WHOEVER regards the early history of Christianity, will perceive how necessary to its triumph was that fierce spirit of zeal, which, fearing no danger, accepting no compromise, inspired its champions and sustained its martyrs. In a dominant Church the genius of intolerance betrays its cause — in a weak and persecuted Church, the same genius mainly supports. It was necessary to scorn, to loathe, to abhor the creeds of other men, in order to conquer the temptations which they presented — it was necessary rigidly to believe not only that the Gospel was the true faith, but the sole true faith that saved, in order to nerve the disciple to the austerity of its doctrine, and to encourage him to the sacred and perilous chivalry of converting the Polytheist and the Heathen. The sectarian sternness which confined virtue and heaven to a chosen few, which saw demons in other gods, and the penalties of hell in other religions — made the believer naturally anxious to convert all to whom he felt the ties of human affection; and the circle thus traced by benevolence to man was yet more widened by a desire for the glory of God. It was for the honour of the Christian faith that the Christian boldly forced its tenets upon the scepticism of some, the repugnance of others, the sage contempt of the philosopher, the pious shudder of the people — his very intolerance supplied him with his fittest instruments of success; and the soft Heathen began at last to imagine there must indeed be something holy in a zeal wholly foreign to his experience, which stopped at no obstacle, dreaded no danger, and even at the torture, or on the scaffold, referred a dispute far other than the calm differences of speculative philosophy to the tribunal of an Eternal Judge. It was thus that the same fervor which made the Churchman of the middle age a bigot without mercy, made the Christian of the early days a hero without fear.
Of these more fiery, daring, and earnest natures, not the least ardent was Olinthus. No sooner had Apaecides been received by the rites of baptism into the bosom of the Church, than the Nazarene hastened to make him conscious of the impossibility to retain the office and robes of priesthood. He could not, it was evident, profess to worship God, and continue even outwardly to honour the idolatrous altars of the Fiend.
Nor was this all, the sanguine and impetuous mind of Olinthus beheld in the power of Apaecides the means of divulging to the deluded people the juggling mysteries of the oracular Isis. He thought Heaven had sent this instrument of his design in order to disabuse the eyes of the crowd, and prepare the way, perchance, for the conversion of a whole city. He did not hesitate then to appeal to all the new-kindled enthusiasm of Apaecides, to arouse his courage, and to stimulate his zeal. They met, according to previous agreement, the evening after the baptism of Apaecides, in the grove of Cybele, which we have before described.
‘At the next solemn consultation of the oracle,’ said Olinthus, as he proceeded in the warmth of his address, ‘advance yourself to the railing, proclaim aloud to the people the deception they endure, invite them to enter, to be themselves the witness of the gross but artful mechanism of imposture thou hast described to me. Fear not — the Lord, who protected Daniel, shall protect thee; we, the community of Christians, will be amongst the crowd; we will urge on the shrinking: and in the first flush of the popular indignation and shame, I myself, upon those very altars, will plant the palm-branch typical of the Gospel — and to my tongue shall descend the rushing Spirit of the living God.’
Heated and excited as he was, this suggestion was not unpleasing to Apaecides. He was rejoiced at so early an opportunity of distinguishing his faith in his new sect, and to his holier feelings were added those of a vindictive loathing at the imposition he had himself suffered, and a desire to avenge it. In that sanguine and elastic overbound of obstacles (the rashness necessary to all who undertake venturous and lofty actions), neither Olinthus nor the proselyte perceived the impediments to the success of their scheme, which might be found in the reverent superstition of the people themselves, who would probably be loth, before the sacred altars of the great Egyptian goddess, to believe even the testimony of her priest against her power.
Apaecides then assented to this proposal with a readiness which delighted Olinthus. They parted with the understanding that Olinthus should confer with the more important of his Christian brethren on his great enterprise, should receive their advice and the assurances of their support on the eventful day. It so chanced that one of the festivals of Isis was to be held on the second day after this conference. The festival proffered a ready occasion for the design. They appointed to meet once more on the next evening at the same spot; and in that meeting were finally to be settled the order and details of the disclosure for the following day.
It happened that the latter part of this conference had been held near the sacellum, or small chapel, which I have described in the early part of this work; and so soon as the forms of the Christian and the priest had disappeared from the grove, a dark and ungainly figure emerged from behind the chapel.
‘I have tracked you with some effect, my brother flamen,’ soliloquised the eavesdropper; ‘you, the priest of Isis, have not for mere idle discussion conferred with this gloomy Christian. Alas! that I could not hear all your precious plot: enough! I find, at least, that you meditate revealing the sacred mysteries, and that tomorrow you meet again at this place to plan the how and the when. May Osiris sharpen my ears then, to detect the whole of your unheard-of audacity! When I have learned more, I must confer at once with Arbaces. We will frustrate you, my friends, deep as you think yourselves. At present, my breast is a locked treasury of your secret.’
Thus muttering, Calenus, for it was he, wrapped his robe round him, and strode thoughtfully homeward.
IT was then the day for Diomed’s banquet to the most select of his friends. The graceful Glaucus, the beautiful Ione, the official Pansa, the high-born Clodius, the immortal Fulvius, the exquisite Lepidus, the epicurean Sallust, were not the only honourers of his festival. He expected, also, an invalid senator from Rome (a man of considerable repute and favor at court), and a great warrior from Herculaneum, who had fought with Titus against the Jews, and having enriched himself prodigiously in the wars, was always told by his friends that his country was eternally indebted to his disinterested exertions! The party, however, extended to a yet greater number: for although, critically speaking, it was, at one time, thought inelegant among the Romans to entertain less than three or more than nine at their banquets, yet this rule was easily disregarded by the ostentatious. And we are told, indeed, in history, that one of the most splendid of these entertainers usually feasted a select party of three hundred. Diomed, however, more modest, contented himself with doubling the number of the Muses. His party consisted of eighteen, no unfashionable number in the present day.
It was the morning of Diomed’s banquet; and Diomed himself, though he greatly affected the gentleman and the scholar, retained enough of his mercantile experience to know that a master’s eye makes a ready servant. Accordingly, with his tunic ungirdled on his portly stomach, his easy slippers on his feet, a small wand in his hand, wherewith he now directed the gaze, and now corrected the back, of some duller menial, he went from chamber to chamber of his costly villa.
He did not disdain even a visit to that sacred apartment in which the priests of the festival prepare their offerings. On entering the kitchen, his ears were agreeably stunned by the noise of dishes and pans, of oaths and commands. Small as this indispensable chamber seems to have been in all the houses of Pompeii, it was, nevertheless, usually fitted up with all that amazing variety of stoves and shapes, stew-pans and saucepans, cutters and moulds, without which a cook of spirit, no matter whether he be an ancient or a modern, declares it utterly impossible that he can give you anything to eat. And as fuel was then, as now, dear and scarce in those regions, great seems to have been the dexterity exercised in preparing as many things as possible with as little fire. An admirable contrivance of this nature may be still seen in the Neapolitan Museum, viz., a portable kitchen, about the size of a folio volume, containing stoves for four dishes, and an apparatus for heating water or other beverages.
Across the small kitchen flitted many forms which the quick eye of the master did not recognize.
‘Oh! oh!’ grumbled he to himself, ‘that cursed Congrio hath invited a whole legion of cooks to assist him. They won’t serve for nothing, and this is another item in the total of my day’s expenses. By Bacchus! thrice lucky shall I be if the slaves do not help themselves to some of the drinking vessels: ready, alas, are their hands, capacious are their tunics. Me miserum!’
The cooks, however, worked on, seemingly heedless of the apparition of Diomed.
‘Ho, Euclio, your egg-pan! What, is this the largest? it only holds thirty-three eggs: in the houses I usually serve, the smallest egg-pan holds fifty, if need be!’
‘The unconscionable rogue!’ thought Diomed; ‘he talks of eggs as if they were a sesterce a hundred!’
‘By Mercury!’ cried a pert little culinary disciple, scarce in his novitiate; ‘whoever saw such antique sweetmeat shapes as these? — It is impossible to do credit to one’s art with such rude materials. Why, Sallust’s commonest sweetmeat shape represents the whole siege of Troy; Hector and Paris, and Helen . . . with little Astyanax and the Wooden Horse into the bargain!’
‘Silence, fool!’ said Congrio, the cook of the house, who seemed to leave the chief part of the battle to his allies. ‘My master, Diomed, is not one of those expensive good-for-noughts, who must have the last fashion, cost what it will!’
‘Thou liest, base slave!’ cried Diomed, in a great passion — and thou costest me already enough to have ruined Lucullus himself! Come out of thy den, I want to talk to thee.’
The slave, with a sly wink at his confederates, obeyed the command.
‘Man of three letters,’ said Diomed, with his face of solemn anger, ‘how didst thou dare to invite all those rascals into my house? — I see thief written in every line of their faces.’
‘Yet, I assure you, master, that they are men of most respectable character — the best cooks of the place; it is a great favor to get them. But for my sake . . . ’
‘Thy sake, unhappy Congrio!’ interrupted Diomed; and by what purloined moneys of mine, by what reserved filchings from marketing, by what goodly meats converted into grease, and sold in the suburbs, by what false charges for bronzes marred, and earthenware broken — hast thou been enabled to make them serve thee for thy sake?’
‘Nay, master, do not impeach my honesty! May the gods desert me if . . . ’
‘Swear not!’ again interrupted the choleric Diomed, ‘for then the gods will smite thee for a perjurer, and I shall lose my cook on the eve of dinner. But, enough of this at present: keep a sharp eye on thy ill-favored assistants, and tell me no tales tomorrow of vases broken, and cups miraculously vanished, or thy whole back shall be one pain. And hark thee! thou knowest thou hast made me pay for those Phrygian attagens enough, by Hercules, to have feasted a sober man for a year together — see that they be not one iota over-roasted. The last time, O Congrio, that I gave a banquet to my friends, when thy vanity did so boldly undertake the becoming appearance of a Melian crane — thou knowest it came up like a stone from AEtna — as if all the fires of Phlegethon had been scorching out its juices. Be modest this time, Congrio — wary and modest. Modesty is the nurse of great actions; and in all other things, as in this, if thou wilt not spare thy master’s purse, at least consult thy master’s glory.’
‘There shall not be such a coena seen at Pompeii since the days of Hercules.’
‘Softly, softly — thy cursed boasting again! But I say, Congrio, yon homunculus — yon pigmy assailant of my cranes — yon pert-tongued neophyte of the kitchen, was there aught but insolence on his tongue when he maligned the comeliness of my sweetmeat shapes? I would not be out of the fashion, Congrio.’
‘It is but the custom of us cooks,’ replied Congrio, gravely, to undervalue our tools, in order to increase the effect of our art. The sweetmeat shape is a fair shape, and a lovely; but I would recommend my master, at the first occasion, to purchase some new ones of a . . . ’
‘That will suffice,’ exclaimed Diomed, who seemed resolved never to allow his slave to finish his sentences. ‘Now, resume thy charge — shine —— eclipse thyself. Let men envy Diomed his cook — let the slaves of Pompeii style thee Congrio the great! Go! yet stay — thou hast not spent all the moneys I gave thee for the marketing?’ ‘“All!” alas! the nightingales’ tongues and the Roman tomacula, and the oysters from Britain, and sundry other things, too numerous now to recite, are yet left unpaid for. But what matter? every one trusts the Archimagirus of Diomed the wealthy!’
‘Oh, unconscionable prodigal! — what waste! — what profusion! — I am ruined! But go, hasten — inspect! — taste! — perform! — surpass thyself! Let the Roman senator not despise the poor Pompeian. Away, slave — and remember, the Phrygian attagens.’
The chief disappeared within his natural domain, and Diomed rolled back his portly presence to the more courtly chambers. All was to his liking — the flowers were fresh, the fountains played briskly, the mosaic pavements were as smooth as mirrors.
‘Where is my daughter Julia?’ he asked.
‘At the bath.’
‘Ah! that reminds me! — time wanes! — and I must bathe also.’
Our story returns to Apaecides. On awaking that day from the broken and feverish sleep which had followed his adoption of a faith so strikingly and sternly at variance with that in which his youth had been nurtured, the young priest could scarcely imagine that he was not yet in a dream; he had crossed the fatal river — the past was henceforth to have no sympathy with the future; the two worlds were distinct and separate — that which had been, from that which was to be. To what a bold and adventurous enterprise he had pledged his life! — to unveil the mysteries in which he had participated — to desecrate the altars he had served — to denounce the goddess whose ministering robe he wore! Slowly he became sensible of the hatred and the horror he should provoke amongst the pious, even if successful; if frustrated in his daring attempt, what penalties might he not incur for an offence hitherto unheard of — for which no specific law, derived from experience, was prepared; and which, for that very reason, precedents, dragged from the sharpest armoury of obsolete and inapplicable legislation, would probably be distorted to meet! His friends — the sister of his youth — could he expect justice, though he might receive compassion, from them? This brave and heroic act would by their heathen eyes be regarded, perhaps, as a heinous apostasy — at the best as a pitiable madness.
He dared, he renounced, everything in this world, in the hope of securing that eternity in the next, which had so suddenly been revealed to him. While these thoughts on the one hand invaded his breast, on the other hand his pride, his courage, and his virtue, mingled with reminiscences of revenge for deceit, of indignant disgust at fraud, conspired to raise and to support him.
The conflict was sharp and keen; but his new feelings triumphed over his old: and a mighty argument in favor of wrestling with the sanctities of old opinions and hereditary forms might be found in the conquest over both, achieved by that humble priest. Had the early Christians been more controlled by ‘the solemn plausibilities of custom’— less of democrats in the pure and lofty acceptation of that perverted word — Christianity would have perished in its cradle!
As each priest in succession slept several nights together in the chambers of the temple, the term imposed on Apaecides was not yet completed; and when he had risen from his couch, attired himself, as usual, in his robes, and left his narrow chamber, he found himself before the altars of the temple.
In the exhaustion of his late emotions he had slept far into the morning, and the vertical sun already poured its fervid beams over the sacred place.
‘Salve, Apaecides!’ said a voice, whose natural asperity was smoothed by long artifice into an almost displeasing softness of tone. ‘Thou art late abroad; has the goddess revealed herself to thee in visions?’
‘Could she reveal her true self to the people, Calenus, how incenseless would be these altars!’
‘That,’ replied Calenus, ‘may possibly be true; but the deity is wise enough to hold commune with none but priests.’
‘A time may come when she will be unveiled without her own acquiescence.’
‘It is not likely: she has triumphed for countless ages. And that which has so long stood the test of time rarely succumbs to the lust of novelty. But hark ye, young brother! these sayings are indiscreet.’
‘It is not for thee to silence them,’ replied Apaecides, haughtily.
‘So hot! — yet I will not quarrel with thee. Why, my Apaecides, has not the Egyptian convinced thee of the necessity of our dwelling together in unity? Has he not convinced thee of the wisdom of deluding the people and enjoying ourselves? If not, oh, brother! he is not that great magician he is esteemed.’
‘Thou, then, hast shared his lessons?’ said Apaecides, with a hollow smile.
‘Ay! but I stood less in need of them than thou. Nature had already gifted me with the love of pleasure, and the desire of gain and power. Long is the way that leads the voluptuary to the severities of life; but it is only one step from pleasant sin to sheltering hypocrisy. Beware the vengeance of the goddess, if the shortness of that step be disclosed!’
‘Beware, thou, the hour when the tomb shall be rent and the rottenness exposed,’ returned Apaecides, solemnly. ‘Vale!’
With these words he left the flamen to his meditations. When he got a few paces from the temple, he turned to look back. Calenus had already disappeared in the entry room of the priests, for it now approached the hour of that repast which, called prandium by the ancients, answers in point of date to the breakfast of the moderns. The white and graceful fane gleamed brightly in the sun. Upon the altars before it rose the incense and bloomed the garlands. The priest gazed long and wistfully upon the scene — it was the last time that it was ever beheld by him!
He then turned and pursued his way slowly towards the house of Ione; for before possibly the last tie that united them was cut in twain — before the uncertain peril of the next day was incurred, he was anxious to see his last surviving relative, his fondest as his earliest friend.
He arrived at her house, and found her in the garden with Nydia.
‘This is kind, Apaecides,’ said Ione, joyfully; ‘and how eagerly have I wished to see thee! — what thanks do I not owe thee? How churlish hast thou been to answer none of my letters — to abstain from coming hither to receive the expressions of my gratitude! Oh! thou hast assisted to preserve thy sister from dishonour! What, what can she say to thank thee, now thou art come at last?’
‘My sweet Ione, thou owest me no gratitude, for thy cause was mine. Let us avoid that subject, let us recur not to that impious man — how hateful to both of us! I may have a speedy opportunity to teach the world the nature of his pretended wisdom and hypocritical severity. But let us sit down, my sister; I am wearied with the heat of the sun; let us sit in yonder shade, and, for a little while longer, be to each other what we have been.’
Beneath a wide plane-tree, with the cistus and the arbutus clustering round them, the living fountain before, the greensward beneath their feet; the gay cicada, once so dear to Athens, rising merrily ever and anon amidst the grass; the butterfly, beautiful emblem of the soul, dedicated to Psyche, and which has continued to furnish illustrations to the Christian bard, rich in the glowing colors caught from Sicilian skies, hovering about the sunny flowers, itself like a winged flower — in this spot, and this scene, the brother and the sister sat together for the last time on earth. You may tread now on the same place; but the garden is no more, the columns are shattered, the fountain has ceased to play. Let the traveler search amongst the ruins of Pompeii for the house of Ione. Its remains are yet visible; but I will not betray them to the gaze of commonplace tourists. He who is more sensitive than the herd will discover them easily: when he has done so, let him keep the secret.
They sat down, and Nydia, glad to be alone, retired to the farther end of the garden.
‘Ione, my sister,’ said the young convert, ‘place your hand upon my brow; let me feel your cool touch. Speak to me, too, for your gentle voice is like a breeze that hath freshness as well as music. Speak to me, but forbear to bless me! Utter not one word of those forms of speech which our childhood was taught to consider sacred!’
‘Alas! and what then shall I say? Our language of affection is so woven with that of worship, that the words grow chilled and trite if I banish from them allusion to our gods.’
‘Our gods!’ murmured Apaecides, with a shudder: ‘thou slightest my request already.’
‘Shall I speak then to thee only of Isis?’
‘The Evil Spirit! No, rather be dumb for ever, unless at least thou canst — but away, away this talk! Not now will we dispute and cavil; not now will we judge harshly of each other. Thou, regarding me as an apostate! and I all sorrow and shame for thee as an idolater. No, my sister, let us avoid such topics and such thoughts. In thy sweet presence a calm falls over my spirit. For a little while I forget. As I thus lay my temples on thy bosom, as I thus feel thy gentle arm embrace me, I think that we are children once more, and that the heaven smiles equally upon both. For oh! if hereafter I escape, no matter what peril; and it be permitted me to address thee on one sacred and awful subject; should I find thine ear closed and thy heart hardened, what hope for myself could countervail the despair for thee? In thee, my sister, I behold a likeness made beautiful, made noble, of myself. Shall the mirror live for ever, and the form itself be broken as the potter’s clay? Ah, no — no — thou wilt listen to me yet! Dost thou remember how we went into the fields by Baiae, hand in hand together, to pluck the flowers of spring? Even so, hand in hand, shall we enter the Eternal Garden, and crown ourselves with imperishable asphodel!’
Wondering and bewildered by words she could not comprehend, but excited even to tears by the plaintiveness of their tone, Ione listened to these outpourings of a full and oppressed heart. In truth, Apaecides himself was softened much beyond his ordinary mood, which to outward seeming was usually either sullen or impetuous. For the noblest desires are of a jealous nature — they engross, they absorb the soul, and often leave the splenetic humors stagnant and unheeded at the surface. Unheeding the petty things around us, we are deemed morose; impatient at earthly interruption to the diviner dreams, we are thought irritable and churlish. For as there is no chimera vainer than the hope that one human heart shall find sympathy in another, so none ever interpret us with justice; and none, no, not our nearest and our dearest ties, forbear with us in mercy! When we are dead and repentance comes too late, both friend and foe may wonder to think how little there was in us to forgive!
‘I will talk to thee then of our early years,’ said Ione. ‘Shall yon blind girl sing to thee of the days of childhood? Her voice is sweet and musical, and she hath a song on that theme which contains none of those allusions it pains thee to hear.’
‘Dost thou remember the words, my sister?’ asked Apaecides.
‘Methinks yes; for the tune, which is simple, fixed them on my memory.’
‘Sing to me then thyself. My ear is not in unison with unfamiliar voices; and thine, Ione, full of household associations, has ever been to me more sweet than all the hireling melodies of Lycia or of Crete. Sing to me!’
Ione beckoned to a slave that stood in the portico, and sending for her lute, sang, when it arrived, to a tender and simple air, the following verses:—
It is not that our earlier Heaven
Escapes its April showers,
Or that to childhood’s heart is given
No snake amidst the flowers.
Ah! twined with grief
Each brightest leaf,
That’s wreath’d us by the Hours!
Young though we be, the Past may sting,
The present feed its sorrow;
But hope shines bright on every thing
That waits us with the morrow.
Like sun-lit glades,
The dimmest shades
Some rosy beam can borrow.
It is not that our later years
Of cares are woven wholly,
But smiles less swiftly chase the tears,
And wounds are healed more slowly.
And Memory’s vow
To lost ones now,
Makes joys too bright, unholy.
And ever fled the Iris bow
That smiled when clouds were o’er us.
If storms should burst, uncheered we go,
A drearier waste before us —
And with the toys
Of childish joys,
We’ve broke the staff that bore us!
Wisely and delicately had Ione chosen that song, sad though its burthen seemed; for when we are deeply mournful, discordant above all others is the voice of mirth: the fittest spell is that borrowed from melancholy itself, for dark thoughts can be softened down when they cannot be brightened; and so they lose the precise and rigid outline of their truth, and their colors melt into the ideal. As the leech applies in remedy to the internal sore some outward irritation, which, by a gentler wound, draws away the venom of that which is more deadly, thus, in the rankling festers of the mind, our art is to divert to a milder sadness on the surface the pain that gnaweth at the core. And so with Apaecides, yielding to the influence of the silver voice that reminded him of the past, and told but of half the sorrow born to the present, he forgot his more immediate and fiery sources of anxious thought. He spent hours in making Ione alternately sing to, and converse with him; and when he rose to leave her, it was with a calmed and lulled mind.
‘Ione,’ said he, as he pressed her hand, ‘should you hear my name blackened and maligned, will you credit the aspersion?’
‘Never, my brother, never!’
‘Dost thou not imagine, according to thy belief, that the evil-doer is punished hereafter, and the good rewarded?’
‘Can you doubt it?’
‘Dost thou think, then, that he who is truly good should sacrifice every selfish interest in his zeal for virtue?’
‘He who doth so is the equal of the gods.’
‘And thou believest that, according to the purity and courage with which he thus acts, shall be his portion of bliss beyond the grave?’
‘So we are taught to hope.’
‘Kiss me, my sister. One question more. Thou art to be wedded to Glaucus: perchance that marriage may separate us more hopelessly — but not of this speak I now — thou art to be married to Glaucus — dost thou love him? Nay, my sister, answer me by words.’
‘Yes!’ murmured Ione, blushing.
‘Dost thou feel that, for his sake, thou couldst renounce pride, brave dishonour, and incur death? I have heard that when women really love, it is to that excess.’
‘My brother, all this could I do for Glaucus, and feel that it were not a sacrifice. There is no sacrifice to those who love, in what is borne for the one we love.’
‘Enough! shall woman feel thus for man, and man feel less devotion to his God?’
He spoke no more. His whole countenance seemed instinct and inspired with a divine life: his chest swelled proudly; his eyes glowed: on his forehead was writ the majesty of a man who can dare to be noble! He turned to meet the eyes of Ione — earnest, wistful, fearful — he kissed her fondly, strained her warmly to his breast, and in a moment more he had left the house.
Long did Ione remain in the same place, mute and thoughtful. The maidens again and again came to warn her of the deepening noon, and her engagement to Diomed’s banquet. At length she woke from her reverie, and prepared, not with the pride of beauty, but listless and melancholy, for the festival: one thought alone reconciled her to the promised visit — she should meet Glaucus — she could confide to him her alarm and uneasiness for her brother.
MEANWHILE Sallust and Glaucus were slowly strolling towards the house of Diomed. Despite the habits of his life, Sallust was not devoid of many estimable qualities. He would have been an active friend, a useful citizen — in short, an excellent man, if he had not taken it into his head to be a philosopher. Brought up in the schools in which Roman plagiarism worshipped the echo of Grecian wisdom, he had imbued himself with those doctrines by which the later Epicureans corrupted the simple maxims of their great master. He gave himself altogether up to pleasure, and imagined there was no sage like a boon companion. Still, however, he had a considerable degree of learning, wit, and good nature; and the hearty frankness of his very vices seemed like virtue itself beside the utter corruption of Clodius and the prostrate effeminacy of Lepidus; and therefore Glaucus liked him the best of his companions; and he, in turn, appreciating the nobler qualities of the Athenian, loved him almost as much as a cold muraena, or a bowl of the best Falernian.
‘This is a vulgar old fellow, this Diomed,’ said Sallust: ‘but he has some good qualities — in his cellar!’
‘And some charming ones — in his daughter.’
‘True, Glaucus: but you are not much moved by them, methinks. I fancy Clodius is desirous to be your successor.’
‘He is welcome. At the banquet of Julia’s beauty, no guest, be sure, is considered a musca.’
‘You are severe: but she has, indeed, something of the Corinthian about her — they will be well matched, after all! What good-natured fellows we are to associate with that gambling good-for-nought.’
‘Pleasure unites strange varieties,’ answered Glaucus. ‘He amuses me . . . ’
‘And flatters — but then he pays himself well! He powders his praise with gold-dust.’
‘You often hint that he plays unfairly — think you so really?’
‘My dear Glaucus, a Roman noble has his dignity to keep up — dignity is very expensive — Clodius must cheat like a scoundrel, in order to live like a gentleman.’
‘Ha ha! — well, of late I have renounced the dice. Ah! Sallust, when I am wedded to Ione, I trust I may yet redeem a youth of follies. We are both born for better things than those in which we sympathize now — born to render our worship in nobler temples than the stye of Epicurus.’
‘Alas!’ returned Sallust, in rather a melancholy tone, ‘what do we know more than this — life is short — beyond the grave all is dark? There is no wisdom like that which says “enjoy”.’
‘By Bacchus! I doubt sometimes if we do enjoy the utmost of which life is capable.’
‘I am a moderate man,’ returned Sallust, ‘and do not ask “the utmost”. We are like malefactors, and intoxicate ourselves with wine and myrrh, as we stand on the brink of death; but, if we did not do so, the abyss would look very disagreeable. I own that I was inclined to be gloomy until I took so heartily to drinking — that is a new life, my Glaucus.’
‘Yes! but it brings us next morning to a new death.’
‘Why, the next morning is unpleasant, I own; but, then, if it were not so, one would never be inclined to read. I study betimes — because, by the gods! I am generally unfit for anything else till noon.’
‘Pshaw! the fate of Pentheus to him who denies Bacchus.’
‘Well, Sallust, with all your faults, you are the best profligate I ever met: and verily, if I were in danger of life, you are the only man in all Italy who would stretch out a finger to save me.’
‘Perhaps I should not, if it were in the middle of supper. But, in truth, we Italians are fearfully selfish.’
‘So are all men who are not free,’ said Glaucus, with a sigh. ‘Freedom alone makes men sacrifice to each other.’
‘Freedom, then, must be a very fatiguing thing to an Epicurean,’ answered Sallust. ‘But here we are at our host’s.’
As Diomed’s villa is one of the most considerable in point of size of any yet discovered at Pompeii, and is, moreover, built much according to the specific instructions for a suburban villa laid down by the Roman architect, it may not be uninteresting briefly to describe the plan of the apartments through which our visitors passed.
They entered, then, by the same small vestibule at which we have before been presented to the aged Medon, and passed at once into a colonnade, technically termed the peristyle; for the main difference between the suburban villa and the town mansion consisted in placing, in the first, the said colonnade in exactly the same place as that which in the town mansion was occupied by the atrium. In the centre of the peristyle was an open court, which contained the impluvium.
From this peristyle descended a staircase to the offices; another narrow passage on the opposite side communicated with a garden; various small apartments surrounded the colonnade, appropriated probably to country visitors. Another door to the left on entering communicated with a small triangular portico, which belonged to the baths; and behind was the wardrobe, in which were kept the vests of the holiday suits of the slaves, and, perhaps, of the master. Seventeen centuries afterwards were found those relics of ancient finery calcined and crumbling: kept longer, alas! than their thrifty lord foresaw.
Return we to the peristyle, and endeavor now to present to the reader a coup d’oeil of the whole suite of apartments, which immediately stretched before the steps of the visitors.
Let him then first imagine the columns of the portico, hung with festoons of flowers; the columns themselves in the lower part painted red, and the walls around glowing with various frescoes; then, looking beyond a curtain, three parts drawn aside, the eye caught the tablinum or saloon (which was closed at will by glazed doors, now slid back into the walls). On either side of this tablinum were small rooms, one of which was a kind of cabinet of gems; and these apartments, as well as the tablinum, communicated with a long gallery, which opened at either end upon terraces; and between the terraces, and communicating with the central part of the gallery, was a hall, in which the banquet was that day prepared. All these apartments, though almost on a level with the street, were one story above the garden; and the terraces communicating with the gallery were continued into corridors, raised above the pillars which, to the right and left, skirted the garden below.
Beneath, and on a level with the garden, ran the apartments we have already described as chiefly appropriated to Julia.
In the gallery, then, just mentioned, Diomed received his guests.
The merchant affected greatly the man of letters, and, therefore, he also affected a passion for everything Greek; he paid particular attention to Glaucus.
‘You will see, my friend,’ said he, with a wave of his hand, ‘that I am a little classical here — a little Cecropian — eh? The hall in which we shall sup is borrowed from the Greeks. It is an OEcus Cyzicene. Noble Sallust, they have not, I am told, this sort of apartment in Rome.’
‘Oh!’ replied Sallust, with a half smile; ‘you Pompeians combine all that is most eligible in Greece and in Rome; may you, Diomed, combine the viands as well as the architecture!’
‘You shall see — you shall see, my Sallust,’ replied the merchant. ‘We have a taste at Pompeii, and we have also money.’
‘They are two excellent things,’ replied Sallust. ‘But, behold, the lady Julia!’
The main difference, as I have before remarked, in the manner of life observed among the Athenians and Romans, was, that with the first, the modest women rarely or never took part in entertainments; with the latter, they were the common ornaments of the banquet; but when they were present at the feast, it usually terminated at an early hour.
Magnificently robed in white, interwoven with pearls and threads of gold, the handsome Julia entered the apartment.
Scarcely had she received the salutation of the two guests, ere Pansa and his wife, Lepidus, Clodius, and the Roman senator, entered almost simultaneously; then came the widow Fulvia; then the poet Fulvius, like to the widow in name if in nothing else; the warrior from Herculaneum, accompanied by his umbra, next stalked in; afterwards, the less eminent of the guests. Ione yet tarried.
It was the mode among the courteous ancients to flatter whenever it was in their power: accordingly it was a sign of ill-breeding to seat themselves immediately on entering the house of their host. After performing the salutation, which was usually accomplished by the same cordial shake of the right hand which we ourselves retain, and sometimes, by the yet more familiar embrace, they spent several minutes in surveying the apartment, and admiring the bronzes, the pictures, or the furniture, with which it was adorned — a mode very impolite according to our refined English notions, which place good breeding in indifference. We would not for the world express much admiration of another man’s house, for fear it should be thought we had never seen anything so fine before!
‘A beautiful statue this of Bacchus!’ said the Roman senator.
‘A mere trifle!’ replied Diomed.
‘What charming paintings!’ said Fulvia.
‘Mere trifles!’ answered the owner.
‘Exquisite candelabra!’ cried the warrior.
‘Exquisite!’ echoed his umbra.
‘Trifles! trifles!’ reiterated the merchant.
Meanwhile, Glaucus found himself by one of the windows of the gallery, which communicated with the terraces, and the fair Julia by his side.
‘Is it an Athenian virtue, Glaucus,’ said the merchant’s daughter, ‘to shun those whom we once sought?’
‘Fair Julia — no!’
‘Yet methinks, it is one of the qualities of Glaucus.’
‘Glaucus never shuns a friend!’ replied the Greek, with some emphasis on the last word.
‘May Julia rank among the number of his friends?’
‘It would be an honour to the emperor to find a friend in one so lovely.’
‘You evade my question,’ returned the enamoured Julia. ‘But tell me, is it true that you admire the Neapolitan Ione?’
‘Does not beauty constrain our admiration?’
‘Ah! subtle Greek, still do you fly the meaning of my words. But say, shall Julia be indeed your friend?’
‘If she will so favor me, blessed be the gods! The day in which I am thus honored shall be ever marked in white.’
‘Yet, even while you speak, your eye is resting — your color comes and goes — you move away involuntarily — you are impatient to join Ione!’
For at that moment Ione had entered, and Glaucus had indeed betrayed the emotion noticed by the jealous beauty.
‘Can admiration to one woman make me unworthy the friendship of another? Sanction not so, O Julia the libels of the poets on your sex!’
‘Well, you are right — or I will learn to think so. Glaucus, yet one moment! You are to wed Ione; is it not so?’
‘If the Fates permit, such is my blessed hope.’
‘Accept, then, from me, in token of our new friendship, a present for your bride. Nay, it is the custom of friends, you know, always to present to bride and bridegroom some such little marks of their esteem and favoring wishes.’
‘Julia! I cannot refuse any token of friendship from one like you. I will accept the gift as an omen from Fortune herself.’
‘Then, after the feast, when the guests retire, you will descend with me to my apartment, and receive it from my hands. Remember!’ said Julia, as she joined the wife of Pansa, and left Glaucus to seek Ione.
The widow Fulvia and the spouse of the aedile were engaged in high and grave discussion.
‘O Fulvia! I assure you that the last account from Rome declares that the frizzling mode of dressing the hair is growing antiquated; they only now wear it built up in a tower, like Julia’s, or arranged as a helmet — the Galerian fashion, like mine, you see: it has a fine effect, I think. I assure you, Vespius (Vespius was the name of the Herculaneum hero) admires it greatly.’
‘And nobody wears the hair like yon Neapolitan, in the Greek way.’
‘What, parted in front, with the knot behind? Oh, no; how ridiculous it is! it reminds one of the statue of Diana! Yet this Ione is handsome, eh?’
‘So the men say; but then she is rich: she is to marry the Athenian — I wish her joy. He will not be long faithful, I suspect; those foreigners are very faithless.’
‘Oh, Julia!’ said Fulvia, as the merchant’s daughter joined them; ‘have you seen the tiger yet?’
‘Why, all the ladies have been to see him. He is so handsome!’
‘I hope we shall find some criminal or other for him and the lion,’ replied Julia. ‘Your husband (turning to Pansa’s wife) is not so active as he should be in this matter.’
‘Why, really, the laws are too mild,’ replied the dame of the helmet. ‘There are so few offences to which the punishment of the arena can be awarded; and then, too, the gladiators are growing effeminate! The stoutest bestiarii declare they are willing enough to fight a boar or a bull; but as for a lion or a tiger, they think the game too much in earnest.’
‘They are worthy of a mitre,’ replied Julia, in disdain.
‘Oh! have you seen the new house of Fulvius, the dear poet?’ said Pansa’s wife.
‘No: is it handsome?’
‘Very! — such good taste. But they say, my dear, that he has such improper pictures! He won’t show them to the women: how ill-bred!’
‘Those poets are always odd,’ said the widow. ‘But he is an interesting man; what pretty verses he writes! We improve very much in poetry: it is impossible to read the old stuff now.’
‘I declare I am of your opinion, returned the lady of the helmet. ‘There is so much more force and energy in the modern school.’
The warrior sauntered up to the ladies.
‘It reconciles me to peace,’ said he, ‘when I see such faces.’
‘Oh! you heroes are ever flatterers,’ returned Fulvia, hastening to appropriate the compliment specially to herself.
‘By this chain, which I received from the emperor’s own hand,’ replied the warrior, playing with a short chain which hung round the neck like a collar, instead of descending to the breast, according to the fashion of the peaceful —‘By this chain, you wrong me! I am a blunt man — a soldier should be so.’
‘How do you find the ladies of Pompeii generally?’ said Julia.
‘By Venus, most beautiful! They favor me a little, it is true, and that inclines my eyes to double their charms.’
‘We love a warrior,’ said the wife of Pansa.
‘I see it: by Hercules! it is even disagreeable to be too celebrated in these cities. At Herculaneum they climb the roof of my atrium to catch a glimpse of me through the compluvium; the admiration of one’s citizens is pleasant at first, but burthensome afterwards.’
‘True, true, O Vespius!’ cried the poet, joining the group: ‘I find it so myself.’
‘You!’ said the stately warrior, scanning the small form of the poet with ineffable disdain. ‘In what legion have you served?’
‘You may see my spoils, my exuviae, in the forum itself,’ returned the poet, with a significant glance at the women. ‘I have been among the tent-companions, the contubernales, of the great Mantuan himself.’
‘I know no general from Mantua, said the warrior, gravely. ‘What campaign have you served?’
‘That of Helicon.’
‘I never heard of it.’
‘Nay, Vespius, he does but joke,’ said Julia, laughing.
‘Joke! By Mars, am I a man to be joked!’
‘Yes; Mars himself was in love with the mother of jokes,’ said the poet, a little alarmed. ‘Know, then, O Vespius! that I am the poet Fulvius. It is I who make warriors immortal!’
‘The gods forbid!’ whispered Sallust to Julia. ‘If Vespius were made immortal, what a specimen of tiresome braggadocio would be transmitted to posterity!’
The soldier looked puzzled; when, to the infinite relief of himself and his companions, the signal for the feast was given.
As we have already witnessed at the house of Glaucus the ordinary routine of a Pompeian entertainment, the reader is spared any second detail of the courses, and the manner in which they were introduced.
Diomed, who was rather ceremonious, had appointed a nomenclator, or appointer of places to each guest.
The reader understands that the festive board was composed of three tables; one at the centre, and one at each wing. It was only at the outer side of these tables that the guests reclined; the inner space was left untenanted, for the greater convenience of the waiters or ministri. The extreme corner of one of the wings was appropriated to Julia as the lady of the feast; that next her, to Diomed. At one corner of the centre table was placed the aedile; at the opposite corner, the Roman senator — these were the posts of honour. The other guests were arranged, so that the young (gentleman or lady) should sit next each other, and the more advanced in years be similarly matched. An agreeable provision enough, but one which must often have offended those who wished to be thought still young.
The chair of Ione was next to the couch of Glaucus. The seats were veneered with tortoiseshell, and covered with quilts stuffed with feathers, and ornamented with costly embroideries. The modern ornaments of epergne or plateau were supplied by images of the gods, wrought in bronze, ivory, and silver. The sacred salt-cellar and the familiar Lares were not forgotten. Over the table and the seats a rich canopy was suspended from the ceiling. At each corner of the table were lofty candelabra — for though it was early noon, the room was darkened — while from tripods, placed in different parts of the room, distilled the odor of myrrh and frankincense; and upon the abacus, or sideboard, large vases and various ornaments of silver were ranged, much with the same ostentation (but with more than the same taste) that we find displayed at a modern feast.
The custom of grace was invariably supplied by that of libations to the gods; and Vesta, as queen of the household gods, usually received first that graceful homage.
This ceremony being performed, the slaves showered flowers upon the couches and the floor, and crowned each guest with rosy garlands, intricately woven with ribands, tied by the rind of the linden-tree, and each intermingled with the ivy and the amethyst — supposed preventives against the effect of wine; the wreaths of the women only were exempted from these leaves, for it was not the fashion for them to drink wine in public. It was then that the president Diomed thought it advisable to institute a basileus, or director of the feast — an important office, sometimes chosen by lot; sometimes, as now, by the master of the entertainment.
Diomed was not a little puzzled as to his election. The invalid senator was too grave and too infirm for the proper fulfilment of his duty; the aedile Pansa was adequate enough to the task: but then, to choose the next in official rank to the senator, was an affront to the senator himself. While deliberating between the merits of the others, he caught the mirthful glance of Sallust, and, by a sudden inspiration, named the jovial epicure to the rank of director, or arbiter bibendi.
Sallust received the appointment with becoming humility.
‘I shall be a merciful king,’ said he, ‘to those who drink deep; to a recusant, Minos himself shall be less inexorable. Beware!’
The slaves handed round basins of perfumed water, by which lavation the feast commenced: and now the table groaned under the initiatory course.
The conversation, at first desultory and scattered, allowed Ione and Glaucus to carry on those sweet whispers, which are worth all the eloquence in the world. Julia watched them with flashing eyes.
‘How soon shall her place be mine!’ thought she.
But Clodius, who sat in the centre table, so as to observe well the countenance of Julia, guessed her pique, and resolved to profit by it. He addressed her across the table in set phrases of gallantry; and as he was of high birth and of a showy person, the vain Julia was not so much in love as to be insensible to his attentions.
The slaves, in the interim, were constantly kept upon the alert by the vigilant Sallust, who chased one cup by another with a celerity which seemed as if he were resolved upon exhausting those capacious cellars which the reader may yet see beneath the house of Diomed. The worthy merchant began to repent his choice, as amphora after amphora was pierced and emptied. The slaves, all under the age of manhood (the youngest being about ten years old — it was they who filled the wine — the eldest, some five years older, mingled it with water), seemed to share in the zeal of Sallust; and the face of Diomed began to glow as he watched the provoking complacency with which they seconded the exertions of the king of the feast.
‘Pardon me, O senator!’ said Sallust; ‘I see you flinch; your purple hem cannot save you — drink!’
‘By the gods,’ said the senator, coughing, ‘my lungs are already on fire; you proceed with so miraculous a swiftness, that Phaeton himself was nothing to you. I am infirm, O pleasant Sallust: you must exonerate me.’
‘Not I, by Vesta! I am an impartial monarch — drink.’
The poor senator, compelled by the laws of the table, was forced to comply. Alas! every cup was bringing him nearer and nearer to the Stygian pool.
‘Gently! gently! my king,’ groaned Diomed; ‘we already begin to . . . ’
‘Treason!’ interrupted Sallust; ‘no stern Brutus here! — no interference with royalty!’
‘But our female guests . . . ’
‘Love a toper! Did not Ariadne dote upon Bacchus?’
The feast proceeded; the guests grew more talkative and noisy; the dessert or last course was already on the table; and the slaves bore round water with myrrh and hyssop for the finishing lavation. At the same time, a small circular table that had been placed in the space opposite the guests suddenly, and as by magic, seemed to open in the centre, and cast up a fragrant shower, sprinkling the table and the guests; while as it ceased the awning above them was drawn aside, and the guests perceived that a rope had been stretched across the ceiling, and that one of those nimble dancers for which Pompeii was so celebrated, and whose descendants add so charming a grace to the festivities of Astley’s or Vauxhall, was now treading his airy measures right over their heads.
This apparition, removed but by a cord from one’s pericranium, and indulging the most vehement leaps, apparently with the intention of alighting upon that cerebral region, would probably be regarded with some terror by a party in May Fair; but our Pompeian revellers seemed to behold the spectacle with delighted curiosity, and applauded in proportion as the dancer appeared with the most difficulty to miss falling upon the head of whatever guest he particularly selected to dance above. He paid the senator, indeed, the peculiar compliment of literally falling from the rope, and catching it again with his hand, just as the whole party imagined the skull of the Roman was as much fractured as ever that of the poet whom the eagle took for a tortoise. At length, to the great relief of at least Ione, who had not much accustomed herself to this entertainment, the dancer suddenly paused as a strain of music was heard from without. He danced again still more wildly; the air changed, the dancer paused again; no, it could not dissolve the charm which was supposed to possess him! He represented one who by a strange disorder is compelled to dance, and whom only a certain air of music can cure. At length the musician seemed to hit on the right tune; the dancer gave one leap, swung himself down from the rope, alighted on the floor, and vanished.
One art now yielded to another; and the musicians who were stationed without on the terrace struck up a soft and mellow air, to which were sung the following words, made almost indistinct by the barrier between and the exceeding lowness of the minstrelsy:—
Hark! through these flowers our music sends its greeting
To your loved halls, where Psilas shuns the day;
When the young god his Cretan nymph was meeting
He taught Pan’s rustic pipe this gliding lay:
Soft as the dews of wine
Shed in this banquet hour,
The rich libation of Sound’s stream divine,
O reverent harp, to Aphrodite pour!
Wild rings the trump o’er ranks to glory marching;
Music’s sublimer bursts for war are meet;
But sweet lips murmuring under wreaths o’er-arching,
Find the low whispers like their own most sweet.
Steal, my lull’d music, steal
Like womans’s half-heard tone,
So that whoe’er shall hear, shall think to feel
In thee the voice of lips that love his own.
At the end of that song Ione’s cheek blushed more deeply than before, and Glaucus had contrived, under cover of the table, to steal her hand.
‘It is a pretty song,’ said Fulvius, patronizingly.
‘Ah! if you would oblige us!’ murmured the wife of Pansa.
‘Do you wish Fulvius to sing?’ asked the king of the feast, who had just called on the assembly to drink the health of the Roman senator, a cup to each letter of his name.
‘Can you ask?’ said the matron, with a complimentary glance at the poet.
Sallust snapped his fingers, and whispering the slave who came to learn his orders, the latter disappeared, and returned in a few moments with a small harp in one hand, and a branch of myrtle in the other. The slave approached the poet, and with a low reverence presented to him the harp.
‘Alas! I cannot play,’ said the poet.
‘Then you must sing to the myrtle. It is a Greek fashion: Diomed loves the Greeks — I love the Greeks — you love the Greeks — we all love the Greeks — and between you and me this is not the only thing we have stolen from them. However, I introduce this custom — I, the king: sing, subject, sing!’ The poet, with a bashful smile, took the myrtle in his hands, and after a short prelude sang as follows, in a pleasant and well-tuned voice:—
The merry Loves one holiday
Were all at gambols madly;
But Loves too long can seldom play
Without behaving sadly.
They laugh’d, they toy’d, they romp’d about,
And then for change they all fell out.
Fie, fie! how can they quarrel so?
My Lesbia — ah, for shame, love
Methinks ’tis scarce an hour ago
When we did just the same, love.
The Loves, ’tis thought, were free till then,
They had no king or laws, dear;
But gods, like men, should subject be,
Say all the ancient saws, dear.
And so our crew resolved, for quiet,
To choose a king to curb their riot.
A kiss: ah! what a grievous thing
For both, methinks, ‘twould be, child,
If I should take some prudish king,
And cease to be so free, child!
Among their toys a Casque they found,
It was the helm of Ares;
With horrent plumes the crest was crown’d,
It frightened all the Lares.
So fine a king was never known —
They placed the helmet on the throne.
My girl, since Valor wins the world,
They chose a mighty master;
But thy sweet flag of smiles unfurled
Would win the world much faster!
The Casque soon found the Loves too wild
A troop for him to school them;
For warriors know how one such child
Has aye contrived to fool them.
They plagued him so, that in despair
He took a wife the plague to share.
If kings themselves thus find the strife
Of earth, unshared, severe, girl;
Why just to halve the ills of life,
Come, take your partner here, girl.
Within that room the Bird of Love
The whole affair had eyed then;
The monarch hail’d the royal dove,
And placed her by his side then:
What mirth amidst the Loves was seen!
‘Long live,’ they cried, ‘our King and Queen.’
Ah! Lesbia, would that thrones were mine,
And crowns to deck that brow, love!
And yet I know that heart of thine
For me is throne enow, love!
The urchins hoped to tease the mate
As they had teased the hero;
But when the Dove in judgment sate
They found her worse than Nero!
Each look a frown, each word a law;
The little subjects shook with awe.
In thee I find the same deceit —
Too late, alas! a learner!
For where a mien more gently sweet?
And where a tyrant sterner?
This song, which greatly suited the gay and lively fancy of the Pompeians, was received with considerable applause, and the widow insisted on crowning her namesake with the very branch of myrtle to which he had sung. It was easily twisted into a garland, and the immortal Fulvius was crowned amidst the clapping of hands and shouts of Io triumphe! The song and the harp now circulated round the party, a new myrtle branch being handed about, stopping at each person who could be prevailed upon to sing.
The sun began now to decline, though the revellers, who had worn away several hours, perceived it not in their darkened chamber; and the senator, who was tired, and the warrior, who had to return to Herculaneum, rising to depart, gave the signal for the general dispersion. ‘Tarry yet a moment, my friends,’ said Diomed; ‘if you will go so soon, you must at least take a share in our concluding game.’
So saying, he motioned to one of the ministri, and whispering him, the slave went out, and presently returned with a small bowl containing various tablets carefully sealed, and, apparently, exactly similar. Each guest was to purchase one of these at the nominal price of the lowest piece of silver: and the sport of this lottery (which was the favorite diversion of Augustus, who introduced it) consisted in the inequality, and sometimes the incongruity, of the prizes, the nature and amount of which were specified within the tablets. For instance, the poet, with a wry face, drew one of his own poems (no physician ever less willingly swallowed his own draught); the warrior drew a case of bodkins, which gave rise to certain novel witticisms relative to Hercules and the distaff; the widow Fulvia obtained a large drinking-cup; Julia, a gentleman’s buckle; and Lepidus, a lady’s patch-box. The most appropriate lot was drawn by the gambler Clodius, who reddened with anger on being presented to a set of cogged dice. A certain damp was thrown upon the gaiety which these various lots created by an accident that was considered ominous; Glaucus drew the most valuable of all the prizes, a small marble statue of Fortune, of Grecian workmanship: on handing it to him the slave suffered it to drop, and it broke in pieces.
A shiver went round the assembly, and each voice cried spontaneously on the gods to avert the omen.
Glaucus alone, though perhaps as superstitious as the rest, affected to be unmoved.
‘Sweet Neapolitan,’ whispered he tenderly to Ione, who had turned pale as the broken marble itself, ‘I accept the omen. It signifies that in obtaining thee, Fortune can give no more — she breaks her image when she blesses me with thine.’
In order to divert the impression which this incident had occasioned in an assembly which, considering the civilization of the guests, would seem miraculously superstitious, if at the present day in a country party we did not often see a lady grow hypochondriacal on leaving a room last of thirteen, Sallust now crowning his cup with flowers, gave the health of their host. This was followed by a similar compliment to the emperor; and then, with a parting cup to Mercury to send them pleasant slumbers, they concluded the entertainment by a last libation, and broke up the party. Carriages and litters were little used in Pompeii, partly owing to the extreme narrowness of the streets, partly to the convenient smallness of the city. Most of the guests replacing their sandals, which they had put off in the banquet-room, and induing their cloaks, left the house on foot attended by their slaves.
Meanwhile, having seen Ione depart, Glaucus turning to the staircase which led down to the rooms of Julia, was conducted by a slave to an apartment in which he found the merchant’s daughter already seated.
‘Glaucus!’ said she, looking down, ‘I see that you really love Ione — she is indeed beautiful.’
‘Julia is charming enough to be generous,’ replied the Greek. ‘Yes, I love Ione; amidst all the youth who court you, may you have one worshipper as sincere.’
‘I pray the gods to grant it! See, Glaucus, these pearls are the present I destine to your bride: may Juno give her health to wear them!’
So saying, she placed a case in his hand, containing a row of pearls of some size and price. It was so much the custom for persons about to be married to receive these gifts, that Glaucus could have little scruple in accepting the necklace, though the gallant and proud Athenian inly resolved to requite the gift by one of thrice its value. Julia then stopping short his thanks, poured forth some wine into a small bowl.
‘You have drunk many toasts with my father,’ said she smiling —‘one now with me. Health and fortune to your bride!’
She touched the cup with her lips and then presented it to Glaucus. The customary etiquette required that Glaucus should drain the whole contents; he accordingly did so. Julia, unknowing the deceit which Nydia had practised upon her, watched him with sparkling eyes; although the witch had told her that the effect might not be immediate, she yet sanguinely trusted to an expeditious operation in favor of her charms. She was disappointed when she found Glaucus coldly replace the cup, and converse with her in the same unmoved but gentle tone as before. And though she detained him as long as she decorously could do, no change took place in his manner. ‘But tomorrow,’ thought she, exultingly recovering her disappointment —‘tomorrow, alas for Glaucus!’
Alas for him, indeed!
RESTLESS and anxious, Apaecides consumed the day in wandering through the most sequestered walks in the vicinity of the city. The sun was slowly setting as he paused beside a lonely part of the Sarnus, ere yet it wound amidst the evidences of luxury and power. Only through openings in the woods and vines were caught glimpses of the white and gleaming city, in which was heard in the distance no din, no sound, nor ‘busiest hum of men’. Amidst the green banks crept the lizard and the grasshopper, and here and there in the brake some solitary bird burst into sudden song, as suddenly stifled. There was deep calm around, but not the calm of night; the air still breathed of the freshness and life of day; the grass still moved to the stir of the insect horde; and on the opposite bank the graceful and white capella passed browsing through the herbage, and paused at the wave to drink.
As Apaecides stood musingly gazing upon the waters, he heard beside him the low bark of a dog.
‘Be still, poor friend,’ said a voice at hand; ‘the stranger’s step harms not thy master.’ The convert recognized the voice, and, turning, he beheld the old mysterious man whom he had seen in the congregation of the Nazarenes.
The old man was sitting upon a fragment of stone covered with ancient mosses; beside him were his staff and scrip; at his feet lay a small shaggy dog, the companion in how many a pilgrimage perilous and strange.
The face of the old man was as balm to the excited spirit of the neophyte: he approached, and craving his blessing, sat down beside him.
‘Thou art provided as for a journey, father,’ said he: ‘wilt thou leave us yet?’
‘My son,’ replied the old man, ‘the days in store for me on earth are few and scanty; I employ them as becomes me travelling from place to place, comforting those whom God has gathered together in His name, and proclaiming the glory of His Son, as testified to His servant.’
‘Thou hast looked, they tell me, on the face of Christ?’
‘And the face revived me from the dead. Know, young proselyte to the true faith, that I am he of whom thou readest in the scroll of the Apostle. In the far Judea, and in the city of Nain, there dwelt a widow, humble of spirit and sad of heart; for of all the ties of life one son alone was spared to her. And she loved him with a melancholy love, for he was the likeness of the lost. And the son died. The reed on which she leaned was broken, the oil was dried up in the widow’s cruse. They bore the dead upon his bier; and near the gate of the city, where the crowd were gathered, there came a silence over the sounds of woe, for the Son of God was passing by. The mother, who followed the bier, wept — not noisily, but all who looked upon her saw that her heart was crushed. And the Lord pitied her, and he touched the bier, and said, “I SAY UNTO THEE, ARISE,” And the dead man woke and looked upon the face of the Lord. Oh, that calm and solemn brow, that unutterable smile, that careworn and sorrowful face, lighted up with a God’s benignity — it chased away the shadows of the grave! I rose, I spoke, I was living, and in my mother’s arms — yes, I am the dead revived! The people shouted, the funeral horns rung forth merrily: there was a cry, “God has visited His people!” I heard them not — I felt — I saw — nothing but the face of the Redeemer!’
The old man paused, deeply moved; and the youth felt his blood creep, and his hair stir. He was in the presence of one who had known the Mystery of Death!
‘Till that time,’ renewed the widow’s son, ‘I had been as other men: thoughtless, not abandoned; taking no heed, but of the things of love and life; nay, I had inclined to the gloomy faith of the earthly Sadducee! But, raised from the dead, from awful and desert dreams that these lips never dare reveal — recalled upon earth, to testify the powers of Heaven — once more mortal, the witness of immortality; I drew a new being from the grave. O faded — O lost Jerusalem! — Him from whom came my life, I beheld adjudged to the agonized and parching death! Far in the mighty crowd I saw the light rest and glimmer over the cross; I heard the hooting mob, I cried aloud, I raved, I threatened — none heeded me — I was lost in the whirl and the roar of thousands! But even then, in my agony and His own, methought the glazing eye of the Son of Man sought me out — His lip smiled, as when it conquered death — it hushed me, and I became calm. He who had defied the grave for another — what was the grave to him? The sun shone aslant the pale and powerful features, and then died away! Darkness fell over the earth; how long it endured, I know not. A loud cry came through the gloom — a sharp and bitter cry! — and all was silent.
‘But who shall tell the terrors of the night?’ I walked along the city — the earth reeled to and fro, and the houses trembled to their base — theliving had deserted the streets, but not the Dead: through the gloom I saw them glide — the dim and ghastly shapes, in the cerements of the grave — with horror, and woe, and warning on their unmoving lips and lightless eyes! — they swept by me, as I passed — they glared upon me — I had been their brother; and they bowed their heads in recognition; they had risen to tell the living that the dead can rise!’
Again the old man paused, and, when he resumed, it was in a calmer tone.
‘From that night I resigned all earthly thought but that of serving HIM. A preacher and a pilgrim, I have traversed the remotest corners of the earth, proclaiming His Divinity, and bringing new converts to His fold. I come as the wind, and as the wind depart; sowing, as the wind sows, the seeds that enrich the world.
‘Son, on earth we shall meet no more. Forget not this hour — what are the pleasures and the pomps of life? As the lamp shines, so life glitters for an hour; but the soul’s light is the star that burns for ever, in the heart of inimitable space.’
It was then that their conversation fell upon the general and sublime doctrines of immortality; it soothed and elevated the young mind of the convert, which yet clung to many of the damps and shadows of that cell of faith which he had so lately left — it was the air of heaven breathing on the prisoner released at last. There was a strong and marked distinction between the Christianity of the old man and that of Olinthus; that of the first was more soft, more gentle, more divine. The heroism of Olinthus had something in it fierce and intolerant — it was necessary to the part he was destined to play — it had in it more of the courage of the martyr than the charity of the saint. It aroused, it excited, it nerved, rather than subdued and softened. But the whole heart of that divine old man was bathed in love; the smile of the Deity had burned away from it the leaven of earthlier and coarser passions, and left to the energy of the hero all the meekness of the child.
‘And now,’ said he, rising at length, as the sun’s last ray died in the west; ‘now, in the cool of twilight, I pursue my way towards the Imperial Rome. There yet dwell some holy men, who like me have beheld the face of Christ; and them would I see before I die.’
‘But the night is chill for thine age, my father, and the way is long, and the robber haunts it; rest thee till tomorrow.’
‘Kind son, what is there in this scrip to tempt the robber? And the Night and the Solitude! — these make the ladder round which angels cluster, and beneath which my spirit can dream of God. Oh! none can know what the pilgrim feels as he walks on his holy course; nursing no fear, and dreading no danger — for God is with him! He hears the winds murmur glad tidings; the woods sleep in the shadow of Almighty wings — the stars are the Scriptures of Heaven, the tokens of love, and the witnesses of immortality. Night is the Pilgrim’s day.’ With these words the old man pressed Apaecides to his breast, and taking up his staff and scrip, the dog bounded cheerily before him, and with slow steps and downcast eyes he went his way.
The convert stood watching his bended form, till the trees shut the last glimpse from his view; and then, as the stars broke forth, he woke from the musings with a start, reminded of his appointment with Olinthus.
WHEN Glaucus arrived at his own home, he found Nydia seated under the portico of his garden. In fact, she had sought his house in the mere chance that he might return at an early hour: anxious, fearful, anticipative, she resolved upon seizing the earliest opportunity of availing herself of the love-charm, while at the same time she half hoped the opportunity might be deferred.
It was then, in that fearful burning mood, her heart beating, her cheek flushing, that Nydia awaited the possibility of Glaucus’s return before the night. He crossed the portico just as the first stars began to rise, and the heaven above had assumed its most purple robe.
‘Ho, my child, wait you for me?’
‘Nay, I have been tending the flowers, and did but linger a little while to rest myself.’
‘It has been warm,’ said Glaucus, placing himself also on one of the seats beneath the colonnade.
‘Wilt thou summon Davus? The wine I have drunk heats me, and I long for some cooling drink.’
Here at once, suddenly and unexpectedly, the very opportunity that Nydia awaited presented itself; of himself, at his own free choice, he afforded to her that occasion. She breathed quick —‘I will prepare for you myself,’ said she, ‘the summer draught that Ione loves — of honey and weak wine cooled in snow.’
‘Thanks,’ said the unconscious Glaucus. ‘If Ione love it, enough; it would be grateful were it poison.’
Nydia frowned, and then smiled; she withdrew for a few moments, and returned with the cup containing the beverage. Glaucus took it from her hand. What would not Nydia have given then for one hour’s prerogative of sight, to have watched her hopes ripening to effect — to have seen the first dawn of the imagined love — to have worshipped with more than Persian adoration the rising of that sun which her credulous soul believed was to break upon her dreary night! Far different, as she stood then and there, were the thoughts, the emotions of the blind girl, from those of the vain Pompeian under a similar suspense. In the last, what poor and frivolous passions had made up the daring whole! What petty pique, what small revenge, what expectation of a paltry triumph, had swelled the attributes of that sentiment she dignified with the name of love! but in the wild heart of the Thessalian all was pure, uncontrolled, unmodified passion — erring, unwomanly, frenzied, but debased by no elements of a more sordid feeling. Filled with love as with life itself, how could she resist the occasion of winning love in return!
She leaned for support against the wall, and her face, before so flushed, was now white as snow, and with her delicate hands clasped convulsively together, her lips apart, her eyes on the ground, she waited the next words Glaucus should utter.
Glaucus had raised the cup to his lips, he had already drained about a fourth of its contents, when his eye suddenly glancing upon the face of Nydia, he was so forcibly struck by its alteration, by its intense, and painful, and strange expression, that he paused abruptly, and still holding the cup near his lips, exclaimed:
‘Why, Nydia! Nydia! I say, art thou ill or in pain? Nay, thy face speaks for thee. What ails my poor child?’ As he spoke, he put down the cup and rose from his seat to approach her, when a sudden pang shot coldly to his heart, and was followed by a wild, confused, dizzy sensation at the brain. The floor seemed to glide from under him — his feet seemed to move on air — a mighty and unearthly gladness rushed upon his spirit — he felt too buoyant for the earth — he longed for wings, nay, it seemed in the buoyancy of his new existence, as if he possessed them. He burst involuntarily into a loud and thrilling laugh. He clapped his hands — he bounded aloft — he was as a Pythoness inspired; suddenly as it came this preternatural transport passed, though only partially, away. He now felt his blood rushing loudly and rapidly through his veins; it seemed to swell, to exult, to leap along, as a stream that has burst its bounds, and hurries to the ocean. It throbbed in his ear with a mighty sound, he felt it mount to his brow, he felt the veins in the temples stretch and swell as if they could no longer contain the violent and increasing tide — then a kind of darkness fell over his eyes — darkness, but not entire; for through the dim shade he saw the opposite walls glow out, and the figures painted thereon seemed, ghost-like, to creep and glide. What was most strange, he did not feel himself ill — he did not sink or quail beneath the dread frenzy that was gathering over him. The novelty of the feelings seemed bright and vivid — he felt as if a younger health had been infused into his frame. He was gliding on to madness — and he knew it not!
Nydia had not answered his first question — she had not been able to reply — his wild and fearful laugh had roused her from her passionate suspense: she could not see his fierce gesture — she could not mark his reeling and unsteady step as he paced unconsciously to and fro; but she heard the words, broken, incoherent, insane, that gushed from his lips. She became terrified and appalled — she hastened to him, feeling with her arms until she touched his knees, and then falling on the ground she embraced them, weeping with terror and excitement.
‘Oh, speak to me! speak! you do not hate me? — speak, speak!’
‘By the bright goddess, a beautiful land this Cyprus! Ho! how they fill us with wine instead of blood! now they open the veins of the Faun yonder, to show how the tide within bubbles and sparkles. Come hither, jolly old god! thou ridest on a goat, eh? — what long silky hair he has! He is worth all the coursers of Parthia. But a word with thee — this wine of thine is too strong for us mortals. Oh! beautiful! the boughs are at rest! the green waves of the forest have caught the Zephyr and drowned him! Not a breath stirs the leaves — and I view the Dreams sleeping with folded wings upon the motionless elm; and I look beyond, and I see a blue stream sparkle in the silent noon; a fountain — a fountain springing aloft! Ah! my fount, thou wilt not put out rays of my Grecian sun, though thou triest ever so hard with thy nimble and silver arms. And now, what form steals yonder through the boughs? she glides like a moonbeam! — she has a garland of oak-leaves on her head. In her hand is a vase upturned, from which she pours pink and tiny shells and sparkling water. Oh! look on yon face! Man never before saw its like. See! we are alone; only I and she in the wide forest. There is no smile upon her lips — she moves, grave and sweetly sad. Ha! fly, it is a nymph! — it is one of the wild Napaeae! Whoever sees her becomes mad-fly! see, she discovers me!’
‘Oh! Glaucus! Glaucus! do you not know me? Rave not so wildly, or thou wilt kill me with a word!’
A new change seemed now to operate upon the jarring and disordered mind of the unfortunate Athenian. He put his hand upon Nydia’s silken hair; he smoothed the locks — he looked wistfully upon her face, and then, as in the broken chain of thought one or two links were yet unsevered, it seemed that her countenance brought its associations of Ione; and with that remembrance his madness became yet more powerful, and it swayed and tinged by passion, as he burst forth:
‘I swear by Venus, by Diana, and by Juno, that though I have now the world on my shoulders, as my countryman Hercules (ah, dull Rome! whoever was truly great was of Greece; why, you would be godless if it were not for us!)— I say, as my countryman Hercules had before me, I would let it fall into chaos for one smile from Ione. Ah, Beautiful — Adored,’ he added, in a voice inexpressibly fond and plaintive, ‘thou lovest me not. Thou art unkind to me. The Egyptian hath belied me to thee — thou knowest not what hours I have spent beneath thy casement — thou knowest not how I have outwatched the stars, thinking thou, my sun, wouldst rise at last — and thou lovest me not, thou forsakest me! Oh! do not leave me now! I feel that my life will not be long; let me gaze on thee at least unto the last. I am of the bright land of thy fathers — I have trod the heights of Phyle — I have gathered the hyacinth and rose amidst the olive-groves of Ilyssus. Thou shouldst not desert me, for thy fathers were brothers to my own. And they say this land is lovely, and these climes serene, but I will bear thee with me — Ho! dark form, why risest thou like a cloud between me and mine? Death sits calmly dread upon thy brow — on thy lip is the smile that slays: thy name is Orcus, but on earth men call thee Arbaces. See, I know thee! fly, dim shadow, thy spells avail not!’
‘Glaucus! Glaucus!’ murmured Nydia, releasing her hold and falling, beneath the excitement of her dismay, remorse, and anguish, insensible on the floor.
‘Who calls?’ said he in a loud voice. ‘Ione, it is she! they have borne her off — we will save her — where is my stilus? Ha, I have it! I come, Ione, to thy rescue! I come! I come!’
So saying, the Athenian with one bound passed the portico, he traversed the house, and rushed with swift but vacillating steps, and muttering audibly to himself, down the starlit streets. The direful potion burnt like fire in his veins, for its effect was made, perhaps, still more sudden from the wine he had drunk previously. Used to the excesses of nocturnal revellers, the citizens, with smiles and winks, gave way to his reeling steps; they naturally imagined him under the influence of the Bromian god, not vainly worshipped at Pompeii; but they who looked twice upon his face started in a nameless fear, and the smile withered from their lips. He passed the more populous streets; and, pursuing mechanically the way to Ione’s house, he traversed a more deserted quarter, and entered now the lonely grove of Cybele, in which Apaecides had held his interview with Olinthus.
IMPATIENT to learn whether the fell drug had yet been administered by Julia to his hated rival, and with what effect, Arbaces resolved, as the evening came on, to seek her house, and satisfy his suspense. It was customary, as I have before said, for men at that time to carry abroad with them the tablets and the stilus attached to their girdle; and with the girdle they were put off when at home. In fact, under the appearance of a literary instrument, the Romans carried about with them in that same stilus a very sharp and formidable weapon. It was with his stilus that Cassius stabbed Caesar in the senate-house. Taking, then, his girdle and his cloak, Arbaces left his house, supporting his steps, which were still somewhat feeble (though hope and vengeance had conspired greatly with his own medical science, which was profound, to restore his natural strength), by his long staff — Arbaces took his way to the villa of Diomed.
And beautiful is the moonlight of the south! In those climes the night so quickly glides into the day, that twilight scarcely makes a bridge between them. One moment of darker purple in the sky — of a thousand rose-hues in the water — of shade half victorious over light; and then burst forth at once the countless stars — the moon is up — night has resumed her reign!
Brightly then, and softly bright, fell the moonbeams over the antique grove consecrated to Cybele — the stately trees, whose date went beyond tradition, cast their long shadows over the soil, while through the openings in their boughs the stars shone, still and frequent. The whiteness of the small sacellum in the centre of the grove, amidst the dark foliage, had in it something abrupt and startling; it recalled at once the purpose to which the wood was consecrated — its holiness and solemnity.
With a swift and stealthy pace, Calenus, gliding under the shade of the trees, reached the chapel, and gently putting back the boughs that completely closed around its rear, settled himself in his concealment; a concealment so complete, what with the fane in front and the trees behind, that no unsuspicious passenger could possibly have detected him. Again, all was apparently solitary in the grove: afar off you heard faintly the voices of some noisy revellers or the music that played cheerily to the groups that then, as now in those climates, during the nights of summer, lingered in the streets, and enjoyed, in the fresh air and the liquid moonlight, a milder day.
From the height on which the grove was placed, you saw through the intervals of the trees the broad and purple sea, rippling in the distance, the white villas of Stabiae in the curving shore, and the dim Lectiarian hills mingling with the delicious sky. Presently the tall figure of Arbaces, in his way to the house of Diomed, entered the extreme end of the grove; and at the same instant Apaecides, also bound to his appointment with Olinthus, crossed the Egyptian’s path.
‘Hem! Apaecides,’ said Arbaces, recognizing the priest at a glance; ‘when last we met, you were my foe. I have wished since then to see you, for I would have you still my pupil and my friend.’
Apaecides started at the voice of the Egyptian; and halting abruptly, gazed upon him with a countenance full of contending, bitter, and scornful emotions.
‘Villain and impostor!’ said he at length; ‘thou hast recovered then from the jaws of the grave! But think not again to weave around me thy guilty meshes. Retiarius, I am armed against thee!’
‘Hush!’ said Arbaces, in a very low voice — but his pride, which in that descendant of kings was great, betrayed the wound it received from the insulting epithets of the priest in the quiver of his lip and the flush of his tawny brow. ‘Hush! more low! thou mayest be overheard, and if other ears than mine had drunk those sounds — why . . . ’
‘Dost thou threaten? — what if the whole city had heard me?’
‘The manes of my ancestors would not have suffered me to forgive thee. But, hold, and hear me. Thou art enraged that I would have offered violence to thy sister. Nay, peace, peace, but one instant, I pray thee. Thou art right; it was the frenzy of passion and of jealousy — I have repented bitterly of my madness. Forgive me; I, who never implored pardon of living man, beseech thee now to forgive me. Nay, I will atone the insult — I ask thy sister in marriage — start not — consider — what is the alliance of yon holiday Greek compared to mine? Wealth unbounded — birth that in its far antiquity leaves your Greek and Roman names the things of yesterday — science — but that thou knowest! Give me thy sister, and my whole life shall atone a moment’s error.’
‘Egyptian, were even I to consent, my sister loathes the very air thou breathest: but I have my own wrongs to forgive — I may pardon thee that thou hast made me a tool to thy deceits, but never that thou hast seduced me to become the abettor of thy vices — a polluted and a perjured man. Tremble! — even now I prepare the hour in which thou and thy false gods shall be unveiled. Thy lewd and Circean life shall be dragged to day — thy mumming oracles disclosed — the fane of the idol Isis shall be a byword and a scorn — the name of Arbaces a mark for the hisses of execration! Tremble!’
The flush on the Egyptian’s brow was succeeded by a livid paleness. He looked behind, before, around, to feel assured that none were by; and then he fixed his dark and dilating eye on the priest, with such a gaze of wrath and menace, that one, perhaps, less supported than Apaecides by the fervent daring of a divine zeal, could not have faced with unflinching look that lowering aspect. As it was, however, the young convert met it unmoved, and returned it with an eye of proud defiance.
‘Apaecides,’ said the Egyptian, in a tremulous and inward tone, ‘beware! What is it thou wouldst meditate? Speakest thou — reflect, pause before thou repliest — from the hasty influences of wrath, as yet divining no settled purpose, or from some fixed design?’
‘I speak from the inspiration of the True God, whose servant I now am,’ answered the Christian, boldly; ‘and in the knowledge that by His grace human courage has already fixed the date of thy hypocrisy and thy demon’s worship; ere thrice the sun has dawned, thou wilt know all! Dark sorcerer, tremble, and farewell!’
All the fierce and lurid passions which he inherited from his nation and his clime, at all times but ill concealed beneath the blandness of craft and the coldness of philosophy, were released in the breast of the Egyptian. Rapidly one thought chased another; he saw before him an obstinate barrier to even a lawful alliance with Ione — the fellow-champion of Glaucus in the struggle which had baffled his designs — the reviler of his name — the threatened desecrator of the goddess he served while he disbelieved — the avowed and approaching revealer of his own impostures and vices. His love, his repute, nay, his very life, might be in danger — the day and hour seemed even to have been fixed for some design against him. He knew by the words of the convert that Apaecides had adopted the Christian faith: he knew the indomitable zeal which led on the proselytes of that creed. Such was his enemy; he grasped his stilus — that enemy was in his power! They were now before the chapel; one hasty glance once more he cast around; he saw none near — silence and solitude alike tempted him.
‘Die, then, in thy rashness!’ he muttered; ‘away, obstacle to my rushing fates!’
And just as the young Christian had turned to depart, Arbaces raised his hand high over the left shoulder of Apaecides, and plunged his sharp weapon twice into his breast.
Apaecides fell to the ground pierced to the heart — he fell mute, without even a groan, at the very base of the sacred chapel.
Arbaces gazed upon him for a moment with the fierce animal joy of conquest over a foe. But presently the full sense of the danger to which he was exposed flashed upon him; he wiped his weapon carefully in the long grass, and with the very garments of his victim; drew his cloak round him, and was about to depart, when he saw, coming up the path, right before him, the figure of a young man, whose steps reeled and vacillated strangely as he advanced: the quiet moonlight streamed full upon his face, which seemed, by the whitening ray, colorless as marble. The Egyptian recognized the face and form of Glaucus. The unfortunate and benighted Greek was chanting a disconnected and mad song, composed from snatches of hymns and sacred odes, all jarringly woven together.
‘Ha!’ thought the Egyptian, instantaneously divining his state and its terrible cause; ‘so, then, the hell-draught works, and destiny hath sent thee hither to crush two of my foes at once!’
Quickly, even ere this thought occurred to him, he had withdrawn on one side of the chapel, and concealed himself amongst the boughs; from that lurking place he watched, as a tiger in his lair, the advance of his second victim. He noted the wandering and restless fire in the bright and beautiful eyes of the Athenian; the convulsions that distorted his statue-like features, and writhed his hueless lip. He saw that the Greek was utterly deprived of reason. Nevertheless, as Glaucus came up to the dead body of Apaecides, from which the dark red stream flowed slowly over the grass, so strange and ghastly a spectacle could not fail to arrest him, benighted and erring as was his glimmering sense. He paused, placed his hand to his brow, as if to collect himself, and then saying:
‘What ho! Endymion, sleepest thou so soundly? What has the moon said to thee? Thou makest me jealous; it is time to wake’— he stooped down with the intention of lifting up the body.
Forgetting — feeling not — his own debility, the Egyptian sprung from his hiding-place, and, as the Greek bent, struck him forcibly to the ground, over the very body of the Christian; then, raising his powerful voice to its highest pitch, he shouted:
‘Ho, citizens — oh! help me! — run hither — hither! — A murder — a murder before your very fane! Help, or the murderer escapes!’ As he spoke, he placed his foot on the breast of Glaucus: an idle and superfluous precaution; for the potion operating with the fall, the Greek lay there motionless and insensible, save that now and then his lips gave vent to some vague and raving sounds.
As he there stood awaiting the coming of those his voice still continued to summons, perhaps some remorse, some compunctious visitings — for despite his crimes he was human — haunted the breast of the Egyptian; the defenceless state of Glaucus — his wandering words — his shattered reason, smote him even more than the death of Apaecides, and he said, half audibly, to himself:
‘Poor clay! — poor human reason; where is the soul now? I could spare thee, O my rival — rival never more! But destiny must be obeyed — my safety demands thy sacrifice.’ With that, as if to drown compunction, he shouted yet more loudly; and drawing from the girdle of Glaucus the stilus it contained, he steeped it in the blood of the murdered man, and laid it beside the corpse.
And now, fast and breathless, several of the citizens came thronging to the place, some with torches, which the moon rendered unnecessary, but which flared red and tremulously against the darkness of the trees; they surrounded the spot. ‘Lift up yon corpse,’ said the Egyptian, ‘and guard well the murderer.’
They raised the body, and great was their horror and sacred indignation to discover in that lifeless clay a priest of the adored and venerable Isis; but still greater, perhaps, was their surprise, when they found the accused in the brilliant and admired Athenian.
‘Glaucus!’ cried the bystanders, with one accord; ‘is it even credible?’
‘I would sooner,’ whispered one man to his neighbor, ‘believe it to be the Egyptian himself.’
Here a centurion thrust himself into the gathering crowd, with an air of authority.
‘How! blood spilt! who the murderer?’
The bystanders pointed to Glaucus.
‘He! — by Mars, he has rather the air of being the victim!
‘Who accuses him?’
‘I,’ said Arbaces, drawing himself up haughtily; and the jewels which adorned his dress flashing in the eyes of the soldier, instantly convinced that worthy warrior of the witness’s respectability.
‘Pardon me — your name?’ said he.
‘Arbaces; it is well known methinks in Pompeii. Passing through the grove, I beheld before me the Greek and the priest in earnest conversation. I was struck by the reeling motions of the first, his violent gestures, and the loudness of his voice; he seemed to me either drunk or mad. Suddenly I saw him raise his stilus — I darted forward — too late to arrest the blow. He had twice stabbed his victim, and was bending over him, when, in my horror and indignation, I struck the murderer to the ground. He fell without a struggle, which makes me yet more suspect that he was not altogether in his senses when the crime was perpetrated; for, recently recovered from a severe illness, my blow was comparatively feeble, and the frame of Glaucus, as you see, is strong and youthful.’
‘His eyes are open now — his lips move,’ said the soldier. ‘Speak, prisoner, what sayest thou to the charge?’
‘The charge — ha — ha! Why, it was merrily done; when the old hag set her serpent at me, and Hecate stood by laughing from ear to ear — what could I do? But I am ill — I faint — the serpent’s fiery tongue hath bitten me. Bear me to bed, and send for your physician; old AEsculapius himself will attend me if you let him know that I am Greek. Oh, mercy — mercy! I burn! — marrow and brain, I burn!’
And, with a thrilling and fierce groan, the Athenian fell back in the arms of the bystanders.
‘He raves,’ said the officer, compassionately; ‘and in his delirium he has struck the priest. Hath any one present seen him today!’
‘I,’ said one of the spectators, ‘beheld him in the morning. He passed my shop and accosted me. He seemed well and sane as the stoutest of us!’
‘And I saw him half an hour ago,’ said another, ‘passing up the streets, muttering to himself with strange gestures, and just as the Egyptian has described.’
‘A corroboration of the witness! it must be too true. He must at all events to the praetor; a pity, so young and so rich! But the crime is dreadful: a priest of Isis, in his very robes, too, and at the base itself of our most ancient chapel!’
At these words the crowd were reminded more forcibly, than in their excitement and curiosity they had yet been, of the heinousness of the sacrilege. They shuddered in pious horror.
‘No wonder the earth has quaked,’ said one, ‘when it held such a monster!’
‘Away with him to prison — away!’ cried they all.
And one solitary voice was heard shrilly and joyously above the rest: ‘The beasts will not want a gladiator now, Ho, ho, for the merry, merry show!
It was the voice of the young woman whose conversation with Medon has been repeated.
‘True — true — it chances in season for the games!’ cried several; and at that thought all pity for the accused seemed vanished. His youth, his beauty, but fitted him better for the purpose of the arena.
‘Bring hither some planks — or if at hand, a litter — to bear the dead,’ said Arbaces: ‘a priest of Isis ought scarcely to be carried to his temple by vulgar hands, like a butchered gladiator.’
At this the bystanders reverently laid the corpse of Apaecides on the ground, with the face upwards; and some of them went in search of some contrivance to bear the body, untouched by the profane.
It was just at that time that the crowd gave way to right and left as a sturdy form forced itself through, and Olinthus the Christian stood immediately confronting the Egyptian. But his eyes, at first, only rested with inexpressible grief and horror on that gory side and upturned face, on which the agony of violent death yet lingered.
‘Murdered!’ he said. ‘Is it thy zeal that has brought thee to this? Have they detected thy noble purpose, and by death prevented their own shame?’
He turned his head abruptly, and his eyes fell full on the solemn features of the Egyptian.
As he looked, you might see in his face, and even the slight shiver of his frame, the repugnance and aversion which the Christian felt for one whom he knew to be so dangerous and so criminal. It was indeed the gaze of the bird upon the basilisk — so silent was it and so prolonged. But shaking off the sudden chill that had crept over him, Olinthus extended his right arm towards Arbaces, and said, in a deep and loud voice:
‘Murder hath been done upon this corpse! Where is the murderer? Stand forth, Egyptian! For, as the Lord liveth, I believe thou art the man!’
An anxious and perturbed change might for one moment be detected on the dusky features of Arbaces; but it gave way to the frowning expression of indignation and scorn, as, awed and arrested by the suddenness and vehemence of the charge, the spectators pressed nearer and nearer upon the two more prominent actors.
‘I know,’ said Arbaces, proudly, ‘who is my accuser, and I guess wherefore he thus arraigns me. Men and citizens, know this man for the most bitter of the Nazarenes, if that or Christians be their proper name! What marvel that in his malignity he dares accuse even an Egyptian of the murder of a priest of Egypt!’
‘I know him! I know the dog!’ shouted several voices. ‘It is Olinthus the Christian — or rather the Atheist — he denies the gods!’
‘Peace, brethren,’ said Olinthus, with dignity, ‘and hear me! This murdered priest of Isis before his death embraced the Christian faith — he revealed to me the dark sins, the sorceries of yon Egyptian — the mummeries and delusions of the fane of Isis. He was about to declare them publicly. He, a stranger, unoffending, without enemies! who should shed his blood but one of those who feared his witness? Who might fear that testimony the most? — Arbaces, the Egyptian!’
‘You hear him!’ said Arbaces; ‘you hear him! he blasphemes! Ask him if he believes in Isis!’
‘Do I believe in an evil demon?’ returned Olinthus, boldly.
A groan and shudder passed through the assembly. Nothing daunted, for prepared at every time for peril, and in the present excitement losing all prudence, the Christian continued:
‘Back, idolaters! this clay is not for your vain and polluting rites — it is to us — to the followers of Christ, that the last offices due to a Christian belong. I claim this dust in the name of the great Creator who has recalled the spirit!’
With so solemn and commanding a voice and aspect the Christian spoke these words, that even the crowd forbore to utter aloud the execration of fear and hatred which in their hearts they conceived. And never, perhaps, since Lucifer and the Archangel contended for the body of the mighty Lawgiver, was there a more striking subject for the painter’s genius than that scene exhibited. The dark trees — the stately fane — the moon full on the corpse of the deceased — the torches tossing wildly to and fro in the rear — the various faces of the motley audience — the insensible form of the Athenian, supported, in the distance, and in the foreground, and above all, the forms of Arbaces and the Christian: the first drawn to its full height, far taller than the herd around; his arms folded, his brow knit, his eyes fixed, his lip slightly curled in defiance and disdain. The last bearing, on a brow worn and furrowed, the majesty of an equal command — the features stern, yet frank — the aspect bold, yet open — the quiet dignity of the whole form impressed with an ineffable earnestness, hushed, as it were, in a solemn sympathy with the awe he himself had created. His left hand pointing to the corpse — his right hand raised to heaven.
The centurion pressed forward again.
‘In the first place, hast thou, Olinthus, or whatever be thy name, any proof of the charge thou hast made against Arbaces, beyond thy vague suspicions?’
Olinthus remained silent — the Egyptian laughed contemptuously.
‘Dost thou claim the body of a priest of Isis as one of the Nazarene or Christian sect?’
‘Swear then by yon fane, yon statue of Cybele, by yon most ancient sacellum in Pompeii, that the dead man embraced your faith!’
‘Vain man! I disown your idols! I abhor your temples! How can I swear by Cybele then?’
‘Away, away with the Atheist! away! the earth will swallow us, if we suffer these blasphemers in a sacred grove — away with him to death!’
‘To the beasts!’ added a female voice in the centre of the crowd; ‘we shall have one a-piece now for the lion and tiger!’
‘If, O Nazarene, thou disbelievest in Cybele, which of our gods dost thou own?’ resumed the soldier, unmoved by the cries around.
‘Hark to him! hark!’ cried the crowd.
‘O vain and blind!’ continued the Christian, raising his voice: ‘can you believe in images of wood and stone? Do you imagine that they have eyes to see, or ears to hear, or hands to help ye? Is yon mute thing carved by man’s art a goddess! — hath it made mankind? — alas! by mankind was it made. Lo! convince yourself of its nothingness — of your folly.’
And as he spoke he strode across to the fane, and ere any of the bystanders were aware of his purpose, he, in his compassion or his zeal, struck the statue of wood from its pedestal.
‘See!’ cried he, ‘your goddess cannot avenge herself. Is this a thing to worship?’
Further words were denied to him: so gross and daring a sacrilege — of one, too, of the most sacred of their places of worship — filled even the most lukewarm with rage and horror. With one accord the crowd rushed upon him, seized, and but for the interference of the centurion, they would have torn him to pieces.
‘Peace!’ said the soldier, authoritatively —‘refer we this insolent blasphemer to the proper tribunal — time has been already wasted. Bear we both the culprits to the magistrates; place the body of the priest on the litter — carry it to his own home.’
At this moment a priest of Isis stepped forward. ‘I claim these remains, according to the custom of the priesthood.’
‘The flamen be obeyed,’ said the centurion. ‘How is the murderer?’
‘Insensible or asleep.’
‘Were his crimes less, I could pity him. On!’
Arbaces, as he turned, met the eye of that priest of Isis — it was Calenus; and something there was in that glance, so significant and sinister, that the Egyptian muttered to himself:
‘Could he have witnessed the deed?’
A girl darted from the crowd, and gazed hard on the face of Olinthus. ‘By Jupiter, a stout knave! I say, we shall have a man for the tiger now; one for each beast!’
‘Ho!’ shouted the mob; ‘a man for the lion, and another for the tiger! What luck! Io Paean!’
THE night was somewhat advanced, and the gay lounging places of the Pompeians were still crowded. You might observe in the countenances of the various idlers a more earnest expression than usual. They talked in large knots and groups, as if they sought by numbers to divide the half-painful, half-pleasurable anxiety which belonged to the subject on which they conversed: it was a subject of life and death.
A young man passed briskly by the graceful portico of the Temple of Fortune — so briskly, indeed, that he came with no slight force full against the rotund and comely form of that respectable citizen Diomed, who was retiring homeward to his suburban villa.
‘Holloa!’ groaned the merchant, recovering with some difficulty his equilibrium; ‘have you no eyes? or do you think I have no feeling? By Jupiter! you have well nigh driven out the divine particle; such another shock, and my soul will be in Hades!’
‘Ah, Diomed! is it you? forgive my inadvertence. I was absorbed in thinking of the reverses of life. Our poor friend, Glaucus, eh! who could have guessed it?’
‘Well, but tell me, Clodius, is he really to be tried by the senate?’
‘Yes; they say the crime is of so extraordinary a nature that the senate itself must adjudge it; and so the lictors are to induct him formally.’
‘He has been accused publicly, then?’
‘To be sure; where have you been not to hear that?’
‘Why, I have only just returned from Neapolis, whither I went on business the very morning after his crime — so shocking, and at my house the same night that it happened!’
‘There is no doubt of his guilt,’ said Clodius, shrugging his shoulders; ‘and as these crimes take precedence of all little undignified peccadilloes, they will hasten to finish the sentence previous to the games.’
‘The games! Good gods!’ replied Diomed, with a slight shudder: ‘can they adjudge him to the beasts? — so young, so rich!’
‘True; but then he is a Greek. Had he been a Roman, it would have been a thousand pities. These foreigners can be borne with in their prosperity; but in adversity we must not forget that they are in reality slaves. However, we of the upper classes are always tender-hearted; and he would certainly get off tolerably well if he were left to us: for, between ourselves, what is a paltry priest of Isis! — what Isis herself? But the common people are superstitious; they clamor for the blood of the sacrilegious one. It is dangerous not to give way to public opinion.’
‘And the blasphemer — the Christian, or Nazarene, or whatever else he be called?’
‘Oh, poor dog! if he will sacrifice to Cybele or Isis, he will be pardoned — if not, the tiger has him. At least, so I suppose; but the trial will decide. We talk while the urn’s still empty. And the Greek may yet escape the deadly Theta of his own alphabet. But enough of this gloomy subject. How is the fair Julia?’
‘Well, I fancy.’
‘Commend me to her. But hark! the door yonder creaks on its hinges; it is the house of the praetor. Who comes forth? By Pollux! it is the Egyptian! What can he want with our official friend!’
‘Some conference touching the murder, doubtless,’ replied Diomed; ‘but what was supposed to be the inducement to the crime? Glaucus was to have married the priest’s sister.’
‘Yes: some say Apaecides refused the alliance. It might have been a sudden quarrel. Glaucus was evidently drunk — nay, so much so as to have been quite insensible when taken up, and I hear is still delirious — whether with wine, terror, remorse, the Furies, or the Bacchanals, I cannot say.’
‘Poor fellow! — he has good counsel?’
‘The best — Caius Pollio, an eloquent fellow enough. Pollio has been hiring all the poor gentlemen and well-born spendthrifts of Pompeii to dress shabbily and sneak about, swearing their friendship to Glaucus (who would not have spoken to them to be made emperor! — I will do him justice, he was a gentleman in his choice of acquaintance), and trying to melt the stony citizens into pity. But it will not do; Isis is mightily popular just at this moment.’
‘And, by-the-by, I have some merchandise at Alexandria. Yes, Isis ought to be protected.’
‘True; so farewell, old gentleman: we shall meet soon; if not, we must have a friendly bet at the Amphitheatre. All my calculations are confounded by this cursed misfortune of Glaucus! He had bet on Lydon the gladiator; I must make up my tablets elsewhere. Vale!’
Leaving the less active Diomed to regain his villa, Clodius strode on, humming a Greek air, and perfuming the night with the odorous that steamed from his snowy garments and flowing locks.
‘If,’ thought he, ‘Glaucus feed the lion, Julia will no longer have a person to love better than me; she will certainly doat on me — and so, I suppose, I must marry. By the gods! the twelve lines begin to fail — men look suspiciously at my hand when it rattles the dice. That infernal Sallust insinuates cheating; and if it be discovered that the ivory is clogged, why farewell to the merry supper and the perfumed billet — Clodius is undone! Better marry, then, while I may, renounce gaming, and push my fortune (or rather the gentle Julia’s) at the imperial court.’
Thus muttering the schemes of his ambition, if by that high name the projects of Clodius may be called, the gamester found himself suddenly accosted; he turned and beheld the dark brow of Arbaces.
‘Hail, noble Clodius! pardon my interruption; and inform me, I pray you, which is the house of Sallust?’
‘It is but a few yards hence, wise Arbaces. But does Sallust entertain to-night?’
‘I know not,’ answered the Egyptian; ‘nor am I, perhaps, one of those whom he would seek as a boon companion. But thou knowest that his house holds the person of Glaucus, the murderer.’
‘Ay! he, good-hearted epicure, believes in the Greek’s innocence! You remind me that he has become his surety; and, therefore, till the trial, is responsible for his appearance.’ Well, Sallust’s house is better than a prison, especially that wretched hole in the forum. But for what can you seek Glaucus?’
‘Why, noble Clodius, if we could save him from execution it would be well. The condemnation of the rich is a blow upon society itself. I should like to confer with him — for I hear he has recovered his senses — and ascertain the motives of his crime; they may be so extenuating as to plead in his defence.’
‘You are benevolent, Arbaces.’
‘Benevolence is the duty of one who aspires to wisdom,’ replied the Egyptian, modestly. ‘Which way lies Sallust’s mansion?’
‘I will show you,’ said Clodius, ‘if you will suffer me to accompany you a few steps. But, pray what has become of the poor girl who was to have wed the Athenian — the sister of the murdered priest?’
‘Alas! well-nigh insane! Sometimes she utters imprecations on the murderer — then suddenly stops short — then cries, “But why curse? Oh, my brother! Glaucus was not thy murderer — never will I believe it!” Then she begins again, and again stops short, and mutters awfully to herself, “Yet if it were indeed he?”’
‘But it is well for her that those solemn cares to the dead which religion enjoins have hitherto greatly absorbed her attention from Glaucus and herself: and, in the dimness of her senses, she scarcely seems aware that Glaucus is apprehended and on the eve of trial. When the funeral rites due to Apaecides are performed, her apprehension will return; and then I fear me much that her friends will be revolted by seeing her run to succour and aid the murderer of her brother!’
‘Such scandal should be prevented.’
‘I trust I have taken precautions to that effect. I am her lawful guardian, and have just succeeded in obtaining permission to escort her, after the funeral of Apaecides, to my own house; there, please the gods! she will be secure.’
‘You have done well, sage Arbaces. And, now, yonder is the house of Sallust. The gods keep you! Yet, hark you, Arbaces — why so gloomy and unsocial? Men say you can be gay — why not let me initiate you into the pleasures of Pompeii? — I flatter myself no one knows them better.’
‘I thank you, noble Clodius: under your auspices I might venture, I think, to wear the philyra: but, at my age, I should be an awkward pupil.’
‘Oh, never fear; I have made converts of fellows of seventy. The rich, too, are never old.’
‘You flatter me. At some future time I will remind you of your promise.’
‘You may command Marcus Clodius at all times — and so, vale!’
‘Now,’ said the Egyptian, soliloquising, ‘I am not wantonly a man of blood; I would willingly save this Greek, if, by confessing the crime, he will lose himself for ever to Ione, and for ever free me from the chance of discovery; and I can save him by persuading Julia to own the philtre, which will be held his excuse. But if he do not confess the crime, why, Julia must be shamed from the confession, and he must die! — die, lest he prove my rival with the living — die, that he may be my proxy with the dead! Will he confess? — can he not be persuaded that in his delirium he struck the blow? To me it would give far greater safety than even his death. Hem! we must hazard the experiment.’
Sweeping along the narrow street, Arbaces now approached the house of Sallust, when he beheld a dark form wrapped in a cloak, and stretched at length across the threshold of the door.
So still lay the figure, and so dim was its outline, that any other than Arbaces might have felt a superstitious fear, lest he beheld one of those grim lemures, who, above all other spots, haunted the threshold of the homes they formerly possessed. But not for Arbaces were such dreams.
‘Rise!’ said he, touching the figure with his foot; ‘thou obstructest the way!’
‘Ha! who art thou cried the form, in a sharp tone, and as she raised herself from the ground, the starlight fell full on the pale face and fixed but sightless eyes of Nydia the Thessalian. ‘Who art thou? I know the burden of thy voice.’
‘Blind girl! what dost thou here at this late hour? Fie! — is this seeming thy sex or years? Home, girl!’
‘I know thee,’ said Nydia, in a low voice, ‘thou art Arbaces the Egyptian’: then, as if inspired by some sudden impulse, she flung herself at his feet, and clasping his knees, exclaimed, in a wild and passionate tone, ‘Oh dread and potent man! save him — save him! He is not guilty — it is I! He lies within, ill-dying, and I— I am the hateful cause! And they will not admit me to him — they spurn the blind girl from the hall. Oh, heal him! thou knowest some herb — some spell — some countercharm, for it is a potion that hath wrought this frenzy!
‘Hush, child! I know all! — thou forgettest that I accompanied Julia to the saga’s home. Doubtless her hand administered the draught; but her reputation demands thy silence. Reproach not thyself — what must be, must: meanwhile, I seek the criminal — he may yet be saved. Away!’
Thus saying, Arbaces extricated himself from the clasp of the despairing Thessalian, and knocked loudly at the door.
In a few moments the heavy bars were heard suddenly to yield, and the porter, half opening the door, demanded who was there.
‘Arbaces — important business to Sallust relative to Glaucus. I come from the praetor.’
The porter, half yawning, half groaning, admitted the tall form of the Egyptian. Nydia sprang forward. ‘How is he?’ she cried; ‘tell me — tell me!’
‘Ho, mad girl! is it thou still? — for shame! Why, they say he is sensible.’
‘The gods be praised! — and you will not admit me? Ah! I beseech thee . . . ’
‘Admit thee! — no. A pretty salute I should prepare for these shoulders were I to admit such things as thou! Go home!’
The door closed, and Nydia, with a deep sigh, laid herself down once more on the cold stones; and, wrapping her cloak round her face, resumed her weary vigil.
Meanwhile Arbaces had already gained the triclinium, where Sallust, with his favorite freedman, sat late at supper.
‘What! Arbaces! and at this hour! — Accept this cup.’
‘Nay, gentle Sallust; it is on business, not pleasure, that I venture to disturb thee. How doth thy charge? — they say in the town that he has recovered sense.’
‘Alas! and truly,’ replied the good-natured but thoughtless Sallust, wiping the tear from his eyes; ‘but so shattered are his nerves and frame that I scarcely recognize the brilliant and gay carouser I was wont to know. Yet, strange to say, he cannot account for the cause of the sudden frenzy that seized him — he retains but a dim consciousness of what hath passed; and, despite thy witness, wise Egyptian, solemnly upholds his innocence of the death of Apaecides.’
‘Sallust,’ said Arbaces, gravely, ‘there is much in thy friend’s case that merits a peculiar indulgence; and could we learn from his lips the confession and the cause of his crime, much might be yet hoped from the mercy of the senate; for the senate, thou knowest, hath the power either to mitigate or to sharpen the law. Therefore it is that I have conferred with the highest authority of the city, and obtained his permission to hold a private conference this night with the Athenian. Tomorrow, thou knowest, the trial comes on.’
‘Well,’ said Sallust, ‘thou wilt be worthy of thy Eastern name and fame if thou canst learn aught from him; but thou mayst try. Poor Glaucus! — and he had such an excellent appetite! He eats nothing now!’
The benevolent epicure was moved sensibly at this thought. He sighed, and ordered his slaves to refill his cup.
‘Night wanes,’ said the Egyptian; ‘suffer me to see thy ward now.’
Sallust nodded assent, and led the way to a small chamber, guarded without by two dozing slaves. The door opened; at the request of Arbaces, Sallust withdrew — the Egyptian was alone with Glaucus.
One of those tall and graceful candelabra common to that day, supporting a single lamp, burned beside the narrow bed. Its rays fell palely over the face of the Athenian, and Arbaces was moved to see how sensibly that countenance had changed. The rich color was gone, the cheek was sunk, the lips were convulsed and pallid; fierce had been the struggle between reason and madness, life and death. The youth, the strength of Glaucus had conquered; but the freshness of blood and soul — the life of life — its glory and its zest, were gone for ever.
The Egyptian seated himself quietly beside the bed; Glaucus still lay mute and unconscious of his presence. At length, after a considerable pause, Arbaces thus spoke:
‘Glaucus, we have been enemies. I come to thee alone and in the dead of night — thy friend, perhaps thy saviour.’
As the steed starts from the path of the tiger, Glaucus sprang up breathless — alarmed, panting at the abrupt voice, the sudden apparition of his foe. Their eyes met, and neither, for some moments, had power to withdraw his gaze. The flush went and came over the face of the Athenian, and the bronzed cheek of the Egyptian grew a shade more pale. At length, with an inward groan, Glaucus turned away, drew his hand across his brow, sunk back, and muttered:
‘Am I still dreaming?’
‘No, Glaucus thou art awake. By this right hand and my father’s head, thou seest one who may save thy life. Hark! I know what thou hast done, but I know also its excuse, of which thou thyself art ignorant. Thou hast committed murder, it is true — a sacrilegious murder — frown not — start not — these eyes saw it. But I can save thee — I can prove how thou wert bereaved of sense, and made not a free-thinking and free-acting man. But in order to save thee, thou must confess thy crime. Sign but this paper, acknowledging thy hand in the death of Apaecides, and thou shalt avoid the fatal urn.’
‘What words are these? — Murder and Apaecides! — Did I not see him stretched on the ground bleeding and a corpse? and wouldst thou persuade me that I did the deed? Man, thou liest! Away!’
‘Be not rash — Glaucus, be not hasty; the deed is proved. Come, come, thou mayst well be excused for not recalling the act of thy delirium, and which thy sober senses would have shunned even to contemplate. But let me try to refresh thy exhausted and weary memory. Thou knowest thou wert walking with the priest, disputing about his sister; thou knowest he was intolerant, and half a Nazarene, and he sought to convert thee, and ye had hot words; and he calumniated thy mode of life, and swore he would not marry Ione to thee — and then, in thy wrath and thy frenzy, thou didst strike the sudden blow. Come, come; you can recollect this! — read this papyrus, it runs to that effect — sign it, and thou art saved.’
‘Barbarian, give me the written lie, that I may tear it! I the murderer of Ione’s brother: I confess to have injured one hair of the head of him she loved! Let me rather perish a thousand times!’
‘Beware!’ said Arbaces, in a low and hissing tone; ‘there is but one choice — thy confession and thy signature, or the amphitheatre and the lion’s maw!’
As the Egyptian fixed his eyes upon the sufferer, he hailed with joy the signs of evident emotion that seized the latter at these words. A slight shudder passed over the Athenian’s frame — his lip fell — an expression of sudden fear and wonder betrayed itself in his brow and eye.
‘Great gods!’ he said, in a low voice, ‘what reverse is this? It seems but a little day since life laughed out from amidst roses — Ione mine — youth, health, love, lavishing on me their treasures; and now — pain, madness, shame, death! And for what? What have I done? Oh, I am mad still?’
‘Sign, and be saved!’ said the soft, sweet voice of the Egyptian.
‘Tempter, never!’ cried Glaucus, in the reaction of rage. ‘Thou knowest me not: thou knowest not the haughty soul of an Athenian! The sudden face of death might appal me for a moment, but the fear is over. Dishonour appals for ever! Who will debase his name to save his life? who exchange clear thoughts for sullen days? who will belie himself to shame, and stand blackened in the eyes of love? If to earn a few years of polluted life there be so base a coward, dream not, dull barbarian of Egypt! to find him in one who has trod the same sod as Harmodius, and breathed the same air as Socrates. Go! leave me to live without self-reproach — or to perish without fear!’
‘Bethink thee well! the lion’s fangs: the hoots of the brutal mob: the vulgar gaze on thy dying agony and mutilated limbs: thy name degraded; thy corpse unburied; the shame thou wouldst avoid clinging to thee for aye and ever!’
‘Thou ravest; thou art the madman! shame is not in the loss of other men’s esteem — it is in the loss of our own. Wilt thou go? — my eyes loathe the sight of thee! hating ever, I despise thee now!’
‘I go,’ said Arbaces, stung and exasperated, but not without some pitying admiration of his victim, ‘I go; we meet twice again — once at the Trial, once at the Death! Farewell!’
The Egyptian rose slowly, gathered his robes about him, and left the chamber. He sought Sallust for a moment, whose eyes began to reel with the vigils of the cup: ‘He is still unconscious, or still obstinate; there is no hope for him.’
‘Say not so,’ replied Sallust, who felt but little resentment against the Athenian’s accuser, for he possessed no great austerity of virtue, and was rather moved by his friend’s reverses than persuaded of his innocence —‘say not so, my Egyptian! so good a drinker shall be saved if possible. Bacchus against Isis!’
‘We shall see,’ said the Egyptian.
Suddenly the bolts were again withdrawn — the door unclosed; Arbaces was in the open street; and poor Nydia once more started from her long watch.
‘Wilt thou save him?’ she cried, clasping her hands.
‘Child, follow me home; I would speak to thee — it is for his sake I ask it.’
‘And thou wilt save him?’
No answer came forth to the thirsting ear of the blind girl: Arbaces had already proceeded far up the street; she hesitated a moment, and then followed his steps in silence.
‘I must secure this girl,’ said he, musingly, ‘lest she give evidence of the philtre; as to the vain Julia, she will not betray herself.’
WHILE Arbaces had been thus employed, Sorrow and Death were in the house of Ione. It was the night preceding the morn in which the solemn funeral rites were to be decreed to the remains of the murdered Apaecides. The corpse had been removed from the temple of Isis to the house of the nearest surviving relative, and Ione had heard, in the same breath, the death of her brother and the accusation against her betrothed. That first violent anguish which blunts the sense to all but itself, and the forbearing silence of her slaves, had prevented her learning minutely the circumstances attendant on the fate of her lover. His illness, his frenzy, and his approaching trial, were unknown to her. She learned only the accusation against him, and at once indignantly rejected it; nay, on hearing that Arbaces was the accuser, she required no more to induce her firmly and solemnly to believe that the Egyptian himself was the criminal. But the vast and absorbing importance attached by the ancients to the performance of every ceremonial connected with the death of a relation, had, as yet, confined her woe and her convictions to the chamber of the deceased. Alas! it was not for her to perform that tender and touching office, which obliged the nearest relative to endeavor to catch the last breath — the parting soul — of the beloved one: but it was hers to close the straining eyes, the distorted lips: to watch by the consecrated clay, as, fresh bathed and anointed, it lay in festive robes upon the ivory bed; to strew the couch with leaves and flowers, and to renew the solemn cypress-branch at the threshold of the door. And in these sad offices, in lamentation and in prayer, Ione forgot herself. It was among the loveliest customs of the ancients to bury the young at the morning twilight; for, as they strove to give the softest interpretation to death, so they poetically imagined that Aurora, who loved the young, had stolen them to her embrace; and though in the instance of the murdered priest this fable could not appropriately cheat the fancy, the general custom was still preserved.
The stars were fading one by one from the grey heavens, and night slowly receding before the approach of morn, when a dark group stood motionless before Ione’s door. High and slender torches, made paler by the unmellowed dawn, cast their light over various countenances, hushed for the moment in one solemn and intent expression. And now there arose a slow and dismal music, which accorded sadly with the rite, and floated far along the desolate and breathless streets; while a chorus of female voices (the Praeficae so often cited by the Roman poets), accompanying the Tibicen and the Mysian flute, woke the following strain:
O’er the sad threshold, where the cypress bough
Supplants the rose that should adorn thy home,
On the last pilgrimage on earth that now
Awaits thee, wanderer to Cocytus, come!
Darkly we woo, and weeping we invite —
Death is thy host — his banquet asks thy soul,
Thy garlands hang within the House of Night,
And the black stream alone shall fill thy bowl.
No more for thee the laughter and the song,
The jocund night — the glory of the day!
The Argive daughters’ at their labours long;
The hell-bird swooping on its Titan prey —
The false AEolides upheaving slow,
O’er the eternal hill, the eternal stone;
The crowned Lydian, in his parching woe,
And green Callirrhoe’s monster-headed son —
These shalt thou see, dim shadowed through the dark,
Which makes the sky of Pluto’s dreary shore;
Lo! where thou stand’st, pale-gazing on the bark,
That waits our rite to bear thee trembling o’er!
Come, then! no more delay! — the phantom pines
Amidst the Unburied for its latest home;
O’er the grey sky the torch impatient shines —
Come, mourner, forth! — the lost one bids thee come.
As the hymn died away, the group parted in twain; and placed upon a couch, spread with a purple pall, the corpse of Apaecides was carried forth, with the feet foremost. The designator, or marshal of the sombre ceremonial, accompanied by his torch-bearers, clad in black, gave the signal, and the procession moved dreadly on.
First went the musicians, playing a slow march — the solemnity of the lower instruments broken by many a louder and wilder burst of the funeral trumpet: next followed the hired mourners, chanting their dirges to the dead; and the female voices were mingled with those of boys, whose tender years made still more striking the contrast of life and death — the fresh leaf and the withered one. But the players, the buffoons, the archimimus (whose duty it was to personate the dead)— these, the customary attendants at ordinary funerals, were banished from a funeral attended with so many terrible associations.
The priests of Isis came next in their snowy garments, barefooted, and supporting sheaves of corn; while before the corpse were carried the images of the deceased and his many Athenian forefathers. And behind the bier followed, amidst her women, the sole surviving relative of the dead — her head bare, her locks disheveled, her face paler than marble, but composed and still, save ever and anon, as some tender thought — awakened by the music, flashed upon the dark lethargy of woe, she covered that countenance with her hands, and sobbed unseen; for hers were not the noisy sorrow, the shrill lament, the ungoverned gesture, which characterized those who honored less faithfully. In that age, as in all, the channel of deep grief flowed hushed and still.
And so the procession swept on, till it had traversed the streets, passed the city gate, and gained the Place of Tombs without the wall, which the traveler yet beholds.
Raised in the form of an altar — of unpolished pine, amidst whose interstices were placed preparations of combustible matter — stood the funeral pyre; and around it drooped the dark and gloomy cypresses so consecrated by song to the tomb.
As soon as the bier was placed upon the pile, the attendants parting on either side, Ione passed up to the couch, and stood before the unconscious clay for some moments motionless and silent. The features of the dead had been composed from the first agonized expression of violent death. Hushed for ever the terror and the doubt, the contest of passion, the awe of religion, the struggle of the past and present, the hope and the horror of the future! — of all that racked and desolated the breast of that young aspirant to the Holy of Life, what trace was visible in the awful serenity of that impenetrable brow and unbreathing lip? The sister gazed, and not a sound was heard amidst the crowd; there was something terrible, yet softening, also, in the silence; and when it broke, it broke sudden and abrupt — it broke, with a loud and passionate cry — the vent of long-smothered despair.
‘My brother! my brother!’ cried the poor orphan, falling upon the couch; ‘thou whom the worm on thy path feared not — what enemy couldst thou provoke? Oh, is it in truth come to this? Awake! awake! We grew together! Are we thus torn asunder? Thou art not dead — thou sleepest. Awake! awake!’
The sound of her piercing voice aroused the sympathy of the mourners, and they broke into loud and rude lament. This startled, this recalled Ione; she looked up hastily and confusedly, as if for the first time sensible of the presence of those around.
‘Ah!’ she murmured with a shiver, ‘we are not then alone!’ With that, after a brief pause, she rose; and her pale and beautiful countenance was again composed and rigid. With fond and trembling hands, she unclosed the lids of the deceased; but when the dull glazed eye, no longer beaming with love and life, met hers, she shrieked aloud, as if she had seen a spectre. Once more recovering herself she kissed again and again the lids, the lips, the brow; and with mechanic and unconscious hand, received from the high priest of her brother’s temple the funeral torch.
The sudden burst of music, the sudden song of the mourners announced the birth of the sanctifying flame.
On thy couch of cloud reclined,
Wake, O soft and sacred Wind!
Soft and sacred will we name thee,
Whosoe’er the sire that claim thee —
Whether old Auster’s dusky child,
Or the loud son of Eurus wild;
Or his who o’er the darkling deeps,
From the bleak North, in tempest sweeps;
Still shalt thou seem as dear to us
As flowery-crowned Zephyrus,
When, through twilight’s starry dew,
Trembling, he hastes his nymph to woo.
Lo! our silver censers swinging,
Perfumes o’er thy path are flinging —
Ne’er o’er Tempe’s breathless valleys,
Ne’er o’er Cypria’s cedarn alleys,
Or the Rose-isle’s moonlit sea,
Floated sweets more worthy thee.
Lo! around our vases sending
Myrrh and nard with cassia blending:
Paving air with odorous meet,
For thy silver-sandall’d feet!
August and everlasting air!
The source of all that breathe and be,
From the mute clay before thee bear
The seeds it took from thee!
Aspire, bright Flame! aspire!
Wild wind! — awake, awake!
Thine own, O solemn Fire!
O Air, thine own retake!
It comes! it comes! Lo! it sweeps,
The Wind we invoke the while!
And crackles, and darts, and leaps
The light on the holy pile!
It rises! its wings interweave
With the flames — how they howl and heave!
Toss’d, whirl’d to and fro,
How the flame-serpents glow!
Rushing higher and higher,
On — on, fearful Fire!
Thy giant limbs twined
With the arms of the Wind!
Lo! the elements meet on the throne
Of death — to reclaim their own!
Swing, swing the censer round —
Tune the strings to a softer sound!
From the chains of thy earthly toil,
From the clasp of thy mortal coil,
From the prison where clay confined thee,
The hands of the flame unbind thee!
O Soul! thou art free — all free!
As the winds in their ceaseless chase,
When they rush o’er their airy sea,
Thou mayst speed through the realms of space,
No fetter is forged for thee!
Rejoice! o’er the sluggard tide
Of the Styx thy bark can glide,
And thy steps evermore shall rove
Through the glades of the happy grove;
Where, far from the loath’d Cocytus,
The loved and the lost invite us.
Thou art slave to the earth no more!
O soul, thou art freed! — and we? —
Ah! when shall our toil be o’er?
Ah! when shall we rest with thee?
And now high and far into the dawning skies broke the fragrant fire; it flushed luminously across the gloomy cypresses — it shot above the massive walls of the neighboring city; and the early fisherman started to behold the blaze reddening on the waves of the creeping sea.
But Ione sat down apart and alone, and, leaning her face upon her hands, saw not the flame, nor heard the lamentation of the music: she felt only one sense of loneliness — she had not yet arrived to that hallowing sense of comfort, when we know that we are not alone — that the dead are with us!
The breeze rapidly aided the effect of the combustibles placed within the pile. By degrees the flame wavered, lowered, dimmed, and slowly, by fits and unequal starts, died away — emblem of life itself; where, just before, all was restlessness and flame, now lay the dull and smouldering ashes.
The last sparks were extinguished by the attendants — the embers were collected. Steeped in the rarest wine and the costliest odorous, the remains were placed in a silver urn, which was solemnly stored in one of the neighboring sepulchres beside the road; and they placed within it the vial full of tears, and the small coin which poetry still consecrated to the grim boatman. And the sepulchre was covered with flowers and chaplets, and incense kindled on the altar, and the tomb hung round with many lamps.
But the next day, when the priest returned with fresh offerings to the tomb, he found that to the relics of heathen superstition some unknown hands had added a green palm-branch. He suffered it to remain, unknowing that it was the sepulchral emblem of Christianity.
When the above ceremonies were over, one of the Praeficae three times sprinkled the mourners from the purifying branch of laurel, uttering the last word, ‘Ilicet!’— Depart! — and the rite was done.
But first they paused to utter — weepingly and many times — the affecting farewell, ‘Salve Eternum!’ And as Ione yet lingered, they woke the parting strain.
Farewell! O soul departed!
Farewell! O sacred urn!
Bereaved and broken-hearted,
To earth the mourners turn.
To the dim and dreary shore,
Thou art gone our steps before!
But thither the swift Hours lead us,
And thou dost but a while precede us,
Salve — salve!
Loved urn, and thou solemn cell,
Mute ashes! — farewell, farewell!
Salve — salve!
Ilicet — ire licet —
Ah, vainly would we part!
Thy tomb is the faithful heart.
About evermore we bear thee;
For who from the heart can tear thee?
Vainly we sprinkle o’er us
The drops of the cleansing stream;
And vainly bright before us
The lustral fire shall beam.
For where is the charm expelling
Thy thought from its sacred dwelling?
Our griefs are thy funeral feast,
And Memory thy mourning priest.
Salve — salve!
Ilicet — ire licet!
The spark from the hearth is gone
Wherever the air shall bear it;
The elements take their own —
The shadows receive thy spirit.
It will soothe thee to feel our grief,
As thou glid’st by the Gloomy River!
If love may in life be brief,
In death it is fixed for ever.
Salve — salve!
In the hall which our feasts illume,
The rose for an hour may bloom;
But the cypress that decks the tomb —
The cypress is green for ever!
Salve — salve!
WHILE some stayed behind to share with the priests the funeral banquet, Ione and her handmaids took homeward their melancholy way. And now (the last duties to her brother performed) her mind awoke from its absorption, and she thought of her allianced, and the dread charge against him. Not — as we have before said — attaching even a momentary belief to the unnatural accusation, but nursing the darkest suspicion against Arbaces, she felt that justice to her lover and to her murdered relative demanded her to seek the praetor, and communicate her impression, unsupported as it might be. Questioning her maidens, who had hitherto — kindly anxious, as I have said, to save her the additional agony — refrained from informing her of the state of Glaucus, she learned that he had been dangerously ill: that he was in custody, under the roof of Sallust; that the day of his trial was appointed.
‘Averting gods,’ she exclaimed; ‘and have I been so long forgetful of him? Have I seemed to shun him? O! let me hasten to do him justice — to show that I, the nearest relative of the dead, believe him innocent of the charge. Quick! quick! let us fly. Let me soothe — tend — cheer him! and if they will not believe me; if they will not lead to my conviction; if they sentence him to exile or to death, let me share the sentence with him!’
Instinctively she hastened her pace, confused and bewildered, scarce knowing whither she went; now designing first to seek the praetor, and now to rush to the chamber of Glaucus. She hurried on — she passed the gate of the city — she was in the long street leading up the town. The houses were opened, but none were yet astir in the streets; the life of the city was scarce awake — when lo! she came suddenly upon a small knot of men standing beside a covered litter. A tall figure stepped from the midst of them, and Ione shrieked aloud to behold Arbaces.
‘Fair Ione!’ said he, gently, and appearing not to heed her alarm: ‘my ward, my pupil! forgive me if I disturb thy pious sorrows; but the praetor, solicitous of thy honour, and anxious that thou mayest not rashly be implicated in the coming trial; knowing the strange embarrassment of thy state (seeking justice for thy brother, but dreading punishment to thy betrothed)— sympathizing, too, with thy unprotected and friendless condition, and deeming it harsh that thou shouldst be suffered to act unguided and mourn alone — hath wisely and paternally confided thee to the care of thy lawful guardian. Behold the writing which intrusts thee to my charge!’
‘Dark Egyptian!’ cried Ione, drawing herself proudly aside; ‘begone! It is thou that hast slain my brother! Is it to thy care, thy hands yet reeking with his blood, that they will give the sister Ha! thou turnest pale! thy conscience smites thee! thou tremblest at the thunderbolt of the avenging god! Pass on, and leave me to my woe!’
‘Thy sorrows unstring thy reason, Ione,’ said Arbaces, attempting in vain his usual calmness of tone. ‘I forgive thee. Thou wilt find me now, as ever, thy surest friend. But the public streets are not the fitting place for us to confer — for me to console thee. Approach, slaves! Come, my sweet charge, the litter awaits thee.’
The amazed and terrified attendants gathered round Ione, and clung to her knees.
‘Arbaces,’ said the eldest of the maidens, ‘this is surely not the law! For nine days after the funeral, is it not written that the relatives of the deceased shall not be molested in their homes, or interrupted in their solitary grief?’
‘Woman!’ returned Arbaces, imperiously waving his hand, ‘to place a ward under the roof of her guardian is not against the funeral laws. I tell thee I have the fiat of the praetor. This delay is indecorous. Place her in the litter.’
So saying, he threw his arm firmly round the shrinking form of Ione. She drew back, gazed earnestly in his face, and then burst into hysterical laughter:
‘Ha, ha! this is well — well! Excellent guardian — paternal law! Ha, ha!’ And, startled herself at the dread echo of that shrill and maddened laughter, she sunk, as it died away, lifeless upon the ground . . . A minute more, and Arbaces had lifted her into the litter. The bearers moved swiftly on, and the unfortunate Ione was soon borne from the sight of her weeping handmaids.
IT will be remembered that, at the command of Arbaces, Nydia followed the Egyptian to his home, and conversing there with her, he learned from the confession of her despair and remorse, that her hand, and not Julia’s, had administered to Glaucus the fatal potion. At another time the Egyptian might have conceived a philosophical interest in sounding the depths and origin of the strange and absorbing passion which, in blindness and in slavery, this singular girl had dared to cherish; but at present he spared no thought from himself. As, after her confession, the poor Nydia threw herself on her knees before him, and besought him to restore the health and save the life of Glaucus — for in her youth and ignorance she imagined the dark magician all-powerful to effect both — Arbaces, with unheeding ears, was noting only the new expediency of detaining Nydia a prisoner until the trial and fate of Glaucus were decided. For if, when he judged her merely the accomplice of Julia in obtaining the philtre, he had felt it was dangerous to the full success of his vengeance to allow her to be at large — to appear, perhaps, as a witness — to avow the manner in which the sense of Glaucus had been darkened, and thus win indulgence to the crime of which he was accused — how much more was she likely to volunteer her testimony when she herself had administered the draught, and, inspired by love, would be only anxious, at any expense of shame, to retrieve her error and preserve her beloved? Besides, how unworthy of the rank and repute of Arbaces to be implicated in the disgrace of pandering to the passion of Julia, and assisting in the unholy rites of the Saga of Vesuvius! Nothing less, indeed, than his desire to induce Glaucus to own the murder of Apaecides, as a policy evidently the best both for his own permanent safety and his successful suit with Ione, could ever have led him to contemplate the confession of Julia.
As for Nydia, who was necessarily cut off by her blindness from much of the knowledge of active life, and who, a slave and a stranger, was naturally ignorant of the perils of the Roman law, she thought rather of the illness and delirium of her Athenian, than the crime of which she had vaguely heard him accused, or the chances of the impending trial. Poor wretch that she was, whom none addressed, none cared for, what did she know of the senate and the sentence — the hazard of the law — the ferocity of the people — the arena and the lion’s den? She was accustomed only to associate with the thought of Glaucus everything that was prosperous and lofty — she could not imagine that any peril, save from the madness of her love, could menace that sacred head. He seemed to her set apart for the blessings of life. She only had disturbed the current of his felicity; she knew not, she dreamed not that the stream, once so bright, was dashing on to darkness and to death. It was therefore to restore the brain that she had marred, to save the life that she had endangered that she implored the assistance of the great Egyptian.
‘Daughter,’ said Arbaces, waking from his reverie, ‘thou must rest here; it is not meet for thee to wander along the streets, and be spurned from the threshold by the rude feet of slaves. I have compassion on thy soft crime — I will do all to remedy it. Wait here patiently for some days, and Glaucus shall be restored.’ So saying, and without waiting for her reply, he hastened from the room, drew the bolt across the door, and consigned the care and wants of his prisoner to the slave who had the charge of that part of the mansion.
Alone, then, and musingly, he waited the morning light, and with it repaired, as we have seen, to possess himself of the person of Ione.
His primary object, with respect to the unfortunate Neapolitan, was that which he had really stated to Clodius, viz., to prevent her interesting herself actively in the trial of Glaucus, and also to guard against her accusing him (which she would, doubtless, have done) of his former act of perfidy and violence towards her, his ward — denouncing his causes for vengeance against Glaucus — unveiling the hypocrisy of his character — and casting any doubt upon his veracity in the charge which he had made against the Athenian. Not till he had encountered her that morning — not till he had heard her loud denunciations — was he aware that he had also another danger to apprehend in her suspicion of his crime. He hugged himself now at the thought that these ends were effected: that one, at once the object of his passion and his fear, was in his power. He believed more than ever the flattering promises of the stars; and when he sought Ione in that chamber in the inmost recesses of his mysterious mansion to which he had consigned her — when he found her overpowered by blow upon blow, and passing from fit to fit, from violence to torpor, in all the alternations of hysterical disease — he thought more of the loveliness which no frenzy could distort than of the woe which he had brought upon her. In that sanguine vanity common to men who through life have been invariably successful, whether in fortune or love, he flattered himself that when Glaucus had perished — when his name was solemnly blackened by the award of a legal judgment, his title to her love for ever forfeited by condemnation to death for the murder of her own brother — her affection would be changed to horror; and that his tenderness and his passion, assisted by all the arts with which he well knew how to dazzle woman’s imagination, might elect him to that throne in her heart from which his rival would be so awfully expelled. This was his hope: but should it fail, his unholy and fervid passion whispered, ‘At the worst, now she is in my power.’
Yet, withal, he felt that uneasiness and apprehension which attended upon the chance of detection, even when the criminal is insensible to the voice of conscience — that vague terror of the consequences of crime, which is often mistaken for remorse at the crime itself. The buoyant air of Campania weighed heavily upon his breast; he longed to hurry from a scene where danger might not sleep eternally with the dead; and, having Ione now in his possession, he secretly resolved, as soon as he had witnessed the last agony of his rival, to transport his wealth — and her, the costliest treasure of all, to some distant shore.
‘Yes,’ said he, striding to and fro his solitary chamber —‘yes, the law that gave me the person of my ward gives me the possession of my bride. Far across the broad main will we sweep on our search after novel luxuries and inexperienced pleasures. Cheered by my stars, supported by the omens of my soul, we will penetrate to those vast and glorious worlds which my wisdom tells me lie yet untracked in the recesses of the circling sea. There may this heart, possessed of love, grow once more alive to ambition — there, amongst nations uncrushed by the Roman yoke, and to whose ear the name of Rome has not yet been wafted, I may found an empire, and transplant my ancestral creed; renewing the ashes of the dead Theban rule; continuing in yet grander shores the dynasty of my crowned fathers, and waking in the noble heart of Ione the grateful consciousness that she shares the lot of one who, far from the aged rottenness of this slavish civilization, restores the primal elements of greatness, and unites in one mighty soul the attributes of the prophet and the king.’ From this exultant soliloquy, Arbaces was awakened to attend the trial of the Athenian.
The worn and pallid cheek of his victim touched him less than the firmness of his nerves and the dauntlessness of his brow; for Arbaces was one who had little pity for what was unfortunate, but a strong sympathy for what was bold. The congenialities that bind us to others ever assimilate to the qualities of our own nature. The hero weeps less at the reverses of his enemy than at the fortitude with which he bears them. All of us are human, and Arbaces, criminal as he was, had his share of our common feelings and our mother clay. Had he but obtained from Glaucus the written confession of his crime, which would, better than even the judgment of others, have lost him with Ione, and removed from Arbaces the chance of future detection, the Egyptian would have strained every nerve to save his rival. Even now his hatred was over — his desire of revenge was slaked: he crushed his prey, not in enmity, but as an obstacle in his path. Yet was he not the less resolved, the less crafty and persevering, in the course he pursued, for the destruction of one whose doom was become necessary to the attainment of his objects: and while, with apparent reluctance and compassion, he gave against Glaucus the evidence which condemned him, he secretly, and through the medium of the priesthood, fomented that popular indignation which made an effectual obstacle to the pity of the senate. He had sought Julia; he had detailed to her the confession of Nydia; he had easily, therefore, lulled any scruple of conscience which might have led her to extenuate the offence of Glaucus by avowing her share in his frenzy: and the more readily, for her vain heart had loved the fame and the prosperity of Glaucus — not Glaucus himself, she felt no affection for a disgraced man — nay, she almost rejoiced in the disgrace that humbled the hated Ione. If Glaucus could not be her slave, neither could he be the adorer of her rival. This was sufficient consolation for any regret at his fate. Volatile and fickle, she began again to be moved by the sudden and earnest suit of Clodius, and was not willing to hazard the loss of an alliance with that base but high-born noble by any public exposure of her past weakness and immodest passion for another. All things then smiled upon Arbaces — all things frowned upon the Athenian.
WHEN the Thessalian found that Arbaces returned to her no more — when she was left, hour after hour, to all the torture of that miserable suspense which was rendered by blindness doubly intolerable, she began, with outstretched arms, to feel around her prison for some channel of escape; and finding the only entrance secure, she called aloud, and with the vehemence of a temper naturally violent, and now sharpened by impatient agony.
‘Ho, girl!’ said the slave in attendance, opening the door; art thou bit by a scorpion? or thinkest thou that we are dying of silence here, and only to be preserved, like the infant Jupiter, by a hullabaloo?’
‘Where is thy master? and wherefore am I caged here? I want air and liberty: let me go forth!’
‘Alas! little one, hast thou not seen enough of Arbaces to know that his will is imperial! He hath ordered thee to be caged; and caged thou art, and I am thy keeper. Thou canst not have air and liberty; but thou mayst have what are much better things — food and wine.’
‘Proh Jupiter!’ cried the girl, wringing her hands; ‘and why am I thus imprisoned? What can the great Arbaces want with so poor a thing as I am?’
‘That I know not, unless it be to attend on thy new mistress, who has been brought hither this day.’
‘What! Ione here?’
‘Yes, poor lady; she liked it little, I fear. Yet, by the Temple of Castor! Arbaces is a gallant man to the women. Thy lady is his ward, thou knowest.’
‘Wilt thou take me to her?’
‘She is ill — frantic with rage and spite. Besides, I have no orders to do so; and I never think for myself. When Arbaces made me slave of these chambers, he said, “I have but one lesson to give thee — while thou servest me, thou must have neither ears, eyes, nor thought; thou must be but one quality — obedience.”’
‘But what harm is there in seeing Ione?’
‘That I know not; but if thou wantest a companion, I am willing to talk to thee, little one, for I am solitary enough in my dull cubiculum. And, by the way, thou art Thessalian — knowest thou not some cunning amusement of knife and shears, some pretty trick of telling fortunes, as most of thy race do, in order to pass the time.’
‘Tush, slave, hold thy peace! or, if thou wilt speak, what hast thou heard of the state of Glaucus?’
‘Why, my master has gone to the Athenian’s trial; Glaucus will smart for it!’
‘The murder of the priest Apaecides.’
‘Ha!’ said Nydia, pressing her hands to her forehead; ‘something of this I have indeed heard, but understand not. Yet, who will dare to touch a hair of his head?’
‘That will the lion, I fear.’
‘Averting gods! what wickedness dost thou utter?’
‘Why, only that, if he be found guilty, the lion, or may be the tiger, will be his executioner.’
Nydia leaped up, as if an arrow had entered her heart; she uttered a piercing scream; then, falling before the feet of the slave, she cried, in a tone that melted even his rude heart:
‘Ah! tell me thou jestest — thou utterest not the truth — speak, speak!’
‘Why, by my faith, blind girl, I know nothing of the law; it may not be so bad as I say. But Arbaces is his accuser, and the people desire a victim for the arena. Cheer thee! But what hath the fate of the Athenian to do with thine?’
‘No matter, no matter — he has been kind to me: thou knowest not, then, what they will do? Arbaces his accuser! O fate! The people — the people! Ah! they can look upon his face — who will be cruel to the Athenian! — Yet was not Love itself cruel to him?’
So saying, her head drooped upon her bosom: she sunk into silence; scalding tears flowed down her cheeks; and all the kindly efforts of the slave were unable either to console her or distract the absorption of her reverie.
When his household cares obliged the ministrant to leave her room, Nydia began to re-collect her thoughts. Arbaces was the accuser of Glaucus; Arbaces had imprisoned her here; was not that a proof that her liberty might be serviceable to Glaucus? Yes, she was evidently inveigled into some snare; she was contributing to the destruction of her beloved! Oh, how she panted for release! Fortunately, for her sufferings, all sense of pain became merged in the desire of escape; and as she began to revolve the possibility of deliverance, she grew calm and thoughtful. She possessed much of the craft of her sex, and it had been increased in her breast by her early servitude. What slave was ever destitute of cunning? She resolved to practise upon her keeper; and calling suddenly to mind his superstitious query as to her Thessalian art, she hoped by that handle to work out some method of release. These doubts occupied her mind during the rest of the day and the long hours of night; and, accordingly, when Sosia visited her the following morning, she hastened to divert his garrulity into that channel in which it had before evinced a natural disposition to flow.
She was aware, however, that her only chance of escape was at night; and accordingly she was obliged with a bitter pang at the delay to defer till then her purposed attempt.
‘The night,’ said she, ‘is the sole time in which we can well decipher the decrees of Fate — then it is thou must seek me. But what desirest thou to learn?’
‘By Pollux! I should like to know as much as my master; but that is not to be expected. Let me know, at least, whether I shall save enough to purchase my freedom, or whether this Egyptian will give it me for nothing. He does such generous things sometimes. Next, supposing that be true, shall I possess myself of that snug taberna among the Myropolia, which I have long had in my eye? ’Tis a genteel trade that of a perfumer, and suits a retired slave who has something of a gentleman about him!’
‘Ay! so you would have precise answers to those questions? — there are various ways of satisfying you. There is the Lithomanteia, or Speaking-stone, which answers your prayer with an infant’s voice; but, then, we have not that precious stone with us — costly is it and rare. Then there is the Gastromanteia, whereby the demon casts pale and deadly images upon the water, prophetic of the future. But this art requires also glasses of a peculiar fashion, to contain the consecrated liquid, which we have not. I think, therefore, that the simplest method of satisfying your desire would be by the Magic of Air.’
‘I trust,’ said Sosia, tremulously, ‘that there is nothing very frightful in the operation? I have no love for apparitions.’
‘Fear not; thou wilt see nothing; thou wilt only hear by the bubbling of water whether or not thy suit prospers. First, then, be sure, from the rising of the evening star, that thou leavest the garden-gate somewhat open, so that the demon may feel himself invited to enter therein; and place fruits and water near the gate as a sign of hospitality; then, three hours after twilight, come here with a bowl of the coldest and purest water, and thou shalt learn all, according to the Thessalian lore my mother taught me. But forget not the garden-gate — all rests upon that: it must be open when you come, and for three hours previously.’
‘Trust me,’ replied the unsuspecting Sosia; ‘I know what a gentleman’s feelings are when a door is shut in his face, as the cookshop’s hath been in mine many a day; and I know, also, that a person of respectability, as a demon of course is, cannot but be pleased, on the other hand, with any little mark of courteous hospitality. Meanwhile, pretty one, here is thy morning’s meal.’
‘But what of the trial?’
‘Oh, the lawyers are still at it — talk, talk — it will last over all tomorrow.’
‘To-morrow? You are sure of that?’
‘So I hear.’
‘By Bacchus! she must be tolerably well, for she was strong enough to make my master stamp and bite his lip this morning. I saw him quit her apartment with a brow like a thunderstorm.’
‘Lodges she near this?’
‘No — in the upper apartments. But I must not stay prating here longer. Vale!’
THE second night of the trial had set in; and it was nearly the time in which Sosia was to brave the dread Unknown, when there entered, at that very garden-gate which the slave had left ajar — not, indeed, one of the mysterious spirits of earth or air, but the heavy and most human form of Calenus, the priest of Isis. He scarcely noted the humble offerings of indifferent fruit, and still more indifferent wine, which the pious Sosia had deemed good enough for the invisible stranger they were intended to allure. ‘Some tribute,’ thought he, ‘to the garden god. By my father’s head! if his deityship were never better served, he would do well to give up the godly profession. Ah! were it not for us priests, the gods would have a sad time of it. And now for Arbaces — I am treading a quicksand, but it ought to cover a mine. I have the Egyptian’s life in my power — what will he value it at?’
As he thus soliloquised, he crossed through the open court into the peristyle, where a few lamps here and there broke upon the empire of the starlit night; and issuing from one of the chambers that bordered the colonnade, suddenly encountered Arbaces.
‘Ho! Calenus — seekest thou me?’ said the Egyptian; and there was a little embarrassment in his voice.
‘Yes, wise Arbaces — I trust my visit is not unseasonable?’
‘Nay — it was but this instant that my freedman Callias sneezed thrice at my right hand; I knew, therefore, some good fortune was in store for me — and, lo! the gods have sent me Calenus.’
‘Shall we within to your chamber, Arbaces?’
‘As you will; but the night is clear and balmy — I have some remains of languor yet lingering on me from my recent illness — the air refreshes me — let us walk in the garden — we are equally alone there.’
‘With all my heart,’ answered the priest; and the two friends passed slowly to one of the many terraces which, bordered by marble vases and sleeping flowers, intersected the garden.
‘It is a lovely night,’ said Arbaces —‘blue and beautiful as that on which, twenty years ago, the shores of Italy first broke upon my view. My Calenus, age creeps upon us — let us, at least, feel that we have lived.’
‘Thou, at least, mayst arrogate that boast,’ said Calenus, beating about, as it were, for an opportunity to communicate the secret which weighed upon him, and feeling his usual awe of Arbaces still more impressively that night, from the quiet and friendly tone of dignified condescension which the Egyptian assumed —‘Thou, at least, mayst arrogate that boast. Thou hast had countless wealth — a frame on whose close-woven fibres disease can find no space to enter — prosperous love — inexhaustible pleasure — and, even at this hour, triumphant revenge.’
‘Thou alludest to the Athenian. Ay, tomorrow’s sun the fiat of his death will go forth. The senate does not relent. But thou mistakest: his death gives me no other gratification than that it releases me from a rival in the affections of Ione. I entertain no other sentiment of animosity against that unfortunate homicide.’
‘Homicide!’ repeated Calenus, slowly and meaningly; and, halting as he spoke, he fixed his eyes upon Arbaces. The stars shone pale and steadily on the proud face of their prophet, but they betrayed there no change: the eyes of Calenus fell disappointed and abashed. He continued rapidly —‘Homicide! it is well to charge him with that crime; but thou, of all men, knowest that he is innocent.’
‘Explain thyself,’ said Arbaces, coldly; for he had prepared himself for the hint his secret fears had foretold.
‘Arbaces,’ answered Calenus, sinking his voice into a whisper, ‘I was in the sacred grove, sheltered by the chapel and the surrounding foliage. I overheard — I marked the whole. I saw thy weapon pierce the heart of Apaecides. I blame not the deed — it destroyed a foe and an apostate.’
‘Thou sawest the whole!’ said Arbaces, dryly; ‘so I imagined — thou wert alone.’
‘Alone!’ returned Calenus, surprised at the Egyptian’s calmness.
‘And wherefore wert thou hid behind the chapel at that hour?’
‘Because I had learned the conversion of Apaecides to the Christian faith — because I knew that on that spot he was to meet the fierce Olinthus — because they were to meet there to discuss plans for unveiling the sacred mysteries of our goddess to the people — and I was there to detect, in order to defeat them.’
‘Hast thou told living ear what thou didst witness?’
‘No, my master: the secret is locked in thy servant’s breast.’
‘What! even thy kinsman Burbo guesses it not! Come, the truth!’
‘By the gods . . . ’
‘Hush! we know each other — what are the gods to us?’
‘By the fear of thy vengeance, then — no!’
‘And why hast thou hitherto concealed from me this secret? Why hast thou waited till the eve of the Athenian’s condemnation before thou hast ventured to tell me that Arbaces is a murderer? And having tarried so long, why revealest thou now that knowledge?’
‘Because — because . . . ’ stammered Calenus, coloring and in confusion.
‘Because,’ interrupted Arbaces, with a gentle smile, and tapping the priest on the shoulder with a kindly and familiar gesture —‘because, my Calenus (see now, I will read thy heart, and explain its motives)— because thou didst wish thoroughly to commit and entangle me in the trial, so that I might have no loophole of escape; that I might stand firmly pledged to perjury and to malice, as well as to homicide; that having myself whetted the appetite of the populace to blood, no wealth, no power, could prevent my becoming their victim: and thou tellest me thy secret now, ere the trial be over and the innocent condemned, to show what a desperate web of villainy thy word tomorrow could destroy; to enhance in this, the ninth hour, the price of thy forbearance; to show that my own arts, in arousing the popular wrath, would, at thy witness, recoil upon myself; and that if not for Glaucus, for me would gape the jaws of the lion! Is it not so?’
‘Arbaces, replied Calenus, losing all the vulgar audacity of his natural character, ‘verily thou art a Magician; thou readest the heart as it were a scroll.’
‘It is my vocation,’ answered the Egyptian, laughing gently. ‘Well, then, forbear; and when all is over, I will make thee rich.’
‘Pardon me,’ said the priest, as the quick suggestion of that avarice, which was his master-passion, bade him trust no future chance of generosity; ‘pardon me; thou saidst right — we know each other. If thou wouldst have me silent, thou must pay something in advance, as an offer to Harpocrates.’ If the rose, sweet emblem of discretion, is to take root firmly, water her this night with a stream of gold.’
‘Witty and poetical!’ answered Arbaces, still in that bland voice which lulled and encouraged, when it ought to have alarmed and checked, his griping comrade. ‘Wilt thou not wait the morrow?’
‘Why this delay? Perhaps, when I can no longer give my testimony without shame for not having given it ere the innocent man suffered, thou wilt forget my claim; and, indeed, thy present hesitation is a bad omen of thy future gratitude.’
‘Well, then, Calenus, what wouldst thou have me pay thee?’
‘Thy life is, very precious, and thy wealth is very great,’ returned the priest, grinning.
‘Wittier and more witty. But speak out — what shall be the sum?’
‘Arbaces, I have heard that in thy secret treasury below, beneath those rude Oscan arches which prop thy stately halls, thou hast piles of gold, of vases, and of jewels, which might rival the receptacles of the wealth of the deified Nero. Thou mayst easily spare out of those piles enough to make Calenus among the richest priests of Pompeii, and yet not miss the loss.’
‘Come, Calenus,’ said Arbaces, winningly, and with a frank and generous air, ‘thou art an old friend, and hast been a faithful servant. Thou canst have no wish to take away my life, nor I a desire to stint thy reward: thou shalt descend with me to that treasury thou referrest to, thou shalt feast thine eyes with the blaze of uncounted gold and the sparkle of priceless gems; and thou shalt for thy own reward, bear away with thee this night as much as thou canst conceal beneath thy robes. Nay, when thou hast once seen what thy friend possesses, thou wilt learn how foolish it would be to injure one who has so much to bestow. When Glaucus is no more, thou shalt pay the treasury another visit. Speak I frankly and as a friend?’
‘Oh, greatest, best of men!’ cried Calenus, almost weeping with joy, ‘canst thou thus forgive my injurious doubts of thy justice, thy generosity?’
‘Hush! one other turn and we will descend to the Oscan arches.’
IMPATIENTLY Nydia awaited the arrival of the no less anxious Sosia. Fortifying his courage by plentiful potations of a better liquor than that provided for the demon, the credulous ministrant stole into the blind girl’s chamber.
‘Well, Sosia, and art thou prepared? Hast thou the bowl of pure water?’
‘Verily, yes: but I tremble a little. You are sure I shall not see the demon? I have heard that those gentlemen are by no means of a handsome person or a civil demeanor.’
‘Be assured! And hast thou left the garden-gate gently open?’
‘Yes; and placed some beautiful nuts and apples on a little table close by?’
‘That’s well. And the gate is open now, so that the demon may pass through it?’
‘Surely it is.’
‘Well, then, open this door; there — leave it just ajar. And now, Sosia, give me the lamp.’
‘What, you will not extinguish it?’
‘No; but I must breathe my spell over its ray. There is a spirit in fire. Seat thyself.’
The slave obeyed; and Nydia, after bending for some moments silently over the lamp, rose, and in a low voice chanted the following rude:—
Loved alike by Air and Water
Aye must be Thessalia’s daughter;
To us, Olympian hearts, are given
Spells that draw the moon from heaven.
All that Egypt’s learning wrought —
All that Persia’s Magian taught —
Won from song, or wrung from flowers,
Or whisper’d low by fiend — are ours.
Spectre of the viewless air!
Hear the blind Thessalian’s prayer!
By Erictho’s art, that shed
Dews of life when life was fled —
By lone Ithaca’s wise king,
Who could wake the crystal spring
To the voice of prophecy?
By the lost Eurydice,
Summon’d from the shadowy throng,
As the muse-son’s magic song —
By the Colchian’s awful charms,
When fair-haired Jason left her arms —
Spectre of the airy halls,
One who owns thee duly calls!
Breathe along the brimming bowl,
And instruct the fearful soul
In the shadowy things that lie
Dark in dim futurity.
Come, wild demon of the air,
Answer to thy votary’s prayer!
Come! oh, come!
And no god on heaven or earth —
Not the Paphian Queen of Mirth,
Not the vivid Lord of Light,
Nor the triple Maid of Night,
Nor the Thunderer’s self shall be
Blest and honour’d more than thee!
Come! oh, come!
‘The spectre is certainly coming,’ said Sosia. ‘I feel him running along my hair!’
‘Place thy bowl of water on the ground. Now, then, give me thy napkin, and let me fold up thy face and eyes.’
‘Ay! that’s always the custom with these charms. Not so tight, though: gently — gently!’
‘There — thou canst not see?’
‘See, by Jupiter! No! nothing but darkness.’
‘Address, then, to the spectre whatever question thou wouldst ask him, in a low-whispered voice, three times. If thy question is answered in the affirmative, thou wilt hear the water ferment and bubble before the demon breathes upon it; if in the negative, the water will be quite silent.’
‘But you will not play any trick with the water, eh?’
‘Let me place the bowl under thy feet — so. Now thou wilt perceive that I cannot touch it without thy knowledge.’
‘Very fair. Now, then, O Bacchus! befriend me. Thou knowest that I have always loved thee better than all the other gods, and I will dedicate to thee that silver cup I stole last year from the burly carptor (butler), if thou wilt but befriend me with this water-loving demon. And thou, O Spirit! listen and hear me. Shall I be enabled to purchase my freedom next year? Thou knowest; for, as thou livest in the air, the birds have doubtless acquainted thee with every secret of this house — thou knowest that I have filched and pilfered all that I honestly — that is, safely — could lay finger upon for the last three years, and I yet want two thousand sesterces of the full sum. Shall I be able, O good Spirit! to make up the deficiency in the course of this year? Speak — Ha! does the water bubble? No; all is as still as a tomb. — Well, then, if not this year, in two years? — Ah! I hear something; the demon is scratching at the door; he’ll be here presently. — In two years, my good fellow: come now, two; that’s a very reasonable time. What! dumb still! Two years and a half — three — four? ill fortune to you, friend demon! You are not a lady, that’s clear, or you would not keep silence so long. Five — six — sixty years? and may Pluto seize you! I’ll ask no more.’ And Sosia, in a rage, kicked down the water over his legs. He then, after much fumbling and more cursing, managed to extricate his head from the napkin in which it was completely folded — stared round — and discovered that he was in the dark.
‘What, ho! Nydia; the lamp is gone. Ah, traitress; and thou art gone too; but I’ll catch thee — thou shalt smart for this!’ The slave groped his way to the door; it was bolted from without: he was a prisoner instead of Nydia. What could he do? He did not dare to knock loud — to call out — lest Arbaces should overhear him, and discover how he had been duped; and Nydia, meanwhile, had probably already gained the garden-gate, and was fast on her escape.
‘But,’ thought he, ‘she will go home, or, at least, be somewhere in the city. To-morrow, at dawn, when the slaves are at work in the peristyle, I can make myself heard; then I can go forth and seek her. I shall be sure to find and bring her back, before Arbaces knows a word of the matter. Ah! that’s the best plan. Little traitress, my fingers itch at thee: and to leave only a bowl of water, too! Had it been wine, it would have been some comfort.’
While Sosia, thus entrapped, was lamenting his fate, and revolving his schemes to repossess himself of Nydia, the blind girl, with that singular precision and dexterous rapidity of motion, which, we have before observed, was peculiar to her, had passed lightly along the peristyle, threaded the opposite passage that led into the garden, and, with a beating heart, was about to proceed towards the gate, when she suddenly heard the sound of approaching steps, and distinguished the dreaded voice of Arbaces himself. She paused for a moment in doubt and terror; then suddenly it flashed across her recollection that there was another passage which was little used except for the admission of the fair partakers of the Egyptian’s secret revels, and which wound along the basement of that massive fabric towards a door which also communicated with the garden. By good fortune it might be open. At that thought, she hastily retraced her steps, descended the narrow stairs at the right, and was soon at the entrance of the passage. Alas! the door at the entrance was closed and secured. While she was yet assuring herself that it was indeed locked, she heard behind her the voice of Calenus, and, a moment after, that of Arbaces in low reply. She could not stay there; they were probably passing to that very door. She sprang onward, and felt herself in unknown ground. The air grew damp and chill; this reassured her. She thought she might be among the cellars of the luxurious mansion, or, at least, in some rude spot not likely to be visited by its haughty lord, when again her quick ear caught steps and the sound of voices. On, on, she hurried, extending her arms, which now frequently encountered pillars of thick and massive form. With a tact, doubled in acuteness by her fear, she escaped these perils, and continued her way, the air growing more and more damp as she proceeded; yet, still, as she ever and anon paused for breath, she heard the advancing steps and the indistinct murmur of voices. At length she was abruptly stopped by a wall that seemed the limit of her path. Was there no spot in which she could hide? No aperture? no cavity? There was none! She stopped, and wrung her hands in despair; then again, nerved as the voices neared upon her, she hurried on by the side of the wall; and coming suddenly against one of the sharp buttresses that here and there jutted boldly forth, she fell to the ground. Though much bruised, her senses did not leave her; she uttered no cry; nay, she hailed the accident that had led her to something like a screen; and creeping close up to the angle formed by the buttress, so that on one side at least she was sheltered from view, she gathered her slight and small form into its smallest compass, and breathlessly awaited her fate.
Meanwhile Arbaces and the priest were taking their way to that secret chamber whose stores were so vaunted by the Egyptian. They were in a vast subterranean atrium, or hall; the low roof was supported by short, thick pillars of an architecture far remote from the Grecian graces of that luxuriant period. The single and pale lamp, which Arbaces bore, shed but an imperfect ray over the bare and rugged walls, in which the huge stones, without cement, were fitted curiously and uncouthly into each other. The disturbed reptiles glared dully on the intruders, and then crept into the shadow of the walls.
Calenus shivered as he looked around and breathed the damp, unwholesome air.
‘Yet,’ said Arbaces, with a smile, perceiving his shudder, ‘it is these rude abodes that furnish the luxuries of the halls above. They are like the laborers of the world — we despise their ruggedness, yet they feed the very pride that disdains them.’
‘And whither goes yon dim gallery to the left asked Calenus; ‘in this depth of gloom it seems without limit, as if winding into Hades.’
‘On the contrary, it does but conduct to the upper rooms,’ answered Arbaces, carelessly: ‘it is to the right that we steer to our bourn.’
The hall, like many in the more habitable regions of Pompeii, branched off at the extremity into two wings or passages; the length of which, not really great, was to the eye considerably exaggerated by the sudden gloom against which the lamp so faintly struggled. To the right of these alae, the two comrades now directed their steps.
‘The gay Glaucus will be lodged tomorrow in apartments not much drier, and far less spacious than this,’ said Calenus, as they passed by the very spot where, completely wrapped in the shadow of the broad, projecting buttress, cowered the Thessalian.
‘Ay, but then he will have dry room, and ample enough, in the arena on the following day. And to think,’ continued Arbaces, slowly, and very deliberately —‘to think that a word of thine could save him, and consign Arbaces to his doom!’
‘That word shall never be spoken,’ said Calenus.
‘Right, my Calenus! it never shall,’ returned Arbaces, familiarly leaning his arm on the priest’s shoulder: ‘and now, halt — we are at the door.’
The light trembled against a small door deep set in the wall, and guarded strongly by many plates and bindings of iron, that intersected the rough and dark wood. From his girdle Arbaces now drew a small ring, holding three or four short but strong keys. Oh, how beat the griping heart of Calenus, as he heard the rusty wards growl, as if resenting the admission to the treasures they guarded!
‘Enter, my friend,’ said Arbaces, ‘while I hold the lamp on high, that thou mayst glut thine eyes on the yellow heaps.’
The impatient Calenus did not wait to be twice invited; he hastened towards the aperture.
Scarce had he crossed the threshold, when the strong hand of Arbaces plunged him forwards.
‘The word shall never be spoken!’ said the Egyptian, with a loud exultant laugh, and closed the door upon the priest.
Calenus had been precipitated down several steps, but not feeling at the moment the pain of his fall, he sprung up again to the door, and beating at it fiercely with his clenched fist, he cried aloud in what seemed more a beast’s howl than a human voice, so keen was his agony and despair: ‘Oh, release me, release me, and I will ask no gold!’
The words but imperfectly penetrated the massive door, and Arbaces again laughed. Then, stamping his foot violently, rejoined, perhaps to give vent to his long-stifled passions:
‘All the gold of Dalmatia,’ cried he, ‘will not buy thee a crust of bread. Starve, wretch! thy dying groans will never wake even the echo of these vast halls; nor will the air ever reveal, as thou gnawest, in thy desperate famine, thy flesh from thy bones, that so perishes the man who threatened, and could have undone, Arbaces! Farewell!’
‘Oh, pity — mercy! Inhuman villain; was it for this . . . ’
The rest of the sentence was lost to the ear of Arbaces as he passed backward along the dim hall. A toad, plump and bloated, lay unmoving before his path; the rays of the lamp fell upon its unshaped hideousness and red upward eye. Arbaces turned aside that he might not harm it.
‘Thou art loathsome and obscene,’ he muttered, ‘but thou canst not injure me; therefore thou art safe in my path.’
The cries of Calenus, dulled and choked by the barrier that confined him, yet faintly reached the ear of the Egyptian. He paused and listened intently.
‘This is unfortunate,’ thought he; ‘for I cannot sail till that voice is dumb for ever. My stores and treasures lie, not in yon dungeon it is true, but in the opposite wing. My slaves, as they move them, must not hear his voice. But what fear of that? In three days, if he still survive, his accents, by my father’s beard, must be weak enough, then! — no, they could not pierce even through his tomb. By Isis, it is cold! — I long for a deep draught of the spiced Falernian.’
With that the remorseless Egyptian drew his gown closer round him, and resought the upper air.
WHAT words of terror, yet of hope, had Nydia overheard! The next day Glaucus was to be condemned; yet there lived one who could save him, and adjudge Arbaces to his doom, and that one breathed within a few steps of her hiding-place! She caught his cries and shrieks — his imprecations — his prayers, though they fell choked and muffled on her ear. He was imprisoned, but she knew the secret of his cell: could she but escape — could she but seek the praetor he might yet in time be given to light, and preserve the Athenian. Her emotions almost stifled her; her brain reeled — she felt her sense give way — but by a violent effort she mastered herself — and, after listening intently for several minutes, till she was convinced that Arbaces had left the space to solitude and herself, she crept on as her ear guided her to the very door that had closed upon Calenus. Here she more distinctly caught his accents of terror and despair. Thrice she attempted to speak, and thrice her voice failed to penetrate the folds of the heavy door. At length finding the lock, she applied her lips to its small aperture, and the prisoner distinctly heard a soft tone breathe his name.
His blood curdled — his hair stood on end. That awful solitude, what mysterious and preternatural being could penetrate! ‘Who’s there?’ he cried, in new alarm; ‘what spectre — what dread larva, calls upon the lost Calenus?’
‘Priest,’ replied the Thessalian, ‘unknown to Arbaces, I have been, by the permission of the gods, a witness to his perfidy. If I myself can escape from these walls, I may save thee. But let thy voice reach my ear through this narrow passage, and answer what I ask.’
‘Ah, blessed spirit,’ said the priest, exultingly, and obeying the suggestion of Nydia, ‘save me, and I will sell the very cups on the altar to pay thy kindness.’
‘I want not thy gold — I want thy secret. Did I hear aright? Canst thou save the Athenian Glaucus from the charge against his life?’
‘I can — I can! — therefore (may the Furies blast the foul Egyptian!) hath Arbaces snared me thus, and left me to starve and rot!’
‘They accuse the Athenian of murder: canst thou disprove the accusation?’
‘Only free me, and the proudest head of Pompeii is not more safe than his. I saw the deed done — I saw Arbaces strike the blow; I can convict the true murderer and acquit the innocent man. But if I perish, he dies also. Dost thou interest thyself for him? Oh, blessed stranger, in my heart is the urn which condemns or frees him!’
‘And thou wilt give full evidence of what thou knowest?’
‘Will! — Oh! were hell at my feet — yes! Revenge on the false Egyptian! — revenge! — revenge! revenge!’
As through his ground teeth Calenus shrieked forth those last words, Nydia felt that in his worst passions was her certainty of his justice to the Athenian. Her heart beat: was it to be her proud destiny to preserve her idolized — her adored? Enough,’ said she, ‘the powers that conducted me hither will carry me through all. Yes, I feel that I shall deliver thee. Wait in patience and hope.’
‘But be cautious, be prudent, sweet stranger. Attempt not to appeal to Arbaces — he is marble. Seek the praetor — say what thou knowest — obtain his writ of search; bring soldiers, and smiths of cunning — these locks are wondrous strong! Time flies — I may starve — starve! if you are not quick! Go — go! Yet stay — it is horrible to be alone! — the air is like a charnel — and the scorpions — ha! and the pale larvae; oh! stay, stay!’
‘Nay,’ said Nydia, terrified by the terror of the priest, and anxious to confer with herself —‘nay, for thy sake, I must depart. Take hope for thy companion — farewell!’
So saying, she glided away, and felt with extended arms along the pillared space until she had gained the farther end of the hall and the mouth of the passage that led to the upper air. But there she paused; she felt that it would be more safe to wait awhile, until the night was so far blended with the morning that the whole house would be buried in sleep, and so that she might quit it unobserved. She, therefore, once more laid herself down, and counted the weary moments. In her sanguine heart, joy was the predominant emotion. Glaucus was in deadly peril — but she should save him!
WHEN Arbaces had warmed his veins by large draughts of that spiced and perfumed wine so valued by the luxurious, he felt more than usually elated and exultant of heart. There is a pride in triumphant ingenuity, not less felt, perhaps, though its object be guilty. Our vain human nature hugs itself in the consciousness of superior craft and self-obtained success — afterwards comes the horrible reaction of remorse.
But remorse was not a feeling which Arbaces was likely ever to experience for the fate of the base Calenus. He swept from his remembrance the thought of the priest’s agonies and lingering death: he felt only that a great danger was passed, and a possible foe silenced; all left to him now would be to account to the priesthood for the disappearance of Calenus; and this he imagined it would not be difficult to do. Calenus had often been employed by him in various religious missions to the neighboring cities. On some such errand he could now assert that he had been sent, with offerings to the shrines of Isis at Herculaneum and Neapolis, placatory of the goddess for the recent murder of her priest Apaecides. When Calenus had expired, his body might be thrown, previous to the Egyptian’s departure from Pompeii, into the deep stream of the Sarnus; and when discovered, suspicion would probably fall upon the Nazarene atheists, as an act of revenge for the death of Olinthus at the arena. After rapidly running over these plans for screening himself, Arbaces dismissed at once from his mind all recollection of the wretched priest; and, animated by the success which had lately crowned all his schemes, he surrendered his thoughts to Ione. The last time he had seen her, she had driven him from her presence by a reproachful and bitter scorn, which his arrogant nature was unable to endure. He now felt emboldened once more to renew that interview; for his passion for her was like similar feelings in other men — it made him restless for her presence, even though in that presence he was exasperated and humbled. From delicacy to her grief he laid not aside his dark and unfestive robes, but, renewing the perfumes on his raven locks, and arranging his tunic in its most becoming folds, he sought the chamber of the Neapolitan. Accosting the slave in attendance without, he inquired if Ione had yet retired to rest; and learning that she was still up, and unusually quiet and composed, he ventured into her presence. He found his beautiful ward sitting before a small table, and leaning her face upon both her hands in the attitude of thought. Yet the expression of the face itself possessed not its wonted bright and Psyche-like expression of sweet intelligence; the lips were apart — the eye vacant and unheeding — and the long dark hair, falling neglected and disheveled upon her neck, gave by the contrast additional paleness to a cheek which had already lost the roundness of its contour.
Arbaces gazed upon her a moment ere he advanced. She, too, lifted up her eyes; and when she saw who was the intruder, shut them with an expression of pain, but did not stir.
‘Ah!’ said Arbaces in a low and earnest tone as he respectfully, nay, humbly, advanced and seated himself at a little distance from the table —‘Ah! that my death could remove thy hatred, then would I gladly die! Thou wrongest me, Ione; but I will bear the wrong without a murmur, only let me see thee sometimes. Chide, reproach, scorn me, if thou wilt — I will teach myself to bear it. And is not even thy bitterest tone sweeter to me than the music of the most artful lute? In thy silence the world seems to stand still — a stagnation curdles up the veins of the earth — there is no earth, no life, without the light of thy countenance and the melody of thy voice.’
‘Give me back my brother and my betrothed,’ said Ione, in a calm and imploring tone, and a few large tears rolled unheeded down her cheeks.
‘Would that I could restore the one and save the other!’ returned Arbaces, with apparent emotion. ‘Yes; to make thee happy I would renounce my ill-fated love, and gladly join thy hand to the Athenian’s. Perhaps he will yet come unscathed from his trial (Arbaces had prevented her learning that the trial had already commenced); if so, thou art free to judge or condemn him thyself. And think not, O Ione, that I would follow thee longer with a prayer of love. I know it is in vain. Suffer me only to weep — to mourn with thee. Forgive a violence deeply repented, and that shall offend no more. Let me be to thee only what I once was — a friend, a father, a Protector. Ah, Ione! spare me and forgive.’
‘I forgive thee. Save but Glaucus, and I will renounce him. O mighty Arbaces! thou art powerful in evil or in good: save the Athenian, and the poor Ione will never see him more.’ As she spoke, she rose with weak and trembling limbs, and falling at his feet, she clasped his knees: ‘Oh! if thou really lovest me — if thou art human — remember my father’s ashes, remember my childhood, think of all the hours we passed happily together, and save my Glaucus!’
Strange convulsions shook the frame of the Egyptian; his features worked fearfully — he turned his face aside, and said, in a hollow voice, ‘If I could save him, even now, I would; but the Roman law is stern and sharp. Yet if I could succeed — if I could rescue and set him free — wouldst thou be mine — my bride?’
‘Thine?’ repeated Ione, rising: ‘thine! — thy bride? My brother’s blood is unavenged: who slew him? O Nemesis, can I even sell, for the life of Glaucus, thy solemn trust? Arbaces — thine? Never.’
‘Ione, Ione!’ cried Arbaces, passionately; ‘why these mysterious words? — why dost thou couple my name with the thought of thy brother’s death?’
‘My dreams couple it — and dreams are from the gods.’
‘Vain fantasies all! Is it for a dream that thou wouldst wrong the innocent, and hazard thy sole chance of saving thy lover’s life?’
‘Hear me!’ said Ione, speaking firmly, and with a deliberate and solemn voice: ‘If Glaucus be saved by thee, I will never be borne to his home a bride. But I cannot master the horror of other rites: I cannot wed with thee. Interrupt me not; but mark me, Arbaces! — if Glaucus die, on that same day I baffle thine arts, and leave to thy love only my dust! Yes — thou mayst put the knife and the poison from my reach — thou mayst imprison — thou mayst chain me, but the brave soul resolved to escape is never without means. These hands, naked and unarmed though they be, shall tear away the bonds of life. Fetter them, and these lips shall firmly refuse the air. Thou art learned — thou hast read how women have died rather than meet dishonour. If Glaucus perish, I will not unworthily linger behind him. By all the gods of the heaven, and the ocean, and the earth, I devote myself to death! I have said!’
High, proud, dilating in her stature, like one inspired, the air and voice of Ione struck an awe into the breast of her listener.
‘Brave heart!’ said he, after a short pause; ‘thou art indeed worthy to be mine. Oh! that I should have dreamt of such a partner in my lofty destinies, and never found it but in thee! Ione,’ he continued rapidly, ‘dost thou not see that we are born for each other? Canst thou not recognize something kindred to thine own energy — thine own courage — in this high and self-dependent soul? We were formed to unite our sympathies — formed to breathe a new spirit into this hackneyed and gross world — formed for the mighty ends which my soul, sweeping down the gloom of time, foresees with a prophet’s vision. With a resolution equal to thine own, I defy thy threats of an inglorious suicide. I hail thee as my own! Queen of climes undarkened by the eagle’s wing, unravaged by his beak, I bow before thee in homage and in awe — but I claim thee in worship and in love! Together will we cross the ocean — together will we found our realm; and far distant ages shall acknowledge the long race of kings born from the marriage-bed of Arbaces and Ione!’
‘Thou ravest! These mystic declamations are suited rather to some palsied crone selling charms in the market-place than to the wise Arbaces. Thou hast heard my resolution — it is fixed as the Fates themselves. Orcus has heard my vow, and it is written in the book of the unforgetful Hades. Atone, then, O Arbaces! — atone the past: convert hatred into regard — vengeance into gratitude; preserve one who shall never be thy rival. These are acts suited to thy original nature, which gives forth sparks of something high and noble. They weigh in the scales of the Kings of Death: they turn the balance on that day when the disembodied soul stands shivering and dismayed between Tartarus and Elysium; they gladden the heart in life, better and longer than the reward of a momentary passion. Oh, Arbaces! hear me, and be swayed!’
‘Enough, Ione. All that I can do for Glaucus shall be done; but blame me not if I fail. Inquire of my foes, even, if I have not sought, if I do not seek, to turn aside the sentence from his head; and judge me accordingly. Sleep then, Ione. Night wanes; I leave thee to rest — and mayst thou have kinder dreams of one who has no existence but in thine.’
Without waiting a reply, Arbaces hastily withdrew; afraid, perhaps, to trust himself further to the passionate prayer of Ione, which racked him with jealousy, even while it touched him to compassion. But compassion itself came too late. Had Ione even pledged him her hand as his reward, he could not now — his evidence given — the populace excited — have saved the Athenian. Still made sanguine by his very energy of mind, he threw himself on the chances of the future, and believed he should yet triumph over the woman that had so entangled his passions.
As his attendants assisted to unrobe him for the night, the thought of Nydia flashed across him. He felt it was necessary that Ione should never learn of her lover’s frenzy, lest it might excuse his imputed crime; and it was possible that her attendants might inform her that Nydia was under his roof, and she might desire to see her. As this idea crossed him, he turned to one of his freedmen:
‘Go, Callias,’ said he, ‘forthwith to Sosia, and tell him, that on no pretence is he to suffer the blind slave Nydia out of her chamber. But, stay — first seek those in attendance upon my ward, and caution them not to inform her that the blind girl is under my roof Go — quick!’
The freedman hastened to obey. After having discharged his commission with respect to Ione’s attendants, he sought the worthy Sosia. He found him not in the little cell which was apportioned for his cubiculum; he called his name aloud, and from Nydia’s chamber, close at hand, he heard the voice of Sosia reply:
‘Oh, Callias, is it you that I hear? — the gods be praised!’ Open the door, I pray you!’
Callias withdrew the bolt, and the rueful face of Sosia hastily protruded itself.
‘What! — in the chamber with that young girl, Sosia! Proh pudor! Are there not fruits ripe enough on the wall, but that thou must tamper with such green . . . ’
‘Name not the little witch!’ interrupted Sosia, impatiently; ‘she will be my ruin!’ And he forthwith imparted to Callias the history of the Air Demon, and the escape of the Thessalian.
‘Hang thyself, then, unhappy Sosia! I am just charged from Arbaces with a message to thee; on no account art thou to suffer her, even for a moment, from that chamber!’
‘Me miserum!’ exclaimed the slave. ‘What can I do! — by this time she may have visited half Pompeii. But tomorrow I will undertake to catch her in her old haunts. Keep but my counsel, my dear Callias.’
‘I will do all that friendship can, consistent with my own safety. But are you sure she has left the house? — she may be hiding here yet.’
‘How is that possible? She could easily have gained the garden; and the door, as I told thee, was open.’
‘Nay, not so; for, at that very hour thou specifiest, Arbaces was in the garden with the priest Calenus. I went there in search of some herbs for my master’s bath tomorrow. I saw the table set out; but the gate I am sure was shut: depend upon it, that Calenus entered by the garden, and naturally closed the door after him.’
‘But it was not locked.’
‘Yes; for I myself, angry at a negligence which might expose the bronzes in the peristyle to the mercy of any robber, turned the key, took it away, and — as I did not see the proper slave to whom to give it, or I should have rated him finely — here it actually is, still in my girdle.’
‘Oh, merciful Bacchus! I did not pray to thee in vain, after all. Let us not lose a moment! Let us to the garden instantly — she may yet be there!’
The good-natured Callias consented to assist the slave; and after vainly searching the chambers at hand, and the recesses of the peristyle, they entered the garden.
It was about this time that Nydia had resolved to quit her hiding-place, and venture forth on her way. Lightly, tremulously holding her breath, which ever and anon broke forth in quick convulsive gasps — now gliding by the flower — wreathed columns that bordered the peristyle — now darkening the still moonshine that fell over its tessellated centre — now ascending the terrace of the garden — now gliding amidst the gloomy and breathless trees, she gained the fatal door — to find it locked! We have all seen that expression of pain, of uncertainty, of fear, which a sudden disappointment of touch, if I may use the expression, casts over the face of the blind. But what words can paint the intolerable woe, the sinking of the whole heart, which was now visible on the features of the Thessalian? Again and again her small, quivering hands wandered to and fro the inexorable door. Poor thing that thou wert! in vain had been all thy noble courage, thy innocent craft, thy doublings to escape the hound and huntsmen! Within but a few yards from thee, laughing at thy endeavors — thy despair — knowing thou wert now their own, and watching with cruel patience their own moment to seize their prey — thou art saved from seeing thy pursuers!
‘Hush, Callias! — let her go on. Let us see what she will do when she has convinced herself that the door is honest.’
‘Look! she raises her face to the heavens — she mutters — she sinks down despondent! No! by Pollux, she has some new scheme! She will not resign herself! By Jupiter, a tough spirit! See, she springs up — she retraces her steps — she thinks of some other chance! — I advise thee, Sosia, to delay no longer: seize her ere she quit the garden — now!’
‘Ah! runaway! I have thee — eh?’ said Sosia, seizing upon the unhappy Nydia. As a hare’s last human cry in the fangs of the dogs — as the sharp voice of terror uttered by a sleep-walker suddenly awakened — broke the shriek of the blind girl, when she felt the abrupt gripe of her gaoler. It was a shriek of such utter agony, such entire despair, that it might have rung hauntingly in your ears for ever. She felt as if the last plank of the sinking Glaucus were torn from his clasp! It had been a suspense of life and death; and death had now won the game.
‘Gods! that cry will alarm the house! Arbaces sleeps full lightly. Gag her!’ cried Callias.
‘Ah! here is the very napkin with which the young witch conjured away my reason! Come, that’s right; now thou art dumb as well as blind.’
And, catching the light weight in his arms, Sosia soon gained the house, and reached the chamber from which Nydia had escaped. There, removing the gag, he left her to a solitude so racked and terrible, that out of Hades its anguish could scarcely be exceeded.
IT was now late on the third and last day of the trial of Glaucus and Olinthus. A few hours after the court had broken up and judgment been given, a small party of the fashionable youth at Pompeii were assembled round the fastidious board of Lepidus.
‘So Glaucus denies his crime to the last?’ said Clodius.
‘Yes; but the testimony of Arbaces was convincing; he saw the blow given,’ answered Lepidus.
‘What could have been the cause?’
‘Why, the priest was a gloomy and sullen fellow. He probably rated Glaucus soundly about his gay life and gaming habits, and ultimately swore he would not consent to his marriage with Ione. High words arose; Glaucus seems to have been full of the passionate god, and struck in sudden exasperation. The excitement of wine, the desperation of abrupt remorse, brought on the delirium under which he suffered for some days; and I can readily imagine, poor fellow! that, yet confused by that delirium, he is even now unconscious of the crime he committed! Such, at least, is the shrewd conjecture of Arbaces, who seems to have been most kind and forbearing in his testimony.’
‘Yes; he has made himself generally popular by it. But, in consideration of these extenuating circumstances, the senate should have relaxed the sentence.’
‘And they would have done so, but for the people; but they were outrageous. The priest had spared no pains to excite them; and they imagined — the ferocious brutes! — because Glaucus was a rich man and a gentleman, that he was likely to escape; and therefore they were inveterate against him, and doubly resolved upon his sentence. It seems, by some accident or other, that he was never formally enrolled as a Roman citizen; and thus the senate is deprived of the power to resist the people, though, after all, there was but a majority of three against him. Ho! the Chian!’
‘He looks sadly altered; but how composed and fearless!’
‘Ay, we shall see if his firmness will last over tomorrow.’ But what merit in courage, when that atheistical hound, Olinthus, manifested the same?’
‘The blasphemer! Yes,’ said Lepidus, with pious wrath, ‘no wonder that one of the decurions was, but two days ago, struck dead by lightning in a serene sky.’ The gods feel vengeance against Pompeii while the vile desecrator is alive within its walls.’
‘Yet so lenient was the senate, that had he but expressed his penitence, and scattered a few grains of incense on the altar of Cybele, he would have been let off. I doubt whether these Nazarenes, had they the state religion, would be as tolerant to us, supposing we had kicked down the image of their Deity, blasphemed their rites, and denied their faith.’
‘They give Glaucus one chance, in consideration of the circumstances; they allow him, against the lion, the use of the same stilus wherewith he smote the priest.’
‘Hast thou seen the lion? hast thou looked at his teeth and fangs, and wilt thou call that a chance? Why, sword and buckler would be mere reed and papyrus against the rush of the mighty beast! No, I think the true mercy has been, not to leave him long in suspense; and it was therefore fortunate for him that our benign laws are slow to pronounce, but swift to execute; and that the games of the amphitheatre had been, by a sort of providence, so long since fixed for tomorrow. He who awaits death, dies twice.’
‘As for the Atheist, said Clodius, ‘he is to cope the grim tiger naked-handed. Well, these combats are past betting on. Who will take the odds?’ A peal of laughter announced the ridicule of the question.
‘Poor Clodius!’ said the host; I to lose a friend is something; but to find no one to bet on the chance of his escape is a worse misfortune to thee.’
‘Why, it is provoking; it would have been some consolation to him and to me to think he was useful to the last.’
‘The people,’ said the grave Pansa, ‘are all delighted with the result. They were so much afraid the sports at the amphitheatre would go off without a criminal for the beasts; and now, to get two such criminals is indeed a joy for the poor fellows! They work hard; they ought to have some amusement.’
‘There speaks the popular Pansa, who never moves without a string of clients as long as an Indian triumph. He is always prating about the people. Gods! he will end by being a Gracchus!’
‘Certainly I am no insolent patrician,’ said Pansa, with a generous air.
‘Well,’ observed Lepidus, it would have been assuredly dangerous to have been merciful at the eve of a beast-fight. If ever I, though a Roman bred and born, come to be tried, pray Jupiter there may be either no beasts in the vivaria, or plenty of criminals in the gaol.’
‘And pray,’ said one of the party, ‘what has become of the poor girl whom Glaucus was to have married? A widow without being a bride — that is hard!’
‘Oh,’ returned Clodius, ‘she is safe under the protection of her guardian, Arbaces. It was natural she should go to him when she had lost both lover and brother.’
‘By sweet Venus, Glaucus was fortunate among the women. They say the rich Julia was in love with him.’
‘A mere fable, my friend,’ said Clodius, coxcombically; ‘I was with her today. If any feeling of the sort she ever conceived, I flatter myself that I have consoled her.’
‘Hush, gentlemen!’ said Pansa; ‘do you not know that Clodius is employed at the house of Diomed in blowing hard at the torch? It begins to burn, and will soon shine bright on the shrine of Hymen.’
‘Is it so?’ said Lepidus. ‘What! Clodius become a married man? — Fie!’
‘Never fear,’ answered Clodius; ‘old Diomed is delighted at the notion of marrying his daughter to a nobleman, and will come down largely with the sesterces. You will see that I shall not lock them up in the atrium. It will be a white day for his jolly friends, when Clodius marries an heiress.’
‘Say you so?’ cried Lepidus; ‘come, then, a full cup to the health of the fair Julia!’
While such was the conversation — one not discordant to the tone of mind common among the dissipated of that day, and which might perhaps, a century ago, have found an echo in the looser circles of Paris — while such, I say, was the conversation in the gaudy triclinium of Lepidus, far different the scene which scowled before the young Athenian.
After his condemnation, Glaucus was admitted no more to the gentle guardianship of Sallust, the only friend of his distress. He was led along the forum till the guards stopped at a small door by the side of the temple of Jupiter. You may see the place still. The door opened in the centre in a somewhat singular fashion, revolving round on its hinges, as it were, like a modern turnstile, so as only to leave half the threshold open at the same time. Through this narrow aperture they thrust the prisoner, placed before him a loaf and a pitcher of water, and left him to darkness, and, as he thought, to solitude. So sudden had been that revolution of fortune which had prostrated him from the palmy height of youthful pleasure and successful love to the lowest abyss of ignominy, and the horror of a most bloody death, that he could scarcely convince himself that he was not held in the meshes of some fearful dream. His elastic and glorious frame had triumphed over a potion, the greater part of which he had fortunately not drained. He had recovered sense and consciousness, but still a dim and misty depression clung to his nerves and darkened his mind. His natural courage, and the Greek nobility of pride, enabled him to vanquish all unbecoming apprehension, and, in the judgment-court, to face his awful lot with a steady mien and unquailing eye. But the consciousness of innocence scarcely sufficed to support him when the gaze of men no longer excited his haughty valor, and he was left to loneliness and silence. He felt the damps of the dungeon sink chillingly into his enfeebled frame. He — the fastidious, the luxurious, the refined — he who had hitherto braved no hardship and known no sorrow. Beautiful bird that he was! why had he left his far and sunny clime — the olive-groves of his native hills — the music of immemorial streams? Why had he wantoned on his glittering plumage amidst these harsh and ungenial strangers, dazzling the eyes with his gorgeous hues, charming the ear with his blithesome song — thus suddenly to be arrested — caged in darkness — a victim and a prey — his gay flights for ever over — his hymns of gladness for ever stilled! The poor Athenian! his very faults the exuberance of a gentle and joyous nature, how little had his past career fitted him for the trials he was destined to undergo! The hoots of the mob, amidst whose plaudits he had so often guided his graceful car and bounding steeds, still rang gratingly in his ear. The cold and stony faces of former friends (the co-mates of merry revels) still rose before his eye. None now were by to soothe, to sustain, the admired, the adulated stranger. These walls opened but on the dread arena of a violent and shameful death. And Ione! of her, too, he had heard naught; no encouraging word, no pitying message; she, too, had forsaken him; she believed him guilty — and of what crime? — the murder of a brother! He ground his teeth — he groaned aloud — and ever and anon a sharp fear shot across him. In that fell and fierce delirium which had so unaccountably seized his soul, which had so ravaged the disordered brain, might he not, indeed, unknowing to himself, have committed the crime of which he was accused? Yet, as the thought flashed upon him, it was as suddenly checked; for, amidst all the darkness of the past, he thought distinctly to recall the dim grove of Cybele, the upward face of the pale dead, the pause that he had made beside the corpse, and the sudden shock that felled him to the earth. He felt convinced of his innocence; and yet who, to the latest time, long after his mangled remains were mingled with the elements, would believe him guiltless, or uphold his fame? As he recalled his interview with Arbaces, and the causes of revenge which had been excited in the heart of that dark and fearful man, he could not but believe that he was the victim of some deep-laid and mysterious snare — the clue and train of which he was lost in attempting to discover: and Ione — Arbaces loved her — might his rival’s success be founded upon his ruin? That thought cut him more deeply than all; and his noble heart was more stung by jealousy than appalled by fear. Again he groaned aloud.
A voice from the recess of the darkness answered that burst of anguish. ‘Who (it said) is my companion in this awful hour? Athenian Glaucus, it is thou?’
‘So, indeed, they called me in mine hour of fortune: they may have other names for me now. And thy name, stranger?’
‘Is Olinthus, thy co-mate in the prison as the trial.’
‘What! he whom they call the Atheist? Is it the injustice of men that hath taught thee to deny the providence of the gods?’
‘Alas!’ answered Olinthus: ‘thou, not I, art the true Atheist, for thou deniest the sole true God — the Unknown One — to whom thy Athenian fathers erected an altar. It is in this hour that I know my God. He is with me in the dungeon; His smile penetrates the darkness; on the eve of death my heart whispers immortality, and earth recedes from me but to bring the weary soul nearer unto heaven.’
‘Tell me,’ said Glaucus, abruptly, ‘did I not hear thy name coupled with that of Apaecides in my trial? Dost thou believe me guilty?’
‘God alone reads the heart! but my suspicion rested not upon thee.’
‘On whom then?’
‘Thy accuser, Arbaces.’
‘Ha! thou cheerest me: and wherefore?’
‘Because I know the man’s evil breast, and he had cause to fear him who is now dead.’
With that, Olinthus proceeded to inform Glaucus of those details which the reader already knows, the conversion of Apaecides, the plan they had proposed for the detection of the impostures of the Egyptian upon the youthful weakness of the proselyte. ‘Therefore,’ concluded Olinthus, ‘had the deceased encountered Arbaces, reviled his treasons, and threatened detection, the place, the hour, might have favored the wrath of the Egyptian, and passion and craft alike dictated the fatal blow.’
‘It must have been so!’ cried Glaucus, joyfully. ‘I am happy.’
‘Yet what, O unfortunate! avails to thee now the discovery? Thou art condemned and fated; and in thine innocence thou wilt perish.’
‘But I shall know myself guiltless; and in my mysterious madness I had fearful, though momentary, doubts. Yet tell me, man of a strange creed, thinkest thou that for small errors, or for ancestral faults, we are for ever abandoned and accursed by the powers above, whatever name thou allottest to them?’
‘God is just, and abandons not His creatures for their mere human frailty. God is merciful, and curses none but the wicked who repent not.’
‘Yet it seemeth to me as if, in the divine anger, I had been smitten by a sudden madness, a supernatural and solemn frenzy, wrought not by human means.’
‘There are demons on earth,’ answered the Nazarene, fearfully, ‘as well as there are God and His Son in heaven; and since thou acknowledgest not the last, the first may have had power over thee.’
Glaucus did not reply, and there was a silence for some minutes. At length the Athenian said, in a changed, and soft, and half-hesitating voice. ‘Christian, believest thou, among the doctrines of thy creed, that the dead live again — that they who have loved here are united hereafter — that beyond the grave our good name shines pure from the mortal mists that unjustly dim it in the gross-eyed world — and that the streams which are divided by the desert and the rock meet in the solemn Hades, and flow once more into one?’
‘Believe I that, O Athenian No, I do not believe — I know! and it is that beautiful and blessed assurance which supports me now. O Cyllene!’ continued Olinthus, passionately, ‘bride of my heart! torn from me in the first month of our nuptials,’ shall I not see thee yet, and ere many days be past? Welcome, welcome death, that will bring me to heaven and thee!’
There was something in this sudden burst of human affection which struck a kindred chord in the soul of the Greek. He felt, for the first time, a sympathy greater than mere affliction between him and his companion. He crept nearer towards Olinthus; for the Italians, fierce in some points, were not unnecessarily cruel in others; they spared the separate cell and the superfluous chain, and allowed the victims of the arena the sad comfort of such freedom and such companionship as the prison would afford.
‘Yes,’ continued the Christian, with holy fervor, ‘the immortality of the soul — the resurrection — the reunion of the dead — is the great principle of our creed — the great truth a God suffered death itself to attest and proclaim. No fabled Elysium — no poetic Orcus — but a pure and radiant heritage of heaven itself, is the portion of the good.’
‘Tell me, then, thy doctrines, and expound to me thy hopes,’ said Glaucus, earnestly.
Olinthus was not slow to obey that prayer; and there — as oftentimes in the early ages of the Christian creed — it was in the darkness of the dungeon, and over the approach of death, that the dawning Gospel shed its soft and consecrating rays.
THE hours passed in lingering torture over the head of Nydia from the time in which she had been replaced in her cell.
Sosia, as if afraid he should be again outwitted, had refrained from visiting her until late in the morning of the following day, and then he but thrust in the periodical basket of food and wine, and hastily reclosed the door. That day rolled on, and Nydia felt herself pent — barred — inexorably confined, when that day was the judgment-day of Glaucus, and when her release would have saved him! Yet knowing, almost impossible as seemed her escape, that the sole chance for the life of Glaucus rested on her, this young girl, frail, passionate, and acutely susceptible as she was — resolved not to give way to a despair that would disable her from seizing whatever opportunity might occur. She kept her senses whenever, beneath the whirl of intolerable thought, they reeled and tottered; nay, she took food and wine that she might sustain her strength — that she might be prepared!
She revolved scheme after scheme of escape, and was forced to dismiss all. Yet Sosia was her only hope, the only instrument with which she could tamper. He had been superstitious in the desire of ascertaining whether he could eventually purchase his freedom. Blessed gods! might he not be won by the bribe of freedom itself? was she not nearly rich enough to purchase it? Her slender arms were covered with bracelets, the presents of Ione; and on her neck she yet wore that very chain which, it may be remembered, had occasioned her jealous quarrel with Glaucus, and which she had afterwards promised vainly to wear for ever. She waited burningly till Sosia should again appear: but as hour after hour passed, and he came not, she grew impatient. Every nerve beat with fever; she could endure the solitude no longer — she groaned, she shrieked aloud — she beat herself against the door. Her cries echoed along the hall, and Sosia, in peevish anger, hastened to see what was the matter, and silence his prisoner if possible.
‘Ho! ho! what is this?’ said he, surlily. ‘Young slave, if thou screamest out thus, we must gag thee again. My shoulders will smart for it, if thou art heard by my master.’
‘Kind Sosia, chide me not — I cannot endure to be so long alone,’ answered Nydia; ‘the solitude appals me. Sit with me, I pray, a little while. Nay, fear not that I should attempt to escape; place thy seat before the door. Keep thine eye on me — I will not stir from this spot.’
Sosia, who was a considerable gossip himself, was moved by this address. He pitied one who had nobody to talk with — it was his case too; he pitied — and resolved to relieve himself. He took the hint of Nydia, placed a stool before the door, leant his back against it, and replied:
‘I am sure I do not wish to be churlish; and so far as a little innocent chat goes, I have no objection to indulge you. But mind, no tricks — no more conjuring!’
‘No, no; tell me, dear Sosia, what is the hour?’
‘It is already evening — the goats are going home.’
‘O gods! how went the trial’
Nydia repressed the shriek. ‘Well — well, I thought it would be so. When do they suffer?’
‘To-morrow, in the amphitheatre. If it were not for thee, little wretch, I should be allowed to go with the rest and see it.’
Nydia leant back for some moments. Nature could endure no more — she had fainted away. But Sosia did not perceive it, for it was the dusk of eve, and he was full of his own privations. He went on lamenting the loss of so delightful a show, and accusing the injustice of Arbaces for singling him out from all his fellows to be converted into a gaoler; and ere he had half finished, Nydia, with a deep sigh, recovered the sense of life.
‘Thou sighest, blind one, at my loss! Well, that is some comfort. So long as you acknowledge how much you cost me, I will endeavor not to grumble. It is hard to be ill-treated, and yet not pitied.’
‘Sosia, how much dost thou require to make up the purchase of thy freedom?’
‘How much? Why, about two thousand sesterces.’
‘The gods be praised! not more? Seest thou these bracelets and this chain? They are well worth double that sum. I will give them thee if . . . ’
‘Tempt me not: I cannot release thee. Arbaces is a severe and awful master. Who knows but I might feed the fishes of the Sarnus Alas! all the sesterces in the world would not buy me back into life. Better a live dog than a dead lion.’
‘Sosia, thy freedom! Think well! If thou wilt let me out only for one little hour! — let me out at midnight — I will return ere tomorrow’s dawn; nay, thou canst go with me.’
‘No,’ said Sosia, sturdily, ‘a slave once disobeyed Arbaces, and he was never more heard of.’
‘But the law gives a master no power over the life of a slave.’
‘The law is very obliging, but more polite than efficient. I know that Arbaces always gets the law on his side. Besides, if I am once dead, what law can bring me to life again!’
Nydia wrung her hands. ‘Is there no hope, then?’ said she, convulsively.
‘None of escape till Arbaces gives the word.’
‘Well, then, said Nydia, quickly, ‘thou wilt not, at least, refuse to take a letter for me: thy master cannot kill thee for that.’
‘To a magistrate? No — not I. I should be made a witness in court, for what I know; and the way they cross-examine the slaves is by the torture.’
‘Pardon: I meant not the praetor — it was a word that escaped me unawares: I meant quite another person — the gay Sallust.’
‘Oh! and what want you with him?’
‘Glaucus was my master; he purchased me from a cruel lord. He alone has been kind to me. He is to die. I shall never live happily if I cannot, in his hour of trial and doom, let him know that one heart is grateful to him. Sallust is his friend; he will convey my message.’
‘I am sure he will do no such thing. Glaucus will have enough to think of between this and tomorrow without troubling his head about a blind girl.’
‘Man,’ said Nydia, rising, ‘wilt thou become free? Thou hast the offer in thy power; tomorrow it will be too late. Never was freedom more cheaply purchased. Thou canst easily and unmissed leave home: less than half an hour will suffice for thine absence. And for such a trifle wilt thou refuse liberty?’
Sosia was greatly moved. It was true that the request was remarkably silly; but what was that to him? So much the better. He could lock the door on Nydia, and, if Arbaces should learn his absence, the offence was venial, and would merit but a reprimand. Yet, should Nydia’s letter contain something more than what she had said — should it speak of her imprisonment, as he shrewdly conjectured it would do — what then! It need never be known to Arbaces that he had carried the letter. At the worst the bribe was enormous — the risk light — the temptation irresistible. He hesitated no longer — he assented to the proposal.
‘Give me the trinkets, and I will take the letter. Yet stay — thou art a slave — thou hast no right to these ornaments — they are thy master’s.’
‘They were the gifts of Glaucus; he is my master. What chance hath he to claim them? Who else will know they are in my possession?’
‘Enough — I will bring thee the papyrus.’
‘No, not papyrus — a tablet of wax and a stilus.’
Nydia, as the reader will have seen, was born of gentle parents. They had done all to lighten her calamity, and her quick intellect seconded their exertions. Despite her blindness, she had therefore acquired in childhood, though imperfectly, the art to write with the sharp stilus upon waxen tablets, in which her exquisite sense of touch came to her aid. When the tablets were brought to her, she thus painfully traced some words in Greek, the language of her childhood, and which almost every Italian of the higher ranks was then supposed to know. She carefully wound round the epistle the thread, and covered its knot with wax; and ere she placed it in the hands of Sosia, she thus addressed him:
‘Sosia, I am blind and in prison. Thou mayst think to deceive me — thou mayst pretend only to take the letter to Sallust — thou mayst not fulfill thy charge: but here I solemnly dedicate thy head to vengeance, thy soul to the infernal powers, if thou wrongest thy trust; and I call upon thee to place thy right hand of faith in mine, and repeat after me these words: “By the ground on which we stand — by the elements which contain life and can curse life — by Orcus, the all-avenging — by the Olympian Jupiter, the all-seeing — I swear that I will honestly discharge my trust, and faithfully deliver into the hands of Sallust this letter! And if I perjure myself in this oath, may the full curses of heaven and hell be wreaked upon me!” Enough! — I trust thee — take thy reward. It is already dark — depart at once.’
‘Thou art a strange girl, and thou hast frightened me terribly; but it is all very natural: and if Sallust is to be found, I give him this letter as I have sworn. By my faith, I may have my little peccadilloes! but perjury — no! I leave that to my betters.’
With this Sosia withdrew, carefully passing the heavy bolt athwart Nydia’s door — carefully locking its wards: and, hanging the key to his girdle, he retired to his own den, enveloped himself from head to foot in a huge disguising cloak, and slipped out by the back way undisturbed and unseen.
The streets were thin and empty. He soon gained the house of Sallust. The porter bade him leave his letter, and be gone; for Sallust was so grieved at the condemnation of Glaucus, that he could not on any account be disturbed.
‘Nevertheless, I have sworn to give this letter into his own hands — do so I must!’ And Sosia, well knowing by experience that Cerberus loves a sop, thrust some half a dozen sesterces into the hand of the porter.
‘Well, well,’ said the latter, relenting, ‘you may enter if you will; but, to tell you the truth, Sallust is drinking himself out of his grief. It is his way when anything disturbs him. He orders a capital supper, the best wine, and does not give over till everything is out of his head — but the liquor.’
‘An excellent plan — excellent! Ah, what it is to be rich! If I were Sallust, I would have some grief or another every day. But just say a kind word for me with the atriensis — I see him coming.’
Sallust was too sad to receive company; he was too sad, also, to drink alone; so, as was his wont, he admitted his favorite freedman to his entertainment, and a stranger banquet never was held. For ever and anon, the kind-hearted epicure sighed, whimpered, wept outright, and then turned with double zest to some new dish or his refilled goblet.
‘My good fellow,’ said he to his companion, it was a most awful judgment — heigho! — it is not bad that kid, eh? Poor, dear Glaucus! — what a jaw the lion has too! Ah, ah, ah!’
And Sallust sobbed loudly — the fit was stopped by a counteraction of hiccups.
‘Take a cup of wine,’ said the freedman.
‘A thought too cold: but then how cold Glaucus must be! Shut up the house tomorrow — not a slave shall stir forth — none of my people shall honour that cursed arena — No, no!’
‘Taste the Falernian — your grief distracts you. By the gods it does — a piece of that cheesecake.’
It was at this auspicious moment that Sosia was admitted to the presence of the disconsolate carouser.
‘Ho — what art thou?’
‘Merely a messenger to Sallust. I give him this billet from a young female. There is no answer that I know of. May I withdraw?’
Thus said the discreet Sosia, keeping his face muffled in his cloak, and speaking with a feigned voice, so that he might not hereafter be recognized.
‘By the gods — a pimp! Unfeeling wretch! — do you not see my sorrows? Go! and the curses of Pandarus with you!’
Sosia lost not a moment in retiring.
‘Will you read the letter, Sallust?’ said the freedman.
‘Letter! — which letter?’ said the epicure, reeling, for he began to see double. ‘A curse on these wenches, say I! Am I a man to think of —(hiccup)— pleasure, when — when — my friend is going to be eat up?’
‘Eat another tartlet.’
‘No, no! My grief chokes me!’
‘Take him to bed said the freedman; and, Sallust’s head now declining fairly on his breast, they bore him off to his cubiculum, still muttering lamentations for Glaucus, and imprecations on the unfeeling overtures of ladies of pleasure.
Meanwhile Sosia strode indignantly homeward. ‘Pimp, indeed!’ quoth he to himself. ‘Pimp! a scurvy-tongued fellow that Sallust! Had I been called knave, or thief. I could have forgiven it; but pimp! Faugh! There is something in the word which the toughest stomach in the world would rise against. A knave is a knave for his own pleasure, and a thief a thief for his own profit; and there is something honorable and philosophical in being a rascal for one’s own sake: that is doing things upon principle — upon a grand scale. But a pimp is a thing that defiles itself for another — a pipkin that is put on the fire for another man’s pottage! a napkin, that every guest wipes his hands upon! and the scullion says, “by your leave” too. A pimp! I would rather he had called me parricide! But the man was drunk, and did not know what he said; and, besides, I disguised myself. Had he seen it had been Sosia who addressed him, it would have been “honest Sosia!” and, “worthy man!” I warrant. Nevertheless, the trinkets have been won easily — that’s some comfort! and, O goddess Feronia! I shall be a freedman soon! and then I should like to see who’ll call me pimp! — unless, indeed, he pay me pretty handsomely for it!’
While Sosia was soliloquising in this high-minded and generous vein, his path lay along a narrow lane that led towards the amphitheatre and its adjacent palaces. Suddenly, as he turned a sharp corner he found himself in the midst of a considerable crowd. Men, women, and children, all were hurrying or laughing, talking, gesticulating; and, ere he was aware of it, the worthy Sosia was borne away with the noisy stream.
‘What now?’ he asked of his nearest neighbor, a young artificer; ‘what now? Where are all these good folks thronging?’ Does any rich patron give away alms or viands to-night?’
‘Not so, man — better still,’ replied the artificer; ‘the noble Pansa — the people’s friend — has granted the public leave to see the beasts in their vivaria. By Hercules! they will not be seen so safely by some persons tomorrow.’
’Tis a pretty sight,’ said the slave, yielding to the throng that impelled him onward; ‘and since I may not go to the sports tomorrow, I may as well take a peep at the beasts to-night.’
‘You will do well,’ returned his new acquaintance, ‘a lion and a tiger are not to be seen at Pompeii every day.’
The crowd had now entered a broken and wide space of ground, on which, as it was only lighted scantily and from a distance, the press became dangerous to those whose limbs and shoulders were not fitted for a mob. Nevertheless, the women especially — many of them with children in their arms, or even at the breast — were the most resolute in forcing their way; and their shrill exclamations of complaint or objurgation were heard loud above the more jovial and masculine voices. Yet, amidst them was a young and girlish voice, that appeared to come from one too happy in her excitement to be alive to the inconvenience of the crowd.
‘Aha!’ cried the young woman, to some of her companions, ‘I always told you so; I always said we should have a man for the lion; and now we have one for the tiger too! I wish tomorrow were come!’
Ho, ho! for the merry, merry show,
With a forest of faces in every row!
Lo! the swordsmen, bold as the son of Alcmaena,
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!
‘A jolly girl!’ said Sosia.
‘Yes,’ replied the young artificer, a curly-headed, handsome youth. ‘Yes,’ replied he, enviously; ‘the women love a gladiator. If I had been a slave, I would have soon found my schoolmaster in the lanista!’
‘Would you, indeed?’ said Sosia, with a sneer. ‘People’s notions differ!’
The crowd had now arrived at the place of destination; but as the cell in which the wild beasts were confined was extremely small and narrow, tenfold more vehement than it hitherto had been was the rush of the aspirants to obtain admittance. Two of the officers of the amphitheatre, placed at the entrance, very wisely mitigated the evil by dispensing to the foremost only a limited number of tickets at a time, and admitting no new visitors till their predecessors had sated their curiosity. Sosia, who was a tolerably stout fellow and not troubled with any remarkable scruples of diffidence or good breeding, contrived to be among the first of the initiated.
Separated from his companion the artificer, Sosia found himself in a narrow cell of oppressive heat and atmosphere, and lighted by several rank and flaring torches.
The animals, usually kept in different vivaria, or dens, were now, for the greater entertainment of the visitors, placed in one, but equally indeed divided from each other by strong cages protected by iron bars.
There they were, the fell and grim wanderers of the desert, who have now become almost the principal agents of this story. The lion, who, as being the more gentle by nature than his fellow-beast, had been more incited to ferocity by hunger, stalked restlessly and fiercely to and fro his narrow confines: his eyes were lurid with rage and famine: and as, every now and then, he paused and glared around, the spectators fearfully pressed backward, and drew their breath more quickly. But the tiger lay quiet and extended at full length in his cage, and only by an occasional play of his tail, or a long impatient yawn, testified any emotion at his confinement, or at the crowd which honored him with their presence.
‘I have seen no fiercer beast than yon lion even in the amphitheatre of Rome,’ said a gigantic and sinewy fellow who stood at the right hand of Sosia.
‘I feel humbled when I look at his limbs,’ replied, at the left of Sosia, a slighter and younger figure, with his arms folded on his breast.
The slave looked first at one, and then at the other. ‘Virtus in medio! — virtue is ever in the middle!’ muttered he to himself; ‘a goodly neighborhood for thee, Sosia — a gladiator on each side!’
‘That is well said, Lydon,’ returned the huger gladiator; ‘I feel the same.’
‘And to think,’ observed Lydon, in a tone of deep feeling, to think that the noble Greek, he whom we saw but a day or two since before us, so full of youth, and health, and joyousness, is to feast yon monster!’
‘Why not?’ growled Niger, savagely: ‘many an honest gladiator has been compelled to a like combat by the emperor — why not a wealthy murderer by the law?’
Lydon sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and remained silent. Meanwhile the common gazers listened with staring eyes and lips apart: the gladiators were objects of interest as well as the beasts — they were animals of the same species; so the crowd glanced from one to the other — the men and the brutes — whispering their comments and anticipating the morrow.
‘Well!’ said Lydon, turning away, ‘I thank the gods that it is not the lion or the tiger I am to contend with; even you, Niger, are a gentler combatant than they.’
‘But equally dangerous,’ said the gladiator, with a fierce laugh; and the bystanders, admiring his vast limbs and ferocious countenance, laughed too.
‘That as it may be,’ answered Lydon, carelessly, as he pressed through the throng and quitted the den.
‘I may as well take advantage of his shoulders,’ thought the prudent Sosia, hastening to follow him: ‘the crowd always give way to a gladiator, so I will keep close behind, and come in for a share of his consequence.’
The son of Medon strode quickly through the mob, many of whom recognized his features and profession.
‘That is young Lydon, a brave fellow: he fights tomorrow,’ said one.
‘Ah! I have a bet on him,’ said another; ‘see how firmly he walks!’
‘Good luck to thee, Lydon!’ said a third.
‘Lydon, you have my wishes,’ half whispered a fourth, smiling (a comely woman of the middle class)—‘and if you win, why, you may hear more of me.’
‘A handsome man, by Venus!’ cried a fifth, who was a girl scarce in her teens. ‘Thank you,’ returned Sosia, gravely taking the compliment to himself.
However strong the purer motives of Lydon, and certain though it be that he would never have entered so bloody a calling but from the hope of obtaining his father’s freedom, he was not altogether unmoved by the notice he excited. He forgot that the voices now raised in commendation might, on the morrow, shout over his death-pangs. By nature fierce and reckless, as well as generous and warm-hearted, he was already imbued with the pride of a profession that he fancied he disdained, and affected by the influence of a companionship that in reality he loathed. He saw himself now a man of importance; his step grew yet lighter, and his mien more elate.
‘Niger,’ said he, turning suddenly, as he had now threaded the crowd; ‘we have often quarrelled; we are not matched against each other, but one of us, at least, may reasonably expect to fall — give us thy hand.’
‘Most readily,’ said Sosia, extending his palm.
‘Ha! what fool is this? Why, I thought Niger was at my heels!’
‘I forgive the mistake,’ replied Sosia, condescendingly: ‘don’t mention it; the error was easy — I and Niger are somewhat of the same build.’
‘Ha! ha! that is excellent! Niger would have slit thy throat had he heard thee!’
‘You gentlemen of the arena have a most disagreeable mode of talking,’ said Sosia; ‘let us change the conversation.’
‘Vah! vah!’ said Lydon, impatiently; ‘I am in no humor to converse with thee!’
‘Why, truly,’ returned the slave, ‘you must have serious thoughts enough to occupy your mind: tomorrow is, I think, your first essay in the arena. Well, I am sure you will die bravely!’
‘May thy words fall on thine own head!’ said Lydon, superstitiously, for he by no means liked the blessing of Sosia. ‘Die! No — I trust my hour is not yet come.’
‘He who plays at dice with death must expect the dog’s throw,’ replied Sosia, maliciously. ‘But you are a strong fellow, and I wish you all imaginable luck; and so, vale!’
With that the slave turned on his heel, and took his way homeward.
‘I trust the rogue’s words are not ominous,’ said Lydon, musingly. ‘In my zeal for my father’s liberty, and my confidence in my own thews and sinews, I have not contemplated the possibility of death. My poor father! I am thy only son! — if I were to fall . . . ’
As the thought crossed him, the gladiator strode on with a more rapid and restless pace, when suddenly, in an opposite street, he beheld the very object of his thoughts. Leaning on his stick, his form bent by care and age, his eyes downcast, and his steps trembling, the grey-haired Medon slowly approached towards the gladiator. Lydon paused a moment: he divined at once the cause that brought forth the old man at that late hour.
‘Be sure, it is I whom he seeks,’ thought he; ‘he is horror struck at the condemnation of Olinthus — he more than ever esteems the arena criminal and hateful — he comes again to dissuade me from the contest. I must shun him — I cannot brook his prayers — his tears.’
These thoughts, so long to recite, flashed across the young man like lightning. He turned abruptly and fled swiftly in an opposite direction. He paused not till, almost spent and breathless, he found himself on the summit of a small acclivity which overlooked the most gay and splendid part of that miniature city; and as there he paused, and gazed along the tranquil streets glittering in the rays of the moon (which had just arisen, and brought partially and picturesquely into light the crowd around the amphitheatre at a distance, murmuring, and swaying to and fro), the influence of the scene affected him, rude and unimaginative though his nature. He sat himself down to rest upon the steps of a deserted portico, and felt the calm of the hour quiet and restore him. Opposite and near at hand, the lights gleamed from a palace in which the master now held his revels. The doors were open for coolness, and the gladiator beheld the numerous and festive group gathered round the tables in the atrium; while behind them, closing the long vista of the illumined rooms beyond, the spray of the distant fountain sparkled in the moonbeams. There, the garlands wreathed around the columns of the hall — there, gleamed still and frequent the marble statue — there, amidst peals of jocund laughter, rose the music and the lay.
Away with your stories of Hades,
Which the Flamen has forged to affright us —
We laugh at your three Maiden Ladies,
Your Fates — and your sullen Cocytus.
Poor Jove has a troublesome life, sir,
Could we credit your tales of his portals —
In shutting his ears on his wife, sir,
And opening his eyes upon mortals.
Oh, blest be the bright Epicurus!
Who taught us to laugh at such fables;
On Hades they wanted to moor us,
And his hand cut the terrible cables.
If, then, there’s a Jove or a Juno,
They vex not their heads about us, man;
Besides, if they did, I and you know
’Tis the life of a god to live thus, man!
What! think you the gods place their bliss — eh? —
In playing the spy on a sinner?
In counting the girls that we kiss, eh?
Or the cups that we empty at dinner?
Content with the soft lips that love us,
This music, this wine, and this mirth, boys,
We care not for gods up above us —
We know there’s no god for this earth, boys!
While Lydon’s piety (which accommodating as it might be, was in no slight degree disturbed by these verses, which embodied the fashionable philosophy of the day) slowly recovered itself from the shock it had received, a small party of men, in plain garments and of the middle class, passed by his resting-place. They were in earnest conversation, and did not seem to notice or heed the gladiator as they moved on.
‘O horror on horrors!’ said one; ‘Olinthus is snatched from us! our right arm is lopped away! When will Christ descend to protect his own?’
‘Can human atrocity go farther said another: ‘to sentence an innocent man to the same arena as a murderer! But let us not despair; the thunder of Sinai may yet be heard, and the Lord preserve his saint. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”’
At that moment out broke again, from the illumined palace, the burden of the reveller’s song:—
We care not for gods up above us —
We know there’s no god for this earth, boys!
Ere the words died away, the Nazarenes, moved by sudden indignation, caught up the echo, and, in the words of one of their favorite hymns, shouted aloud:—
Around — about — for ever near thee,
God — OUR GOD— shall mark and hear thee!
On his car of storm He sweeps!
Bow, ye heavens, and shrink, ye deeps!
Woe to the proud ones who defy Him! —
Woe to the dreamers who deny Him!
Woe to the wicked, woe!
The proud stars shall fail —
The sun shall grow pale —
The heavens shrivel up like a scroll —
Hell’s ocean shall bare
Its depths of despair,
Each wave an eternal soul!
For the only thing, then,
That shall not live again
Is the corpse of the giant TIME.
Hark, the trumpet of thunder!
Lo, earth rent asunder!
And, forth, on His Angel-throne,
He comes through the gloom,
The Judge of the Tomb,
To summon and save His own!
Oh, joy to Care, and woe to Crime,
He comes to save His own!
Woe to the proud ones who defy Him!
Woe to the dreamers who deny Him!
Woe to the wicked, woe!
A sudden silence from the startled hall of revel succeeded these ominous words: the Christians swept on, and were soon hidden from the sight of the gladiator. Awed, he scarce knew why, by the mystic denunciations of the Christians, Lydon, after a short pause, now rose to pursue his way homeward.
Before him, how serenely slept the starlight on that lovely city! how breathlessly its pillared streets reposed in their security! — how softly rippled the dark-green waves beyond! — how cloudless spread, aloft and blue, the dreaming Campanian skies! Yet this was the last night for the gay Pompeii! the colony of the hoar Chaldean! the fabled city of Hercules! the delight of the voluptuous Roman! Age after age had rolled, indestructive, unheeded, over its head; and now the last ray quivered on the dial-plate of its doom! The gladiator heard some light steps behind — a group of females were wending homeward from their visit to the amphitheatre. As he turned, his eye was arrested by a strange and sudden apparition. From the summit of Vesuvius, darkly visible at the distance, there shot a pale, meteoric, livid light — it trembled an instant and was gone. And at the same moment that his eye caught it, the voice of one of the youngest of the women broke out hilariously and shrill:—
TRAMP! TRAMP! HOW GAILY THEY GO!
HO, HO! FOR THE MORROW’S MERRY SHOW!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51