no more. Beneath thy own roof, my father, thou shalt puzzle this dull brain all day long, ay, and all night too, if it give thee pleasure. Oh, such a spot as I have chalked out for thee! — it is one of the nine hundred and ninety-nine shops of old Julia Felix, in the sunny part of the city, where thou mayst bask before the door in the day — and I will sell the oil and the wine for thee, my father — and then, please Venus (or if it does not please her, since thou lovest not her name, it is all one to Lydon)— then, I say, perhaps thou mayst have a daughter, too, to tend thy grey hairs, and hear shrill voices at thy knee, that shall call thee “Lydon’s father!” Ah! we shall be so happy — the prize can purchase all. Cheer thee! cheer up, my sire! — And now I must away — day wears — the lanista waits me. Come! thy blessing!’
As Lydon thus spoke, he had already quitted the dark chamber of his father; and speaking eagerly, though in a whispered tone, they now stood at the same place in which we introduced the porter at his post.
‘O bless thee! bless thee, my brave boy!’ said Medon, fervently; ‘and may the great Power that reads all hearts see the nobleness of thine, and forgive its error!’
The tall shape of the gladiator passed swiftly down the path; the eyes of the slave followed its light but stately steps, till the last glimpse was gone; and then, sinking once more on his seat, his eyes again fastened themselves on the ground. His form, mute and unmoving, as a thing of stone. His heart! — who, in our happier age, can even imagine its struggles — its commotion?
‘May I enter?’ said a sweet voice. ‘Is thy mistress Julia within?’
The slave mechanically motioned to the visitor to enter, but she who addressed him could not see the gesture — she repeated her question timidly, but in a louder voice.
‘Have I not told thee!’ said the slave, peevishly: ‘enter.’
‘Thanks,’ said the speaker, plaintively; and the slave, roused by the tone, looked up, and recognized the blind flower-girl. Sorrow can sympathize with affliction — he raised himself, and guided her steps to the head of the adjacent staircase (by which you descended to Julia’s apartment), where, summoning a female slave, he consigned to her the charge of the blind girl.
THE elegant Julia sat in her chamber, with her slaves around her — like the cubiculum which adjoined it, the room was small, but much larger than the usual apartments appropriated to sleep, which were so diminutive, that few who have not seen the bed-chambers, even in the gayest mansions, can form any notion of the petty pigeon-holes in which the citizens of Pompeii evidently thought it desirable to pass the night. But, in fact, ‘bed’ with the ancients was not that grave, serious, and important part of domestic mysteries which it is with us. The couch itself was more like a very narrow and small sofa, light enough to be transported easily, and by the occupant himself, from place to place; and it was, no doubt, constantly shifted from chamber to chamber, according to the caprice of the inmate, or the changes of the season; for that side of the house which was crowded in one month, might, perhaps, be carefully avoided in the next. There was also among the Italians of that period a singular and fastidious apprehension of too much daylight; their darkened chambers, which first appear to us the result of a negligent architecture, were the effect of the most elaborate study. In their porticoes and gardens they courted the sun whenever it so pleased their luxurious tastes. In the interior of their houses they sought rather the coolness and the shade.
Julia’s apartment at that season was in the lower part of the house, immediately beneath the state rooms above, and looking upon the garden, with which it was on a level. The wide door, which was glazed, alone admitted the morning rays: yet her eye, accustomed to a certain darkness, was sufficiently acute to perceive exactly what colors were the most becoming — what shade of the delicate rouge gave the brightest beam to her dark glance, and the most youthful freshness to her cheek.
On the table, before which she sat, was a small and circular mirror of the most polished steel: round which, in precise order, were ranged the cosmetics and the unguents — the perfumes and the paints — the jewels and combs — the ribands and the gold pins, which were destined to add to the natural attractions of beauty the assistance of art and the capricious allurements of fashion. Through the dimness of the room glowed brightly the vivid and various colourings of the wall, in all the dazzling frescoes of Pompeian taste. Before the dressing-table, and under the feet of Julia, was spread a carpet, woven from the looms of the East. Near at hand, on another table, was a silver basin and ewer; an extinguished lamp, of most exquisite workmanship, in which the artist had represented a Cupid reposing under the spreading branches of a myrtle-tree; and a small roll of papyrus, containing the softest elegies of Tibullus. Before the door, which communicated with the cubiculum, hung a curtain richly broidered with gold flowers. Such was the dressing-room of a beauty eighteen centuries ago.
The fair Julia leaned indolently back on her seat, while the ornatrix (i.e. hairdresser) slowly piled, one above the other, a mass of small curls, dexterously weaving the false with the true, and carrying the whole fabric to a height that seemed to place the head rather at the centre than the summit of the human form.
Her tunic, of a deep amber, which well set off her dark hair and somewhat embrowned complexion, swept in ample folds to her feet, which were cased in slippers, fastened round the slender ankle by white thongs; while a profusion of pearls were embroidered in the slipper itself, which was of purple, and turned slightly upward, as do the Turkish slippers at this day. An old slave, skilled by long experience in all the arcana of the toilet, stood beside the hairdresser, with the broad and studded girdle of her mistress over her arm, and giving, from time to time (mingled with judicious flattery to the lady herself), instructions to the mason of the ascending pile.
‘Put that pin rather more to the right — lower — stupid one! Do you not observe how even those beautiful eyebrows are? — One would think you were dressing Corinna, whose face is all of one side. Now put in the flowers — what, fool! — not that dull pink — you are not suiting colors to the dim cheek of Chloris: it must be the brightest flowers that can alone suit the cheek of the young Julia.’
‘Gently!’ said the lady, stamping her small foot violently: ‘you pull my hair as if you were plucking up a weed!’
‘Dull thing!’ continued the directress of the ceremony. ‘Do you not know how delicate is your mistress? — you are not dressing the coarse horsehair of the widow Fulvia. Now, then, the riband — that’s right. Fair Julia, look in the mirror; saw you ever anything so lovely as yourself?’
When, after innumerable comments, difficulties, and delays, the intricate tower was at length completed, the next preparation was that of giving to the eyes the soft languish, produced by a dark powder applied to the lids and brows; a small patch cut in the form of a crescent, skillfully placed by the rosy lips, attracted attention to their dimples, and to the teeth, to which already every art had been applied in order to heighten the dazzle of their natural whiteness.
To another slave, hitherto idle, was now consigned the charge of arranging the jewels — the ear-rings of pearl (two to each ear)— the massive bracelets of gold — the chain formed of rings of the same metal, to which a talisman cut in crystals was attached — the graceful buckle on the left shoulder, in which was set an exquisite cameo of Psyche — the girdle of purple riband, richly wrought with threads of gold, and clasped by interlacing serpents — and lastly, the various rings, fitted to every joint of the white and slender fingers. The toilet was now arranged according to the last mode of Rome. The fair Julia regarded herself with a last gaze of complacent vanity, and reclining again upon her seat, she bade the youngest of her slaves, in a listless tone, read to her the enamoured couplets of Tibullus. This lecture was still proceeding, when a female slave admitted Nydia into the presence of the lady of the place.
‘Salve, Julia!’ said the flower-girl, arresting her steps within a few paces from the spot where Julia sat, and crossing her arms upon her breast. ‘I have obeyed your commands.’
‘You have done well, flower-girl,’ answered the lady. ‘Approach — you may take a seat.’
One of the slaves placed a stool by Julia, and Nydia seated herself.
Julia looked hard at the Thessalian for some moments in rather an embarrassed silence. She then motioned her attendants to withdraw, and to close the door. When they were alone, she said, looking mechanically from Nydia, and forgetful that she was with one who could not observe her countenance:
‘You serve the Neapolitan, Ione?’
‘I am with her at present,’ answered Nydia.
‘Is she as handsome as they say?’
‘I know not,’ replied Nydia. ‘How can I judge?’
‘Ah! I should have remembered. But thou hast ears, if not eyes. Do thy fellow-slaves tell thee she is handsome? Slaves talking with one another forget to flatter even their mistress.’
‘They tell me that she is beautiful.’
‘Hem! — say they that she is tall?’
‘Why, so am I. Dark haired?’
‘I have heard so.’
‘So am I. And doth Glaucus visit her much?’
‘Daily’ returned Nydia, with a half-suppressed sigh.
‘Daily, indeed! Does he find her handsome?’
‘I should think so, since they are so soon to be wedded.’
‘Wedded!’ cried Julia, turning pale even through the false roses on her cheek, and starting from her couch. Nydia did not, of course, perceive the emotion she had caused. Julia remained a long time silent; but her heaving breast and flashing eyes would have betrayed, to one who could have seen, the wound her vanity had sustained.
‘They tell me thou art a Thessalian,’ said she, at last breaking silence.
‘Thessaly is the land of magic and of witches, of talismans and of love-philtres,’ said Julia.
‘It has ever been celebrated for its sorcerers,’ returned Nydia, timidly.
‘Knowest thou, then, blind Thessalian, of any love-charms?’
‘I!’ said the flower-girl, coloring; ‘I! how should I? No, assuredly not!’
‘The worse for thee; I could have given thee gold enough to have purchased thy freedom hadst thou been more wise.’
‘But what,’ asked Nydia, ‘can induce the beautiful and wealthy Julia to ask that question of her servant? Has she not money, and youth, and loveliness? Are they not love-charms enough to dispense with magic?’
‘To all but one person in the world,’ answered Julia, haughtily: ‘but methinks thy blindness is infectious; and . . . But no matter.’
‘And that one person?’ said Nydia, eagerly.
‘Is not Glaucus,’ replied Julia, with the customary deceit of her sex. ‘Glaucus — no!’
Nydia drew her breath more freely, and after a short pause Julia recommenced.
‘But talking of Glaucus, and his attachment to this Neapolitan, reminded me of the influence of love-spells, which, for ought I know or care, she may have exercised upon him. Blind girl, I love, and — shall Julia live to say it? — am loved not in return! This humbles — nay, not humbles — but it stings my pride. I would see this ingrate at my feet — not in order that I might raise, but that I might spurn him. When they told me thou wert Thessalian, I imagined thy young mind might have learned the dark secrets of thy clime.’
‘Alas! no, murmured Nydia: ‘would it had!’
‘Thanks, at least, for that kindly wish,’ said Julia, unconscious of what was passing in the breast of the flower-girl.
‘But tell me — thou hearest the gossip of slaves, always prone to these dim beliefs; always ready to apply to sorcery for their own low loves — hast thou ever heard of any Eastern magician in this city, who possesses the art of which thou art ignorant? No vain chiromancer, no juggler of the market-place, but some more potent and mighty magician of India or of Egypt?’
‘Of Egypt? — yes!’ said Nydia, shuddering. ‘What Pompeian has not heard of Arbaces?’
‘Arbaces! true,’ replied Julia, grasping at the recollection. ‘They say he is a man above all the petty and false impostures of dull pretenders — that he is versed in the learning of the stars, and the secrets of the ancient Nox; why not in the mysteries of love?’
‘If there be one magician living whose art is above that of others, it is that dread man,’ answered Nydia; and she felt her talisman while she spoke.
‘He is too wealthy to divine for money?’ continued Julia, sneeringly. ‘Can I not visit him?’
‘It is an evil mansion for the young and the beautiful,’ replied Nydia. ‘I have heard, too, that he languishes in . . . ’
‘An evil mansion!’ said Julia, catching only the first sentence. ‘Why so?’
‘The orgies of his midnight leisure are impure and polluted — at least, so says rumor.’
‘By Ceres, by Pan, and by Cybele! thou dost but provoke my curiosity, instead of exciting my fears,’ returned the wayward and pampered Pompeian. ‘I will seek and question him of his lore. If to these orgies love be admitted — why the more likely that he knows its secrets!’
Nydia did not answer.
‘I will seek him this very day,’ resumed Julia; ‘nay, why not this very hour?’
‘At daylight, and in his present state, thou hast assuredly the less to fear,’ answered Nydia, yielding to her own sudden and secret wish to learn if the dark Egyptian were indeed possessed of those spells to rivet and attract love, of which the Thessalian had so often heard.
‘And who dare insult the rich daughter of Diomed?’ said Julia, haughtily. ‘I will go.’
‘May I visit thee afterwards to learn the result?’ asked Nydia, anxiously.
‘Kiss me for thy interest in Julia’s honour,’ answered the lady. ‘Yes, assuredly. This eve we sup abroad — come hither at the same hour tomorrow, and thou shalt know all: I may have to employ thee too; but enough for the present. Stay, take this bracelet for the new thought thou hast inspired me with; remember, if thou servest Julia, she is grateful and she is generous.’
‘I cannot take thy present,’ said Nydia, putting aside the bracelet; ‘but young as I am, I can sympathize unbought with those who love — and love in vain.’
‘Sayest thou so!’ returned Julia. ‘Thou speakest like a free woman — and thou shalt yet be free — farewell!’
ARBACES was seated in a chamber which opened on a kind of balcony or portico that fronted his garden. His cheek was pale and worn with the sufferings he had endured, but his iron frame had already recovered from the severest effects of that accident which had frustrated his fell designs in the moment of victory. The air that came fragrantly to his brow revived his languid senses, and the blood circulated more freely than it had done for days through his shrunken veins.
‘So, then,’ thought he, ‘the storm of fate has broken and blown over — the evil which my lore predicted, threatening life itself, has chanced — and yet I live! It came as the stars foretold; and now the long, bright, and prosperous career which was to succeed that evil, if I survived it, smiles beyond: I have passed — I have subdued the latest danger of my destiny. Now I have but to lay out the gardens of my future fate — unterrified and secure. First, then, of all my pleasures, even before that of love, shall come revenge! This boy Greek — who has crossed my passion — thwarted my designs — baffled me even when the blade was about to drink his accursed blood — shall not a second time escape me! But for the method of my vengeance? Of that let me ponder well! Oh! Ate, if thou art indeed a goddess, fill me with thy direst Inspiration!’ The Egyptian sank into an intent reverie, which did not seem to present to him any clear or satisfactory suggestions. He changed his position restlessly, as he revolved scheme after scheme, which no sooner occurred than it was dismissed: several times he struck his breast and groaned aloud, with the desire of vengeance, and a sense of his impotence to accomplish it. While thus absorbed, a boy slave timidly entered the chamber.
A female, evidently of rank from her dress, and that of the single slave who attended her, waited below and sought an audience with Arbaces.
‘A female!’ his heart beat quick. ‘Is she young?’
‘Her face is concealed by her veil; but her form is slight, yet round, as that of youth.’
‘Admit her,’ said the Egyptian: for a moment his vain heart dreamed the stranger might be Ione.
The first glance of the visitor now entering the apartment sufficed to undeceive so erring a fancy. True, she was about the same height as Ione, and perhaps the same age — true, she was finely and richly formed — but where was that undulating and ineffable grace which accompanied every motion of the peerless Neapolitan — the chaste and decorous garb, so simple even in the care of its arrangement — the dignified yet bashful step — the majesty of womanhood and its modesty?
‘Pardon me that I rise with pain,’ said Arbaces, gazing on the stranger: ‘I am still suffering from recent illness.’
‘Do not disturb thyself, O great Egyptian!’ returned Julia, seeking to disguise the fear she already experienced beneath the ready resort of flattery; ‘and forgive an unfortunate female, who seeks consolation from thy wisdom.’
‘Draw near, fair stranger,’ said Arbaces; ‘and speak without apprehension or reserve.’
Julia placed herself on a seat beside the Egyptian, and wonderingly gazed around an apartment whose elaborate and costly luxuries shamed even the ornate enrichment of her father’s mansion; fearfully, too, she regarded the hieroglyphical inscriptions on the walls — the faces of the mysterious images, which at every corner gazed upon her — the tripod at a little distance — and, above all, the grave and remarkable countenance of Arbaces himself: a long white robe like a veil half covered his raven locks, and flowed to his feet: his face was made even more impressive by its present paleness; and his dark and penetrating eyes seemed to pierce the shelter of her veil, and explore the secrets of her vain and unfeminine soul.
‘And what,’ said his low, deep voice, ‘brings thee, O maiden! to the house of the Eastern stranger?’
‘His fame,’ replied Julia.
‘In what?’ said he, with a strange and slight smile.
‘Canst thou ask, O wise Arbaces? Is not thy knowledge the very gossip theme of Pompeii?’
‘Some little lore have I indeed, treasured up,’ replied Arbaces: ‘but in what can such serious and sterile secrets benefit the ear of beauty?’
‘Alas!’ said Julia, a little cheered by the accustomed accents of adulation; ‘does not sorrow fly to wisdom for relief, and they who love unrequitedly, are not they the chosen victims of grief?’
‘Ha!’ said Arbaces, ‘can unrequited love be the lot of so fair a form, whose modelled proportions are visible even beneath the folds of thy graceful robe? Deign, O maiden! to lift thy veil, that I may see at least if the face correspond in loveliness with the form.’
Not unwilling, perhaps, to exhibit her charms, and thinking they were likely to interest the magician in her fate, Julia, after some slight hesitation, raised her veil, and revealed a beauty which, but for art, had been indeed attractive to the fixed gaze of the Egyptian.
‘Thou comest to me for advice in unhappy love,’ said he; ‘well, turn that face on the ungrateful one: what other love-charm can I give thee?’
‘Oh, cease these courtesies!’ said Julia; ‘it is a love-charm, indeed, that I would ask from thy skill!’
‘Fair stranger!’ replied Arbaces, somewhat scornfully, ‘love-spells are not among the secrets I have wasted the midnight oil to attain.’
‘Is it indeed so? Then pardon me, great Arbaces, and farewell!’
‘Stay,’ said Arbaces, who, despite his passion for Ione, was not unmoved by the beauty of his visitor; and had he been in the flush of a more assured health, might have attempted to console the fair Julia by other means than those of supernatural wisdom.
‘Stay; although I confess that I have left the witchery of philtres and potions to those whose trade is in such knowledge, yet am I myself not so dull to beauty but that in earlier youth I may have employed them in my own behalf. I may give thee advice, at least, if thou wilt be candid with me. Tell me then, first, art thou unmarried, as thy dress betokens?’
‘Yes,’ said Julia.
‘And, being unblest with fortune, wouldst thou allure some wealthy suitor?’
‘I am richer than he who disdains me.’
‘Strange and more strange! And thou lovest him who loves not thee?’
‘I know not if I love him,’ answered Julia, haughtily; ‘but I know that I would see myself triumph over a rival — I would see him who rejected me my suitor — I would see her whom he has preferred in her turn despised.’
‘A natural ambition and a womanly,’ said the Egyptian, in a tone too grave for irony. ‘Yet more, fair maiden; wilt thou confide to me the name of thy lover? Can he be Pompeian, and despise wealth, even if blind to beauty?’
‘He is of Athens,’ answered Julia, looking down.
‘Ha!’ cried the Egyptian, impetuously, as the blood rushed to his cheek; ‘there is but one Athenian, young and noble, in Pompeii. Can it be Glaucus of whom thou speakest!’
‘Ah! betray me not — so indeed they call him.’
The Egyptian sank back, gazing vacantly on the averted face of the merchant’s daughter, and muttering inly to himself: this conference, with which he had hitherto only trifled, amusing himself with the credulity and vanity of his visitor — might it not minister to his revenge?’
‘I see thou canst assist me not,’ said Julia, offended by his continued silence; ‘guard at least my secret. Once more, farewell!’
‘Maiden,’ said the Egyptian, in an earnest and serious tone, ‘thy suit hath touched me — I will minister to thy will. Listen to me; I have not myself dabbled in these lesser mysteries, but I know one who hath. At the base of Vesuvius, less than a league from the city, there dwells a powerful witch; beneath the rank dews of the new moon, she has gathered the herbs which possess the virtue to chain Love in eternal fetters. Her art can bring thy lover to thy feet. Seek her, and mention to her the name of Arbaces: she fears that name, and will give thee her most potent philtres.’
‘Alas!’ answered Julia, I know not the road to the home of her whom thou speakest of: the way, short though it be, is long to traverse for a girl who leaves, unknown, the house of her father. The country is entangled with wild vines, and dangerous with precipitous caverns. I dare not trust to mere strangers to guide me; the reputation of women of my rank is easily tarnished — and though I care not who knows that I love Glaucus, I would not have it imagined that I obtained his love by a spell.’
‘Were I but three days advanced in health,’ said the Egyptian, rising and walking (as if to try his strength) across the chamber, but with irregular and feeble steps, ‘I myself would accompany thee. Well, thou must wait.’
‘But Glaucus is soon to wed that hated Neapolitan.’
‘Yes; in the early part of next month.’
‘So soon! Art thou well advised of this?’
‘From the lips of her own slave.’
‘It shall not be!’ said the Egyptian, impetuously. ‘Fear nothing, Glaucus shall be thine. Yet how, when thou obtainest it, canst thou administer to him this potion?’
‘My father has invited him, and, I believe, the Neapolitan also, to a banquet, on the day following tomorrow: I shall then have the opportunity to administer it.’
‘So be it!’ said the Egyptian, with eyes flashing such fierce joy, that Julia’s gaze sank trembling beneath them. ‘To-morrow eve, then, order thy litter — thou hast one at thy command?’
‘Surely — yes,’ returned the purse-proud Julia.
‘Order thy litter — at two miles’ distance from the city is a house of entertainment, frequented by the wealthier Pompeians, from the excellence of its baths, and the beauty of its gardens. There canst thou pretend only to shape thy course — there, ill or dying, I will meet thee by the statue of Silenus, in the copse that skirts the garden; and I myself will guide thee to the witch. Let us wait till, with the evening star, the goats of the herdsmen are gone to rest; when the dark twilight conceals us, and none shall cross our steps. Go home and fear not. By Hades, swears Arbaces, the sorcerer of Egypt, that Ione shall never wed with Glaucus.’
‘And that Glaucus shall be mine,’ added Julia, filling up the incompleted sentence.
‘Thou hast said it!’ replied Arbaces; and Julia, half frightened at this unhallowed appointment, but urged on by jealousy and the pique of rivalship, even more than love, resolved to fulfill it.
Left alone, Arbaces burst forth:
‘Bright stars that never lie, ye already begin the execution of your promises — success in love, and victory over foes, for the rest of my smooth existence. In the very hour when my mind could devise no clue to the goal of vengeance, have ye sent this fair fool for my guide?’ He paused in deep thought. ‘Yes,’ said he again, but in a calmer voice; ‘I could not myself have given to her the poison, that shall be indeed a philtre! — his death might be thus tracked to my door. But the witch — ay, there is the fit, the natural agent of my designs!’
He summoned one of his slaves, bade him hasten to track the steps of Julia, and acquaint himself with her name and condition. This done, he stepped forth into the portico. The skies were serene and clear; but he, deeply read in the signs of their various change, beheld in one mass of cloud, far on the horizon, which the wind began slowly to agitate, that a storm was brooding above.
‘It is like my vengeance,’ said he, as he gazed; ‘the sky is clear, but the cloud moves on.’
IT was when the heats of noon died gradually away from the earth, that Glaucus and Ione went forth to enjoy the cooled and grateful air. At that time, various carriages were in use among the Romans; the one most used by the richer citizens, when they required no companion in their excursion, was the biga, already described in the early portion of this work; that appropriated to the matrons, was termed carpentum, which had commonly two wheels; the ancients used also a sort of litter, a vast sedan-chair, more commodiously arranged than the modern, inasmuch as the occupant thereof could lie down at ease, instead of being perpendicularly and stiffly jostled up and down. There was another carriage, used both for travelling and for excursions in the country; it was commodious, containing three or four persons with ease, having a covering which could be raised at pleasure; and, in short, answering very much the purpose of (though very different in shape from) the modern britska. It was a vehicle of this description that the lovers, accompanied by one female slave of Ione, now used in their excursion. About ten miles from the city, there was at that day an old ruin, the remains of a temple, evidently Grecian; and as for Glaucus and Ione everything Grecian possessed an interest, they had agreed to visit these ruins: it was thither they were now bound.
Their road lay among vines and olive-groves; till, winding more and more towards the higher ground of Vesuvius, the path grew rugged; the mules moved slowly, and with labor; and at every opening in the wood they beheld those grey and horrent caverns indenting the parched rock, which Strabo has described; but which the various revolutions of time and the volcano have removed from the present aspect of the mountain. The sun, sloping towards his descent, cast long and deep shadows over the mountain; here and there they still heard the rustic reed of the shepherd amongst copses of the beechwood and wild oak. Sometimes they marked the form of the silk-haired and graceful capella, with its wreathing horn and bright grey eye — which, still beneath Ausonian skies, recalls the eclogues of Maro, browsing half-way up the hills; and the grapes, already purple with the smiles of the deepening summer, glowed out from the arched festoons, which hung pendent from tree to tree. Above them, light clouds floated in the serene heavens, sweeping so slowly athwart the firmament that they scarcely seemed to stir; while, on their right, they caught, ever and anon, glimpses of the waveless sea, with some light bark skimming its surface; and the sunlight breaking over the deep in those countless and softest hues so peculiar to that delicious sea.
‘How beautiful!’ said Glaucus, in a half-whispered tone, ‘is that expression by which we call Earth our Mother! With what a kindly equal love she pours her blessings upon her children! and even to those sterile spots to which Nature has denied beauty, she yet contrives to dispense her smiles: witness the arbutus and the vine, which she wreathes over the arid and burning soil of yon extinct volcano. Ah! in such an hour and scene as this, well might we imagine that the Faun should peep forth from those green festoons; or, that we might trace the steps of the Mountain Nymph through the thickest mazes of the glade. But the Nymphs ceased, beautiful Ione, when thou wert created!’
There is no tongue that flatters like a lover’s; and yet, in the exaggeration of his feelings, flattery seems to him commonplace. Strange and prodigal exuberance, which soon exhausts itself by overflowing!
They arrived at the ruins; they examined them with that fondness with which we trace the hallowed and household vestiges of our own ancestry — they lingered there till Hesperus appeared in the rosy heavens; and then returning homeward in the twilight, they were more silent than they had been; for in the shadow and beneath the stars they felt more oppressively their mutual love.
It was at this time that the storm which the Egyptian had predicted began to creep visibly over them. At first, a low and distant thunder gave warning of the approaching conflict of the elements; and then rapidly rushed above the dark ranks of the serried clouds. The suddenness of storms in that climate is something almost preternatural, and might well suggest to early superstition the notion of a divine agency — a few large drops broke heavily among the boughs that half overhung their path, and then, swift and intolerably bright, the forked lightning darted across their very eyes, and was swallowed up by the increasing darkness.
‘Swifter, good Carrucarius!’ cried Glaucus to the driver; ‘the tempest comes on apace.’
The slave urged on the mules — they went swift over the uneven and stony road — the clouds thickened, near and more near broke the thunder, and fast rushed the dashing rain.
‘Dost thou fear?’ whispered Glaucus, as he sought excuse in the storm to come nearer to Ione.
‘Not with thee,’ said she, softly.
At that instant, the carriage, fragile and ill-contrived (as, despite their graceful shapes, were, for practical uses, most of such inventions at that time), struck violently into a deep rut, over which lay a log of fallen wood; the driver, with a curse, stimulated his mules yet faster for the obstacle, the wheel was torn from the socket, and the carriage suddenly overset.
Glaucus, quickly extricating himself from the vehicle, hastened to assist Ione, who was fortunately unhurt; with some difficulty they raised the carruca (or carriage), and found that it ceased any longer even to afford them shelter; the springs that fastened the covering were snapped asunder, and the rain poured fast and fiercely into the interior.
In this dilemma, what was to be done? They were yet some distance from the city — no house, no aid, seemed near.
‘There is,’ said the slave, ‘a smith about a mile off; I could seek him, and he might fasten at least the wheel to the carruca — but, Jupiter! how the rain beats; my mistress will be wet before I come back.’
‘Run thither at least,’ said Glaucus; ‘we must find the best shelter we can till you return.’
The lane was overshadowed with trees, beneath the amplest of which Glaucus drew Ione. He endeavored, by stripping his own cloak, to shield her yet more from the rapid rain; but it descended with a fury that broke through all puny obstacles: and suddenly, while Glaucus was yet whispering courage to his beautiful charge, the lightning struck one of the trees immediately before them, and split with a mighty crash its huge trunk in twain. This awful incident apprised them of the danger they braved in their present shelter, and Glaucus looked anxiously round for some less perilous place of refuge. ‘We are now,’ said he, ‘half-way up the ascent of Vesuvius; there ought to be some cavern, or hollow in the vine-clad rocks, could we but find it, in which the deserting Nymphs have left a shelter.’ While thus saying he moved from the trees, and, looking wistfully towards the mountain, discovered through the advancing gloom a red and tremulous light at no considerable distance. ‘That must come,’ said he, ‘from the hearth of some shepherd or vine-dresser — it will guide us to some hospitable retreat. Wilt thou stay here, while I— yet no — that would be to leave thee to danger.’
‘I will go with you cheerfully,’ said Ione. ‘Open as the space seems, it is better than the treacherous shelter of these boughs.’
Half leading, half carrying Ione, Glaucus, accompanied by the trembling female slave, advanced towards the light, which yet burned red and steadfastly. At length the space was no longer open; wild vines entangled their steps, and hid from them, save by imperfect intervals, the guiding beam. But faster and fiercer came the rain, and the lightning assumed its most deadly and blasting form; they were still therefore, impelled onward, hoping, at last, if the light eluded them, to arrive at some cottage or some friendly cavern. The vines grew more and more intricate — the light was entirely snatched from them; but a narrow path, which they trod with labor and pain, guided only by the constant and long-lingering flashes of the storm, continued to lead them towards its direction. The rain ceased suddenly; precipitous and rough crags of scorched lava frowned before them, rendered more fearful by the lightning that illumined the dark and dangerous soil. Sometimes the blaze lingered over the iron-grey heaps of scoria, covered in part with ancient mosses or stunted trees, as if seeking in vain for some gentler product of earth, more worthy of its ire; and sometimes leaving the whole of that part of the scene in darkness, the lightning, broad and sheeted, hung redly over the ocean, tossing far below, until its waves seemed glowing into fire; and so intense was the blaze, that it brought vividly into view even the sharp outline of the more distant windings of the bay, from the eternal Misenum, with its lofty brow, to the beautiful Sorrentum and the giant hills behind.
Our lovers stopped in perplexity and doubt, when suddenly, as the darkness that gloomed between the fierce flashes of lightning once more wrapped them round, they saw near, but high, before them, the mysterious light. Another blaze, in which heaven and earth were reddened, made visible to them the whole expanse; no house was near, but just where they had beheld the light, they thought they saw in the recess of the cavern the outline of a human form. The darkness once more returned; the light, no longer paled beneath the fires of heaven, burned forth again: they resolved to ascend towards it; they had to wind their way among vast fragments of stone, here and there overhung with wild bushes; but they gained nearer and nearer to the light, and at length they stood opposite the mouth of a kind of cavern, apparently formed by huge splinters of rock that had fallen transversely athwart each other: and, looking into the gloom, each drew back involuntarily with a superstitious fear and chill.
A fire burned in the far recess of the cave; and over it was a small cauldron; on a tall and thin column of iron stood a rude lamp; over that part of the wall, at the base of which burned the fire, hung in many rows, as if to dry, a profusion of herbs and weeds. A fox, couched before the fire, gazed upon the strangers with its bright and red eye — its hair bristling — and a low growl stealing from between its teeth; in the centre of the cave was an earthen statue, which had three heads of a singular and fantastic cast: they were formed by the real skulls of a dog, a horse, and a boar; a low tripod stood before this wild representation of the popular Hecate.
But it was not these appendages and appliances of the cave that thrilled the blood of those who gazed fearfully therein — it was the face of its inmate. Before the fire, with the light shining full upon her features, sat a woman of considerable age. Perhaps in no country are there seen so many hags as in Italy — in no country does beauty so awfully change, in age, to hideousness the most appalling and revolting. But the old woman now before them was not one of these specimens of the extreme of human ugliness; on the contrary, her countenance betrayed the remains of a regular but high and aquiline order of feature: with stony eyes turned upon them — with a look that met and fascinated theirs — they beheld in that fearful countenance the very image of a corpse! — the same, the glazed and lustreless regard, the blue and shrunken lips, the drawn and hollow jaw — the dead, lank hair, of a pale grey — the livid, green, ghastly skin, which seemed all surely tinged and tainted by the grave!
‘It is a dead thing,’ said Glaucus.
‘Nay — it stirs — it is a ghost or larva,’ faltered Ione, as she clung to the Athenian’s breast.
‘Oh, away, away!’ groaned the slave, ‘it is the Witch of Vesuvius!’
‘Who are ye?’ said a hollow and ghostly voice. ‘And what do ye here?’
The sound, terrible and deathlike as it was — suiting well the countenance of the speaker, and seeming rather the voice of some bodiless wanderer of the Styx than living mortal, would have made Ione shrink back into the pitiless fury of the storm, but Glaucus, though not without some misgiving, drew her into the cavern.
‘We are storm-beaten wanderers from the neighboring city,’ said he, ‘and decoyed hither by yon light; we crave shelter and the comfort of your hearth.’
As he spoke, the fox rose from the ground, and advanced towards the strangers, showing, from end to end, its white teeth, and deepening in its menacing growl.
‘Down, slave!’ said the witch; and at the sound of her voice the beast dropped at once, covering its face with its brush, and keeping only its quick, vigilant eye fixed upon the invaders of its repose. ‘Come to the fire if ye will!’ said she, turning to Glaucus and his companions. ‘I never welcome living thing — save the owl, the fox, the toad, and the viper — so I cannot welcome ye; but come to the fire without welcome — why stand upon form?’
The language in which the hag addressed them was a strange and barbarous Latin, interlarded with many words of some more rude, and ancient dialect. She did not stir from her seat, but gazed stonily upon them as Glaucus now released Ione of her outer wrapping garments, and making her place herself on a log of wood, which was the only other seat he perceived at hand — fanned with his breath the embers into a more glowing flame. The slave, encouraged by the boldness of her superiors, divested herself also of her long palla, and crept timorously to the opposite corner of the hearth.
‘We disturb you, I fear,’ said the silver voice of Ione, in conciliation.
The witch did not reply — she seemed like one who has awakened for a moment from the dead, and has then relapsed once more into the eternal slumber.
‘Tell me,’ said she, suddenly, and after a long pause, ‘are ye brother and sister?’
‘No,’ said Ione, blushing.
‘Are ye married?’
‘Not so,’ replied Glaucus.
‘Ho, lovers! — ha! — ha! — ha!’ and the witch laughed so loud and so long that the caverns rang again.
The heart of Ione stood still at that strange mirth. Glaucus muttered a rapid counterspell to the omen — and the slave turned as pale as the cheek of the witch herself.
‘Why dost thou laugh, old crone?’ said Glaucus, somewhat sternly, as he concluded his invocation.
‘Did I laugh?’ said the hag, absently.
‘She is in her dotage,’ whispered Glaucus: as he said this, he caught the eye of the hag fixed upon him with a malignant and vivid glare.
‘Thou liest!’ said she, abruptly.
‘Thou art an uncourteous welcomer,’ returned Glaucus.
‘Hush! provoke her not, dear Glaucus!’ whispered Ione.
‘I will tell thee why I laughed when I discovered ye were lovers,’ said the old woman. ‘It was because it is a pleasure to the old and withered to look upon young hearts like yours — and to know the time will come when you will loathe each other — loathe — loathe — ha! — ha! — ha!’
It was now Ione’s turn to pray against the unpleasing prophecy.
‘The gods forbid!’ said she. ‘Yet, poor woman, thou knowest little of love, or thou wouldst know that it never changes.’
‘Was I young once, think ye?’ returned the hag, quickly; ‘and am I old, and hideous, and deathly now? Such as is the form, so is the heart.’ With these words she sank again into a stillness profound and fearful, as if the cessation of life itself.
‘Hast thou dwelt here long?’ said Glaucus, after a pause, feeling uncomfortably oppressed beneath a silence so appalling.
‘Ah, long! — yes.’
‘It is but a drear abode.’
‘Ha! thou mayst well say that — Hell is beneath us!’ replied the hag, pointing her bony finger to the earth. ‘And I will tell thee a secret — the dim things below are preparing wrath for ye above — you, the young, and the thoughtless, and the beautiful.’
‘Thou utterest but evil words, ill becoming the hospitable,’ said Glaucus; ‘and in future I will brave the tempest rather than thy welcome.’
‘Thou wilt do well. None should ever seek me — save the wretched!’
‘And why the wretched?’ asked the Athenian.
‘I am the witch of the mountain,’ replied the sorceress, with a ghastly grin; ‘my trade is to give hope to the hopeless: for the crossed in love I have philtres; for the avaricious, promises of treasure; for the malicious, potions of revenge; for the happy and the good, I have only what life has — curses! Trouble me no more.
With this the grim tenant of the cave relapsed into a silence so obstinate and sullen, that Glaucus in vain endeavored to draw her into farther conversation. She did not evince, by any alteration of her locked and rigid features, that she even heard him. Fortunately, however, the storm, which was brief as violent, began now to relax; the rain grew less and less fierce; and at last, as the clouds parted, the moon burst forth in the purple opening of heaven, and streamed clear and full into that desolate abode. Never had she shone, perhaps, on a group more worthy of the painter’s art. The young, the all-beautiful Ione, seated by that rude fire — her lover already forgetful of the presence of the hag, at her feet, gazing upward to her face, and whispering sweet words — the pale and affrighted slave at a little distance — and the ghastly hag resting her deadly eyes upon them; yet seemingly serene and fearless (for the companionship of love hath such power) were these beautiful beings, things of another sphere, in that dark and unholy cavern, with its gloomy quaintness of appurtenance. The fox regarded them from his corner with his keen and fiery eye: and as Glaucus now turned towards the witch, he perceived for the first time, just under her seat, the bright gaze and crested head of a large snake: whether it was that the vivid coloring of the Athenian’s cloak, thrown over the shoulders of Ione, attracted the reptile’s anger — its crest began to glow and rise, as if menacing and preparing itself to spring upon the Neapolitan — Glaucus caught quickly at one of the half-burned logs upon the hearth — and, as if enraged at the action, the snake came forth from its shelter, and with a loud hiss raised itself on end till its height nearly approached that of the Greek.
‘Witch!’ cried Glaucus, ‘command thy creature, or thou wilt see it dead.’
‘It has been despoiled of its venom!’ said the witch, aroused at his threat; but ere the words had left her lip, the snake had sprung upon Glaucus; quick and watchful, the agile Greek leaped lightly aside, and struck so fell and dexterous a blow on the head of the snake, that it fell prostrate and writhing among the embers of the fire.
The hag sprung up, and stood confronting Glaucus with a face which would have befitted the fiercest of the Furies, so utterly dire and wrathful was its expression — yet even in horror and ghastliness preserving the outline and trace of beauty — and utterly free from that coarse grotesque at which the imaginations of the North have sought the source of terror. ‘Thou hast,’ said she, in a slow and steady voice — which belied the expression of her face, so much was it passionless and calm —‘thou hast had shelter under my roof, and warmth at my hearth; thou hast returned evil for good; thou hast smitten and haply slain the thing that loved me and was mine: nay, more, the creature, above all others, consecrated to gods and deemed venerable by man — now hear thy punishment. By the moon, who is the guardian of the sorceress — by Orcus, who is the treasurer of wrath — I curse thee! and thou art cursed! May thy love be blasted — may thy name be blackened — may the infernals mark thee — may thy heart wither and scorch — may thy last hour recall to thee the prophet voice of the Saga of Vesuvius! And thou,’ she added, turning sharply towards Ione, and raising her right arm, when Glaucus burst impetuously on her speech:
‘Hag!’ cried he, ‘forbear! Me thou hast cursed, and I commit myself to the gods — I defy and scorn thee! but breathe but one word against yon maiden, and I will convert the oath on thy foul lips to thy dying groan. Beware!’
‘I have done,’ replied the hag, laughing wildly; ‘for in thy doom is she who loves thee accursed. And not the less, that I heard her lips breathe thy name, and know by what word to commend thee to the demons. Glaucus — thou art doomed!’ So saying, the witch turned from the Athenian, and kneeling down beside her wounded favorite, which she dragged from the hearth, she turned to them her face no more.
‘O Glaucus!’ said Ione, greatly terrified, ‘what have we done? — Let us hasten from this place; the storm has ceased. Good mistress, forgive him — recall thy words — he meant but to defend himself — accept this peace-offering to unsay the said’: and Ione, stooping, placed her purse on the hag’s lap.
‘Away!’ said she, bitterly —‘away! The oath once woven the Fates only can untie. Away!’
‘Come, dearest!’ said Glaucus, impatiently. ‘Thinkest thou that the gods above us or below hear the impotent ravings of dotage? Come!’
Long and loud rang the echoes of the cavern with the dread laugh of the Saga — she deigned no further reply.
The lovers breathed more freely when they gained the open air: yet the scene they had witnessed, the words and the laughter of the witch, still fearfully dwelt with Ione; and even Glaucus could not thoroughly shake off the impression they bequeathed. The storm had subsided — save, now and then, a low thunder muttered at the distance amidst the darker clouds, or a momentary flash of lightning affronted the sovereignty of the moon. With some difficulty they regained the road, where they found the vehicle already sufficiently repaired for their departure, and the carrucarius calling loudly upon Hercules to tell him where his charge had vanished.
Glaucus vainly endeavored to cheer the exhausted spirits of Ione; and scarce less vainly to recover the elastic tone of his own natural gaiety. They soon arrived before the gate of the city: as it opened to them, a litter borne by slaves impeded the way.
‘It is too late for egress,’ cried the sentinel to the inmate of the litter.
‘Not so,’ said a voice, which the lovers started to hear; it was a voice they well recognized. ‘I am bound to the villa of Marcus Polybius. I shall return shortly. I am Arbaces the Egyptian.’
The scruples of him at the gate were removed, and the litter passed close beside the carriage that bore the lovers.
‘Arbaces, at this hour! — scarce recovered too, methinks! — Whither and for what can he leave the city?’ said Glaucus.
‘Alas!’ replied Ione, bursting into tears, ‘my soul feels still more and more the omen of evil. Preserve us, O ye Gods! or at least,’ she murmured inly, ‘preserve my Glaucus!’
ARBACES had tarried only till the cessation of the tempest allowed him, under cover of night, to seek the Saga of Vesuvius. Borne by those of his trustier slaves in whom in all more secret expeditions he was accustomed to confide, he lay extended along his litter, and resigning his sanguine heart to the contemplation of vengeance gratified and love possessed. The slaves in so short a journey moved very little slower than the ordinary pace of mules; and Arbaces soon arrived at the commencement of a narrow path, which the lovers had not been fortunate enough to discover; but which, skirting the thick vines, led at once to the habitation of the witch. Here he rested the litter; and bidding his slaves conceal themselves and the vehicle among the vines from the observation of any chance passenger, he mounted alone, with steps still feeble but supported by a long staff, the drear and sharp ascent.
Not a drop of rain fell from the tranquil heaven; but the moisture dripped mournfully from the laden boughs of the vine, and now and then collected in tiny pools in the crevices and hollows of the rocky way.
‘Strange passions these for a philosopher,’ thought Arbaces, ‘that lead one like me just new from the bed of death, and lapped even in health amidst the roses of luxury, across such nocturnal paths as this; but Passion and Vengeance treading to their goal can make an Elysium of a Tartarus.’ High, clear, and melancholy shone the moon above the road of that dark wayfarer, glossing herself in every pool that lay before him, and sleeping in shadow along the sloping mount. He saw before him the same light that had guided the steps of his intended victims, but, no longer contrasted by the blackened clouds, it shone less redly clear.
He paused, as at length he approached the mouth of the cavern, to recover breath; and then, with his wonted collected and stately mien, he crossed the unhallowed threshold.
The fox sprang up at the ingress of this newcomer, and by a long howl announced another visitor to his mistress.
The witch had resumed her seat, and her aspect of gravelike and grim repose. By her feet, upon a bed of dry weeds which half covered it, lay the wounded snake; but the quick eye of the Egyptian caught its scales glittering in the reflected light of the opposite fire, as it writhed — now contracting, now lengthening, its folds, in pain and unsated anger.
‘Down, slave!’ said the witch, as before, to the fox; and, as before, the animal dropped to the ground — mute, but vigilant.
‘Rise, servant of Nox and Erebus!’ said Arbaces, commandingly; ‘a superior in thine art salutes thee! rise, and welcome him.’
At these words the hag turned her gaze upon the Egyptian’s towering form and dark features. She looked long and fixedly upon him, as he stood before her in his Oriental robe, and folded arms, and steadfast and haughty brow. ‘Who art thou,’ she said at last, ‘that callest thyself greater in art than the Saga of the Burning Fields, and the daughter of the perished Etrurian race?’
‘I am he,’ answered Arbaces, ‘from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn.’
‘There is but one such man in these places,’ answered the witch, ‘whom the men of the outer world, unknowing his loftier attributes and more secret fame, call Arbaces the Egyptian: to us of a higher nature and deeper knowledge, his rightful appellation is Hermes of the Burning Girdle.’
‘Look again, returned Arbaces: ‘I am he.’
As he spoke he drew aside his robe, and revealed a cincture seemingly of fire, that burned around his waist, clasped in the centre by a plate whereon was engraven some sign apparently vague and unintelligible but which was evidently not unknown to the Saga. She rose hastily, and threw herself at the feet of Arbaces. ‘I have seen, then,’ said she, in a voice of deep humility, ‘the Lord of the Mighty Girdle — vouchsafe my homage.’
‘Rise,’ said the Egyptian; ‘I have need of thee.’
So saying, he placed himself on the same log of wood on which Ione had rested before, and motioned to the witch to resume her seat.
‘Thou sayest,’ said he, as she obeyed, ‘that thou art a daughter of the ancient Etrurian tribes; the mighty walls of whose rock-built cities yet frown above the robber race that hath seized upon their ancient reign. Partly came those tribes from Greece, partly were they exiles from a more burning and primeval soil. In either case art thou of Egyptian lineage, for the Grecian masters of the aboriginal helot were among the restless sons whom the Nile banished from her bosom. Equally, then, O Saga! thy descent is from ancestors that swore allegiance to mine own. By birth as by knowledge, art thou the subject of Arbaces. Hear me, then, and obey!’
The witch bowed her head.
‘Whatever art we possess in sorcery,’ continued Arbaces, ‘we are sometimes driven to natural means to attain our object. The ring and the crystal, and the ashes and the herbs, do not give unerring divinations; neither do the higher mysteries of the moon yield even the possessor of the girdle a dispensation from the necessity of employing ever and anon human measures for a human object. Mark me, then: thou art deeply skilled, methinks, in the secrets of the more deadly herbs; thou knowest those which arrest life, which burn and scorch the soul from out her citadel, or freeze the channels of young blood into that ice which no sun can melt. Do I overrate thy skill? Speak, and truly!’
‘Mighty Hermes, such lore is, indeed, mine own. Deign to look at these ghostly and corpse-like features; they have waned from the hues of life merely by watching over the rank herbs which simmer night and day in yon cauldron.’
The Egyptian moved his seat from so unblessed or so unhealthful a vicinity as the witch spoke.
‘It is well,’ said he; ‘thou hast learned that maxim of all the deeper knowledge which saith, “Despise the body to make wise the mind.” But to thy task. There cometh to thee by tomorrow’s starlight a vain maiden, seeking of thine art a love-charm to fascinate from another the eyes that should utter but soft tales to her own: instead of thy philtres, give the maiden one of thy most powerful poisons. Let the lover breathe his vows to the Shades.’
The witch trembled from head to foot.
‘Oh pardon! pardon! dread master,’ said she, falteringly, ‘but this I dare not. The law in these cities is sharp and vigilant; they will seize, they will slay me.’
‘For what purpose, then, thy herbs and thy potions, vain Saga?’ said Arbaces, sneeringly.
The witch hid her loathsome face with her hands.
‘Oh! years ago,’ said she, in a voice unlike her usual tones, so plaintive was it, and so soft, ‘I was not the thing that I am now. I loved, I fancied myself beloved.’
‘And what connection hath thy love, witch, with my commands?’ said Arbaces, impetuously.
‘Patience,’ resumed the witch; ‘patience, I implore. I loved! another and less fair than I— yes, by Nemesis! less fair — allured from me my chosen. I was of that dark Etrurian tribe to whom most of all were known the secrets of the gloomier magic. My mother was herself a saga: she shared the resentment of her child; from her hands I received the potion that was to restore me his love; and from her, also, the poison that was to destroy my rival. Oh, crush me, dread walls! my trembling hands mistook the phials, my lover fell indeed at my feet; but dead! dead! dead! Since then, what has been life to me I became suddenly old, I devoted myself to the sorceries of my race; still by an irresistible impulse I curse myself with an awful penance; still I seek the most noxious herbs; still I concoct the poisons; still I imagine that I am to give them to my hated rival; still I pour them into the phial; still I fancy that they shall blast her beauty to the dust; still I wake and see the quivering body, the foaming lips, the glazing eyes of my Aulus — murdered, and by me!’
The skeleton frame of the witch shook beneath strong convulsions.
Arbaces gazed upon her with a curious though contemptuous eye.
‘And this foul thing has yet human emotions!’ thought he; ‘still she cowers over the ashes of the same fire that consumes Arbaces! — Such are we all! Mystic is the tie of those mortal passions that unite the greatest and the least.’
He did not reply till she had somewhat recovered herself, and now sat rocking to and fro in her seat, with glassy eyes fixed on the opposite flame, and large tears rolling down her livid cheeks.
‘A grievous tale is thine, in truth,’ said Arbaces. ‘But these emotions are fit only for our youth — age should harden our hearts to all things but ourselves; as every year adds a scale to the shell-fish, so should each year wall and incrust the heart. Think of those frenzies no more! And now, listen to me again! By the revenge that was dear to thee, I command thee to obey me! it is for vengeance that I seek thee! This youth whom I would sweep from my path has crossed me, despite my spells:— this thing of purple and broidery, of smiles and glances, soulless and mindless, with no charm but that of beauty — accursed be it! — this insect — this Glaucus — I tell thee, by Orcus and by Nemesis, he must die.’
And working himself up at every word, the Egyptian, forgetful of his debility — of his strange companion — of everything but his own vindictive rage, strode, with large and rapid steps, the gloomy cavern.
‘Glaucus! saidst thou, mighty master!’ said the witch, abruptly; and her dim eye glared at the name with all that fierce resentment at the memory of small affronts so common amongst the solitary and the shunned.
‘Ay, so he is called; but what matters the name? Let it not be heard as that of a living man three days from this date!’
‘Hear me!’ said the witch, breaking from a short reverie into which she was plunged after this last sentence of the Egyptian. ‘Hear me! I am thy thing and thy slave! spare me! If I give to the maiden thou speakest of that which would destroy the life of Glaucus, I shall be surely detected — the dead ever find avengers. Nay, dread man! if thy visit to me be tracked, if thy hatred to Glaucus be known, thou mayest have need of thy archest magic to protect thyself!’
‘Ha!’ said Arbaces, stopping suddenly short; and as a proof of that blindness with which passion darkens the eyes even of the most acute, this was the first time when the risk that he himself ran by this method of vengeance had occurred to a mind ordinarily wary and circumspect.
‘But,’ continued the witch, ‘if instead of that which shall arrest the heart, I give that which shall sear and blast the brain — which shall make him who quaffs it unfit for the uses and career of life — an abject, raving, benighted thing — smiting sense to drivelling youth to dotage — will not thy vengeance be equally sated — thy object equally attained?’
‘Oh, witch! no longer the servant, but the sister — the equal of Arbaces — how much brighter is woman’s wit, even in vengeance, than ours! how much more exquisite than death is such a doom!’
‘And,’ continued the hag, gloating over her fell scheme, ‘in this is but little danger; for by ten thousand methods, which men forbear to seek, can our victim become mad. He may have been among the vines and seen a nymph — or the vine itself may have had the same effect — ha, ha! they never inquire too scrupulously into these matters in which the gods may be agents. And let the worst arrive — let it be known that it is a love-charm — why, madness is a common effect of philtres; and even the fair she that gave it finds indulgence in the excuse. Mighty Hermes, have I ministered to thee cunningly?’
‘Thou shalt have twenty years’ longer date for this,’ returned Arbaces. ‘I will write anew the epoch of thy fate on the face of the pale stars — thou shalt not serve in vain the Master of the Flaming Belt. And here, Saga, carve thee out, by these golden tools, a warmer cell in this dreary cavern — one service to me shall countervail a thousand divinations by sieve and shears to the gaping rustics.’ So saying, he cast upon the floor a heavy purse, which clinked not unmusically to the ear of the hag, who loved the consciousness of possessing the means to purchase comforts she disdained. ‘Farewell,’ said Arbaces, ‘fail not — outwatch the stars in concocting thy beverage — thou shalt lord it over thy sisters at the Walnut-tree,’ when thou tellest them that thy patron and thy friend is Hermes the Egyptian. To-morrow night we meet again.’
He stayed not to hear the valediction or the thanks of the witch; with a quick step he passed into the moonlit air, and hastened down the mountain.
The witch, who followed his steps to the threshold, stood at the entrance of the cavern, gazing fixedly on his receding form; and as the sad moonlight streamed over her shadowy form and deathlike face, emerging from the dismal rocks, it seemed as if one gifted, indeed, by supernatural magic had escaped from the dreary Orcus; and, the foremost of its ghostly throng, stood at its black portals — vainly summoning his return, or vainly sighing to rejoin him. The hag, then slowly re-entering the cave, groaningly picked up the heavy purse, took the lamp from its stand, and, passing to the remotest depth of her cell, a black and abrupt passage, which was not visible, save at a near approach, closed round as it was with jutting and sharp crags, yawned before her: she went several yards along this gloomy path, which sloped gradually downwards, as if towards the bowels of the earth, and, lifting a stone, deposited her treasure in a hole beneath, which, as the lamp pierced its secrets, seemed already to contain coins of various value, wrung from the credulity or gratitude of her visitors.
‘I love to look at you,’ said she, apostrophising the moneys; ‘for when I see you I feel that I am indeed of power. And I am to have twenty years’ longer life to increase your store! O thou great Hermes!’
She replaced the stone, and continued her path onward for some paces, when she stopped before a deep irregular fissure in the earth. Here, as she bent — strange, rumbling, hoarse, and distant sounds might be heard, while ever and anon, with a loud and grating noise which, to use a homely but faithful simile, seemed to resemble the grinding of steel upon wheels, volumes of streaming and dark smoke issued forth, and rushed spirally along the cavern.
‘The Shades are noisier than their wont,’ said the hag, shaking her grey locks; and, looking into the cavity, she beheld, far down, glimpses of a long streak of light, intensely but darkly red. ‘Strange!’ she said, shrinking back; ‘it is only within the last two days that dull, deep light hath been visible — what can it portend?’
The fox, who had attended the steps of his fell mistress, uttered a dismal howl, and ran cowering back to the inner cave; a cold shuddering seized the hag herself at the cry of the animal, which, causeless as it seemed, the superstitions of the time considered deeply ominous. She muttered her placatory charm, and tottered back into her cavern, where, amidst her herbs and incantations, she prepared to execute the orders of the Egyptian.
‘He called me dotard,’ said she, as the smoke curled from the hissing cauldron: ‘when the jaws drop, and the grinders fall, and the heart scarce beats, it is a pitiable thing to dote; but when,’ she added, with a savage and exulting grin, ‘the young, and the beautiful, and the strong, are suddenly smitten into idiocy — ah, that is terrible! Burn, flame — simmer herb — swelter toad — I cursed him, and he shall be cursed!’
On that night, and at the same hour which witnessed the dark and unholy interview between Arbaces and the Saga, Apaecides was baptized.
‘AND you have the courage then, Julia, to seek the Witch of Vesuvius this evening; in company, too, with that fearful man?’
‘Why, Nydia?’ replied Julia, timidly; ‘dost thou really think there is anything to dread? These old hags, with their enchanted mirrors, their trembling sieves, and their moon-gathered herbs, are, I imagine, but crafty impostors, who have learned, perhaps, nothing but the very charm for which I apply to their skill, and which is drawn but from the knowledge of the field’s herbs and simples. Wherefore should I dread?’
‘Dost thou not fear thy companion?’
‘What, Arbaces? By Dian, I never saw lover more courteous than that same magician! And were he not so dark, he would be even handsome.’
Blind as she was, Nydia had the penetration to perceive that Julia’s mind was not one that the gallantries of Arbaces were likely to terrify. She therefore dissuaded her no more: but nursed in her excited heart the wild and increasing desire to know if sorcery had indeed a spell to fascinate love to love.
‘Let me go with thee, noble Julia,’ said she at length; ‘my presence is no protection, but I should like to be beside thee to the last.’
‘Thine offer pleases me much,’ replied the daughter of Diomed. ‘Yet how canst thou contrive it? we may not return until late, they will miss thee.’
‘Ione is indulgent,’ replied Nydia. ‘If thou wilt permit me to sleep beneath thy roof, I will say that thou, an early patroness and friend, hast invited me to pass the day with thee, and sing thee my Thessalian songs; her courtesy will readily grant to thee so light a boon.’
‘Nay, ask for thyself!’ said the haughty Julia. ‘I stoop to request no favor from the Neapolitan!’
‘Well, be it so. I will take my leave now; make my request, which I know will be readily granted, and return shortly.’
‘Do so; and thy bed shall be prepared in my own chamber.’ With that, Nydia left the fair Pompeian.
On her way back to Ione she was met by the chariot of Glaucus, on whose fiery and curveting steeds was riveted the gaze of the crowded street.
He kindly stopped for a moment to speak to the flower-girl.
‘Blooming as thine own roses, my gentle Nydia! and how is thy fair mistress? — recovered, I trust, from the effects of the storm?’
‘I have not seen her this morning,’ answered Nydia, ‘but . . . ’
‘But what? draw back — the horses are too near thee.’
‘But think you Ione will permit me to pass the day with Julia, the daughter of Diomed? — She wishes it, and was kind to me when I had few friends.’
‘The gods bless thy grateful heart! I will answer for Ione’s permission.’
‘Then I may stay over the night, and return tomorrow?’ said Nydia, shrinking from the praise she so little merited.
‘As thou and fair Julia please. Commend me to her; and hark ye, Nydia, when thou hearest her speak, note the contrast of her voice with that of the silver-toned Ione. Vale!’
His spirits entirely recovered from the effect of the past night, his locks waving in the wind, his joyous and elastic heart bounding with every spring of his Parthian steeds, a very prototype of his country’s god, full of youth and of love — Glaucus was borne rapidly to his mistress.
Enjoy while ye may the present — who can read the future?
As the evening darkened, Julia, reclined within her litter, which was capacious enough also to admit her blind companion, took her way to the rural baths indicated by Arbaces. To her natural levity of disposition, her enterprise brought less of terror than of pleasurable excitement; above all, she glowed at the thought of her coming triumph over the hated Neapolitan.
A small but gay group was collected round the door of the villa, as her litter passed by it to the private entrance of the baths appropriated to the women.
‘Methinks, by this dim light,’ said one of the bystanders, ‘I recognize the slaves of Diomed.’
‘True, Clodius,’ said Sallust: ‘it is probably the litter of his daughter Julia. She is rich, my friend; why dost thou not proffer thy suit to her?’
‘Why, I had once hoped that Glaucus would have married her. She does not disguise her attachment; and then, as he gambles freely and with ill-success . . . ’
‘The sesterces would have passed to thee, wise Clodius. A wife is a good thing — when it belongs to another man!’
‘But,’ continued Clodius, ‘as Glaucus is, I understand, to wed the Neapolitan, I think I must even try my chance with the dejected maid. After all, the lamp of Hymen will be gilt, and the vessel will reconcile one to the odor of the flame. I shall only protest, my Sallust, against Diomed’s making thee trustee to his daughter’s fortune.’
‘Ha! ha! let us within, my comissator; the wine and the garlands wait us.’
Dismissing her slaves to that part of the house set apart for their entertainment, Julia entered the baths with Nydia, and declining the offers of the attendants, passed by a private door into the garden behind.
‘She comes by appointment, be sure,’ said one of the slaves.
‘What is that to thee?’ said a superintendent, sourly; ‘she pays for the baths, and does not waste the saffron. Such appointments are the best part of the trade. Hark! do you not hear the widow Fulvia clapping her hands? Run, fool — run!’
Julia and Nydia, avoiding the more public part of the garden, arrived at the place specified by the Egyptian. In a small circular plot of grass the stars gleamed upon the statue of Silenus — the merry god reclined upon a fragment of rock — the lynx of Bacchus at his feet — and over his mouth he held, with extended arm, a bunch of grapes, which he seemingly laughed to welcome ere he devoured.
‘I see not the magician,’ said Julia, looking round: when, as she spoke, the Egyptian slowly emerged from the neighboring foliage, and the light fell palely over his sweeping robes.
‘Salve, sweet maiden! — But ha! whom hast thou here? we must have no companions!’
‘It is but the blind flower-girl, wise magician,’ replied Julia: ‘herself a Thessalian.’
‘Oh! Nydia!’ said the Egyptian. ‘I know her well.’
Nydia drew back and shuddered.
‘Thou hast been at my house, methinks!’ said he, approaching his voice to Nydia’s ear; ‘thou knowest the oath! — Silence and secrecy, now as then, or beware!’
‘Yet,’ he added, musingly to himself, ‘why confide more than is necessary, even in the blind — Julia, canst thou trust thyself alone with me? Believe me, the magician is less formidable than he seems.’
As he spoke, he gently drew Julia aside.
‘The witch loves not many visitors at once,’ said he: ‘leave Nydia here till your return; she can be of no assistance to us: and, for protection — your own beauty suffices — your own beauty and your own rank; yes, Julia, I know thy name and birth. Come, trust thyself with me, fair rival of the youngest of the Naiads!’
The vain Julia was not, as we have seen, easily affrighted; she was moved by the flattery of Arbaces, and she readily consented to suffer Nydia to await her return; nor did Nydia press her presence. At the sound of the Egyptian’s voice all her terror of him returned: she felt a sentiment of pleasure at learning she was not to travel in his companionship.
She returned to the Bath-house, and in one of the private chambers waited their return. Many and bitter were the thoughts of this wild girl as she sat there in her eternal darkness. She thought of her own desolate fate, far from her native land, far from the bland cares that once assuaged the April sorrows of childhood — deprived of the light of day, with none but strangers to guide her steps, accursed by the one soft feeling of her heart, loving and without hope, save the dim and unholy ray which shot across her mind, as her Thessalian fancies questioned of the force of spells and the gifts of magic.
Nature had sown in the heart of this poor girl the seeds of virtue never destined to ripen. The lessons of adversity are not always salutary — sometimes they soften and amend, but as often they indurate and pervert. If we consider ourselves more harshly treated by fate than those around us, and do not acknowledge in our own deeds the justice of the severity, we become too apt to deem the world our enemy, to case ourselves in defiance, to wrestle against our softer self, and to indulge the darker passions which are so easily fermented by the sense of injustice. Sold early into slavery, sentenced to a sordid taskmaster, exchanging her situation, only yet more to embitter her lot — the kindlier feelings, naturally profuse in the breast of Nydia, were nipped and blighted. Her sense of right and wrong was confused by a passion to which she had so madly surrendered herself; and the same intense and tragic emotions which we read of in the women of the classic age — a Myrrha, a Medea — and which hurried and swept away the whole soul when once delivered to love — ruled, and rioted in, her breast.
Time passed: a light step entered the chamber where Nydia yet indulged her gloomy meditations.
‘Oh, thanked be the immortal gods!’ said Julia, ‘I have returned, I have left that terrible cavern! Come, Nydia! let us away forthwith!’
It was not till they were seated in the litter that Julia again spoke.
‘Oh!’ said she, tremblingly, ‘such a scene! such fearful incantations! and the dead face of the hag! — But, let us talk not of it. I have obtained the potion — she pledges its effect. My rival shall be suddenly indifferent to his eye, and I, I alone, the idol of Glaucus!’
‘Glaucus!’ exclaimed Nydia.
‘Ay! I told thee, girl, at first, that it was not the Athenian whom I loved: but I see now that I may trust thee wholly — it is the beautiful Greek!’
What then were Nydia’s emotions! she had connived, she had assisted, in tearing Glaucus from Ione; but only to transfer, by all the power of magic, his affections yet more hopelessly to another. Her heart swelled almost to suffocation — she gasped for breath — in the darkness of the vehicle, Julia did not perceive the agitation of her companion; she went on rapidly dilating on the promised effect of her acquisition, and on her approaching triumph over Ione, every now and then abruptly digressing to the horror of the scene she had quitted — the unmoved mien of Arbaces, and his authority over the dreadful Saga.
Meanwhile Nydia recovered her self-possession: a thought flashed across her: she slept in the chamber of Julia — she might possess herself of the potion.
They arrived at the house of Diomed, and descended to Julia’s apartment, where the night’s repast awaited them.
‘Drink, Nydia, thou must be cold, the air was chill to-night; as for me, my veins are yet ice.’
And Julia unhesitatingly quaffed deep draughts of the spiced wine.
‘Thou hast the potion,’ said Nydia; ‘let me hold it in my hands. How small the phial is! of what color is the draught?’
‘Clear as crystal,’ replied Julia, as she retook the philtre; ‘thou couldst not tell it from this water. The witch assures me it is tasteless. Small though the phial, it suffices for a life’s fidelity: it is to be poured into any liquid; and Glaucus will only know what he has quaffed by the effect.’
‘Exactly like this water in appearance?’
‘Yes, sparkling and colorless as this. How bright it seems! it is as the very essence of moonlit dews. Bright thing! how thou shinest on my hopes through thy crystal vase!’
‘And how is it sealed?’
‘But by one little stopper — I withdraw it now — the draught gives no odor. Strange, that that which speaks to neither sense should thus command all!’
‘Is the effect instantaneous?’
‘Usually — but sometimes it remains dormant for a few hours.’
‘Oh, how sweet is this perfume!’ said Nydia, suddenly, as she took up a small bottle on the table, and bent over its fragrant contents.
‘Thinkest thou so? the bottle is set with gems of some value. Thou wouldst not have the bracelet yestermorn — wilt thou take the bottle?’
‘It ought to be such perfumes as these that should remind one who cannot see of the generous Julia. If the bottle be not too costly . . . ’
‘Oh! I have a thousand costlier ones: take it, child!’
Nydia bowed her gratitude, and placed the bottle in her vest.
‘And the draught would be equally efficacious, whoever administers it?’
‘If the most hideous hag beneath the sun bestowed it, such is its asserted virtue that Glaucus would deem her beautiful, and none but her!’
Julia, warmed by wine, and the reaction of her spirits, was now all animation and delight; she laughed loud, and talked on a hundred matters — nor was it till the night had advanced far towards morning that she summoned her slaves and undressed.
When they were dismissed, she said to Nydia, ‘I will not suffer this holy draught to quit my presence till the hour comes for its use. Lie under my pillow, bright spirit, and give me happy dreams!’
So saying, she placed the potion under her pillow. Nydia’s heart beat violently.
‘Why dost thou drink that unmixed water, Nydia? Take the wine by its side.’
‘I am fevered,’ replied the blind girl, ‘and the water cools me. I will place this bottle by my bedside, it refreshes in these summer nights, when the dews of sleep fall not on our lips. Fair Julia, I must leave thee very early — so Ione bids — perhaps before thou art awake; accept, therefore, now my congratulations.’
‘Thanks: when next we meet you may find Glaucus at my feet.’
They had retired to their couches, and Julia, worn out by the excitement of the day, soon slept. But anxious and burning thoughts rolled over the mind of the wakeful Thessalian. She listened to the calm breathing of Julia; and her ear, accustomed to the finest distinctions of sound, speedily assured her of the deep slumber of her companion.
‘Now befriend me, Venus!’ said she, softly.
She rose gently, and poured the perfume from the gift of Julia upon the marble floor — she rinsed it several times carefully with the water that was beside her, and then easily finding the bed of Julia (for night to her was as day), she pressed her trembling hand under the pillow and seized the potion. Julia stirred not, her breath regularly fanned the burning cheek of the blind girl. Nydia, then, opening the phial, poured its contents into the bottle, which easily contained them; and then refilling the former reservoir of the potion with that limpid water which Julia had assured her it so resembled, she once more placed the phial in its former place. She then stole again to her couch, and waited — with what thoughts! — the dawning day.
The sun had risen — Julia slept still — Nydia noiselessly dressed herself, placed her treasure carefully in her vest, took up her staff, and hastened to quit the house.
The porter, Medon, saluted her kindly as she descended the steps that led to the street: she heard him not; her mind was confused and lost in the whirl of tumultuous thoughts, each thought a passion. She felt the pure morning air upon her cheek, but it cooled not her scorching veins.
‘Glaucus,’ she murmured, ‘all the love-charms of the wildest magic could not make thee love me as I love thee. Ione! — ah; away hesitation! away remorse! Glaucus, my fate is in thy smile; and thine! hope! O joy! O transport, thy fate is in these hands!’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48