Apaecides remained silent and sullen, looking down on the earth, as his lips quivered, and his breast heaved with emotion.
'Speak to me, my friend,' continued the Egyptian. 'Speak. Something burdens thy spirit. What hast thou to reveal?'
'And why is it to me thou art thus unconfidential?'
'Because thou hast been my enemy.'
'Let us confer,' said Arbaces, in a low voice; and drawing the reluctant arm of the priest in his own, he led him to one of the seats which were scattered within the grove. They sat down—and in those gloomy forms there was something congenial to the shade and solitude of the place.
Apaecides was in the spring of his years, yet he seemed to have exhausted even more of life than the Egyptian; his delicate and regular features were worn and colorless; his eyes were hollow, and shone with a brilliant and feverish glare: his frame bowed prematurely, and in his hands, which were small to effeminacy, the blue and swollen veins indicated the lassitude and weakness of the relaxed fibres. You saw in his face a strong resemblance to Ione, but the expression was altogether different from that majestic and spiritual calm which breathed so divine and classical a repose over his sister's beauty. In her, enthusiasm was visible, but it seemed always suppressed and restrained; this made the charm and sentiment of her countenance; you longed to awaken a spirit which reposed, but evidently did not sleep. In Apaecides the whole aspect betokened the fervor and passion of his temperament, and the intellectual portion of his nature seemed, by the wild fire of the eyes, the great breadth of the temples when compared with the height of the brow, the trembling restlessness of the lips, to be swayed and tyrannized over by the imaginative and ideal. Fancy, with the sister, had stopped short at the golden goal of poetry; with the brother, less happy and less restrained, it had wandered into visions more intangible and unembodied; and the faculties which gave genius to the one threatened madness to the other.
'You say I have been your enemy,' said Arbaces, 'I know the cause of that unjust accusation: I have placed you amidst the priests of Isis—you are revolted at their trickeries and imposture—you think that I too have deceived you—the purity of your mind is offended—you imagine that I am one of the deceitful...'
'You knew the jugglings of that impious craft,' answered Apaecides; 'why did you disguise them from me?—When you excited my desire to devote myself to the office whose garb I bear, you spoke to me of the holy life of men resigning themselves to knowledge—you have given me for companions an ignorant and sensual herd, who have no knowledge but that of the grossest frauds; you spoke to me of men sacrificing the earthlier pleasures to the sublime cultivation of virtue—you place me amongst men reeking with all the filthiness of vice; you spoke to me of the friends, the enlighteners of our common kind—I see but their cheats and deluders! Oh! it was basely done!—you have robbed me of the glory of youth, of the convictions of virtue, of the sanctifying thirst after wisdom. Young as I was, rich, fervent, the sunny pleasures of earth before me, I resigned all without a sign, nay, with happiness and exultation, in the thought that I resigned them for the abstruse mysteries of diviner wisdom, for the companionship of gods—for the revelations of Heaven—and now—now...'
Convulsive sobs checked the priest's voice; he covered his face with his hands, and large tears forced themselves through the wasted fingers, and ran profusely down his vest.
'What I promised to thee, that will I give, my friend, my pupil: these have been but trials to thy virtue—it comes forth the brighter for thy novitiate—think no more of those dull cheats—assort no more with those menials of the goddess, the atrienses of her hall—you are worthy to enter into the penetralia. I henceforth will be your priest, your guide, and you who now curse my friendship shall live to bless it.'
The young man lifted up his head, and gazed with a vacant and wondering stare upon the Egyptian.
'Listen to me,' continued Arbaces, in an earnest and solemn voice, casting first his searching eyes around to see that they were still alone. 'From Egypt came all the knowledge of the world; from Egypt came the lore of Athens, and the profound policy of Crete; from Egypt came those early and mysterious tribes which (long before the hordes of Romulus swept over the plains of Italy, and in the eternal cycle of events drove back civilization into barbarism and darkness) possessed all the arts of wisdom and the graces of intellectual life. From Egypt came the rites and the grandeur of that solemn Caere, whose inhabitants taught their iron vanquishers of Rome all that they yet know of elevated in religion and sublime in worship. And how deemest thou, young man, that that Egypt, the mother of countless nations, achieved her greatness, and soared to her cloud-capt eminence of wisdom?—It was the result of a profound and holy policy. Your modern nations owe their greatness to Egypt—Egypt her greatness to her priests. Rapt in themselves, coveting a sway over the nobler part of man, his soul and his belief, those ancient ministers of God were inspired with the grandest thought that ever exalted mortals. From the revolutions of the stars, from the seasons of the earth, from the round and unvarying circle of human destinies, they devised an august allegory; they made it gross and palpable to the vulgar by the signs of gods and goddesses, and that which in reality was Government they named Religion. Isis is a fable—start not!—that for which Isis is a type is a reality, an immortal being; Isis is nothing. Nature, which she represents, is the mother of all things—dark, ancient, inscrutable, save to the gifted few. "None among mortals hath ever lifted up my veil," so saith the Isis that you adore; but to the wise that veil hath been removed, and we have stood face to face with the solemn loveliness of Nature. The priests then were the benefactors, the civilizers of mankind; true, they were also cheats, impostors if you will. But think you, young man, that if they had not deceived their kind they could have served them? The ignorant and servile vulgar must be blinded to attain to their proper good; they would not believe a maxim—they revere an oracle. The Emperor of Rome sways the vast and various tribes of earth, and harmonizes the conflicting and disunited elements; thence come peace, order, law, the blessings of life. Think you it is the man, the emperor, that thus sways?—no, it is the pomp, the awe, the majesty that surround him—these are his impostures, his delusions; our oracles and our divinations, our rites and our ceremonies, are the means of our sovereignty and the engines of our power. They are the same means to the same end, the welfare and harmony of mankind. You listen to me rapt and intent—the light begins to dawn upon you.'
Apaecides remained silent, but the changes rapidly passing over his speaking countenance betrayed the effect produced upon him by the words of the Egyptian—words made tenfold more eloquent by the voice, the aspect, and the manner of the man.
'While, then,' resumed Arbaces, 'our fathers of the Nile thus achieved the first elements by whose life chaos is destroyed, namely, the obedience and reverence of the multitude for the few, they drew from their majestic and starred meditations that wisdom which was no delusion: they invented the codes and regularities of law—the arts and glories of existence. They asked belief; they returned the gift by civilization. Were not their very cheats a virtue! Trust me, whosoever in yon far heavens of a diviner and more beneficent nature look down upon our world, smile approvingly on the wisdom which has worked such ends. But you wish me to apply these generalities to yourself; I hasten to obey the wish. The altars of the goddess of our ancient faith must be served, and served too by others than the stolid and soulless things that are but as pegs and hooks whereon to hang the fillet and the robe. Remember two sayings of Sextus the Pythagorean, sayings borrowed from the lore of Egypt. The first is, "Speak not of God to the multitude"; the second is, "The man worthy of God is a god among men." As Genius gave to the ministers of Egypt worship, that empire in late ages so fearfully decayed, thus by Genius only can the dominion be restored. I saw in you, Apaecides, a pupil worthy of my lessons—a minister worthy of the great ends which may yet be wrought; your energy, your talents, your purity of faith, your earnestness of enthusiasm, all fitted you for that calling which demands so imperiously high and ardent qualities: I fanned, therefore, your sacred desires; I stimulated you to the step you have taken. But you blame me that I did not reveal to you the little souls and the juggling tricks of your companions. Had I done so, Apaecides, I had defeated my own object; your noble nature would have at once revolted, and Isis would have lost her priest.'
Apaecides groaned aloud. The Egyptian continued, without heeding the interruption.
'I placed you, therefore, without preparation, in the temple; I left you suddenly to discover and to be sickened by all those mummeries which dazzle the herd. I desired that you should perceive how those engines are moved by which the fountain that refreshes the world casts its waters in the air. It was the trial ordained of old to all our priests. They who accustom themselves to the impostures of the vulgar, are left to practise them—for those like you, whose higher natures demand higher pursuit, religion opens more god-like secrets. I am pleased to find in you the character I had expected. You have taken the vows; you cannot recede. Advance—I will be your guide.'
'And what wilt thou teach me, O singular and fearful man? New cheats—new...'
'No—I have thrown thee into the abyss of disbelief; I will lead thee now to the eminence of faith. Thou hast seen the false types: thou shalt learn now the realities they represent. There is no shadow, Apaecides, without its substance. Come to me this night. Your hand.'
Impressed, excited, bewildered by the language of the Egyptian, Apaecides gave him his hand, and master and pupil parted.
It was true that for Apaecides there was no retreat. He had taken the vows of celibacy: he had devoted himself to a life that at present seemed to possess all the austerities of fanaticism, without any of the consolations of belief It was natural that he should yet cling to a yearning desire to reconcile himself to an irrevocable career. The powerful and profound mind of the Egyptian yet claimed an empire over his young imagination; excited him with vague conjecture, and kept him alternately vibrating between hope and fear.
Meanwhile Arbaces pursued his slow and stately way to the house of Ione. As he entered the tablinum, he heard a voice from the porticoes of the peristyle beyond, which, musical as it was, sounded displeasingly on his ear—it was the voice of the young and beautiful Glaucus, and for the first time an involuntary thrill of jealousy shot through the breast of the Egyptian. On entering the peristyle, he found Glaucus seated by the side of Ione. The fountain in the odorous garden cast up its silver spray in the air, and kept a delicious coolness in the midst of the sultry noon. The handmaids, almost invariably attendant on Ione, who with her freedom of life preserved the most delicate modesty, sat at a little distance; by the feet of Glaucus lay the lyre on which he had been playing to Ione one of the Lesbian airs. The scene—the group before Arbaces, was stamped by that peculiar and refined ideality of poesy which we yet, not erroneously, imagine to be the distinction of the ancients—the marble columns, the vases of flowers, the statue, white and tranquil, closing every vista; and, above all, the two living forms, from which a sculptor might have caught either inspiration or despair!
Arbaces, pausing for a moment, gazed on the pair with a brow from which all the usual stern serenity had fled; he recovered himself by an effort, and slowly approached them, but with a step so soft and echoless, that even the attendants heard him not; much less Ione and her lover.
'And yet,' said Glaucus, 'it is only before we love that we imagine that our poets have truly described the passion; the instant the sun rises, all the stars that had shone in his absence vanish into air. The poets exist only in the night of the heart; they are nothing to us when we feel the full glory of the god.'
'A gentle and most glowing image, noble Glaucus.'
Both started, and recognized behind the seat of Ione the cold and sarcastic face of the Egyptian.
'You are a sudden guest,' said Glaucus, rising, and with a forced smile.
'So ought all to be who know they are welcome,' returned Arbaces, seating himself, and motioning to Glaucus to do the same.
'I am glad,' said Ione, 'to see you at length together; for you are suited to each other, and you are formed to be friends.'
'Give me back some fifteen years of life,' replied the Egyptian, 'before you can place me on an equality with Glaucus. Happy should I be to receive his friendship; but what can I give him in return? Can I make to him the same confidences that he would repose in me—of banquets and garlands—of Parthian steeds, and the chances of the dice? these pleasures suit his age, his nature, his career: they are not for mine.'
So saying, the artful Egyptian looked down and sighed; but from the corner of his eye he stole a glance towards Ione, to see how she received these insinuations of the pursuits of her visitor. Her countenance did not satisfy him. Glaucus, slightly coloring, hastened gaily to reply. Nor was he, perhaps, without the wish in his turn to disconcert and abash the Egyptian.
'You are right, wise Arbaces,' said he; 'we can esteem each other, but we cannot be friends. My banquets lack the secret salt which, according to rumor, gives such zest to your own. And, by Hercules! when I have reached your age, if I, like you, may think it wise to pursue the pleasures of manhood, like you, I shall be doubtless sarcastic on the gallantries of youth.'
The Egyptian raised his eyes to Glaucus with a sudden and piercing glance.
'I do not understand you,' said he, coldly; 'but it is the custom to consider that wit lies in obscurity.' He turned from Glaucus as he spoke, with a scarcely perceptible sneer of contempt, and after a moment's pause addressed himself to Ione.
'I have not, beautiful Ione,' said he, 'been fortunate enough to find you within doors the last two or three times that I have visited your vestibule.'
'The smoothness of the sea has tempted me much from home,' replied Ione, with a little embarrassment.
The embarrassment did not escape Arbaces; but without seeming to heed it, he replied with a smile: 'You know the old poet says, that "Women should keep within doors, and there converse."'
'The poet was a cynic,' said Glaucus, 'and hated women.'
'He spoke according to the customs of his country, and that country is your boasted Greece.'
'To different periods different customs. Had our forefathers known Ione, they had made a different law.'
'Did you learn these pretty gallantries at Rome?' said Arbaces, with ill-suppressed emotion.
'One certainly would not go for gallantries to Egypt,' retorted Glaucus, playing carelessly with his chain.
'Come, come,' said Ione, hastening to interrupt a conversation which she saw, to her great distress, was so little likely to cement the intimacy she had desired to effect between Glaucus and her friend, 'Arbaces must not be so hard upon his poor pupil. An orphan, and without a mother's care, I may be to blame for the independent and almost masculine liberty of life that I have chosen: yet it is not greater than the Roman women are accustomed to—it is not greater than the Grecian ought to be. Alas! is it only to be among men that freedom and virtue are to be deemed united? Why should the slavery that destroys you be considered the only method to preserve us? Ah! believe me, it has been the great error of men—and one that has worked bitterly on their destinies—to imagine that the nature of women is (I will not say inferior, that may be so, but) so different from their own, in making laws unfavorable to the intellectual advancement of women. Have they not, in so doing, made laws against their children, whom women are to rear?—against the husbands, of whom women are to be the friends, nay, sometimes the advisers?' Ione stopped short suddenly, and her face was suffused with the most enchanting blushes. She feared lest her enthusiasm had led her too far; yet she feared the austere Arbaces less than the courteous Glaucus, for she loved the last, and it was not the custom of the Greeks to allow their women (at least such of their women as they most honored) the same liberty and the same station as those of Italy enjoyed. She felt, therefore, a thrill of delight as Glaucus earnestly replied:
'Ever mayst thou think thus, Ione—ever be your pure heart your unerring guide! Happy it had been for Greece if she had given to the chaste the same intellectual charms that are so celebrated amongst the less worthy of her women. No state falls from freedom—from knowledge, while your sex smile only on the free, and by appreciating, encourage the wise.'
Arbaces was silent, for it was neither his part to sanction the sentiment of Glaucus, nor to condemn that of Ione, and, after a short and embarrassed conversation, Glaucus took his leave of Ione.
When he was gone, Arbaces, drawing his seat nearer to the fair Neapolitan's, said in those bland and subdued tones, in which he knew so well how to veil the mingled art and fierceness of his character:
'Think not, my sweet pupil, if so I may call you, that I wish to shackle that liberty you adorn while you assume: but which, if not greater, as you rightly observe, than that possessed by the Roman women, must at least be accompanied by great circumspection, when arrogated by one unmarried. Continue to draw crowds of the gay, the brilliant, the wise themselves, to your feet—continue to charm them with the conversation of an Aspasia, the music of an Erinna—but reflect, at least, on those censorious tongues which can so easily blight the tender reputation of a maiden; and while you provoke admiration, give, I beseech you, no victory to envy.'
'What mean you, Arbaces?' said Ione, in an alarmed and trembling voice: 'I know you are my friend, that you desire only my honour and my welfare. What is it you would say?'
'Your friend—ah, how sincerely! May I speak then as a friend, without reserve and without offence?'
'I beseech you do so.'
'This young profligate, this Glaucus, how didst thou know him? Hast thou seen him often?' And as Arbaces spoke, he fixed his gaze steadfastly upon Ione, as if he sought to penetrate into her soul.
Recoiling before that gaze, with a strange fear which she could not explain, the Neapolitan answered with confusion and hesitation: 'He was brought to my house as a countryman of my father's, and I may say of mine. I have known him only within this last week or so: but why these questions?'
'Forgive me,' said Arbaces; 'I thought you might have known him longer. Base insinuator that he is!'
'How! what mean you? Why that term?'
'It matters not: let me not rouse your indignation against one who does not deserve so grave an honour.'
'I implore you speak. What has Glaucus insinuated? or rather, in what do you suppose he has offended?'
Smothering his resentment at the last part of Ione's question, Arbaces continued: 'You know his pursuits, his companions his habits; the comissatio and the alea (the revel and the dice) make his occupation; and amongst the associates of vice how can he dream of virtue?'
'Still you speak riddles. By the gods! I entreat you, say the worst at once.'
'Well, then, it must be so. Know, my Ione, that it was but yesterday that Glaucus boasted openly—yes, in the public baths—of your love to him. He said it amused him to take advantage of it. Nay, I will do him justice, he praised your beauty. Who could deny it? But he laughed scornfully when his Clodius, or his Lepidus, asked him if he loved you enough for marriage, and when he purposed to adorn his door-posts with flowers?'
'Impossible! How heard you this base slander?'
'Nay, would you have me relate to you all the comments of the insolent coxcombs with which the story has circled through the town? Be assured that I myself disbelieved at first, and that I have now painfully been convinced by several ear-witnesses of the truth of what I have reluctantly told thee.'
Ione sank back, and her face was whiter than the pillar against which she leaned for support.
'I own it vexed—it irritated me, to hear your name thus lightly pitched from lip to lip, like some mere dancing-girl's fame. I hastened this morning to seek and to warn you. I found Glaucus here. I was stung from my self-possession. I could not conceal my feelings; nay, I was uncourteous in thy presence. Canst thou forgive thy friend, Ione?'
Ione placed her hand in his, but replied not.
'Think no more of this,' said he; 'but let it be a warning voice, to tell thee how much prudence thy lot requires. It cannot hurt thee, Ione, for a moment; for a gay thing like this could never have been honored by even a serious thought from Ione. These insults only wound when they come from one we love; far different indeed is he whom the lofty Ione shall stoop to love.'
'Love!' muttered Ione, with an hysterical laugh. 'Ay, indeed.'
It is not without interest to observe in those remote times, and under a social system so widely different from the modern, the same small causes that ruffle and interrupt the 'course of love', which operate so commonly at this day—the same inventive jealousy, the same cunning slander, the same crafty and fabricated retailings of petty gossip, which so often now suffice to break the ties of the truest love, and counteract the tenor of circumstances most apparently propitious. When the bark sails on over the smoothest wave, the fable tells us of the diminutive fish that can cling to the keel and arrest its progress: so is it ever with the great passions of mankind; and we should paint life but ill if, even in times the most prodigal of romance, and of the romance of which we most largely avail ourselves, we did not also describe the mechanism of those trivial and household springs of mischief which we see every day at work in our chambers and at our hearths. It is in these, the lesser intrigues of life, that we mostly find ourselves at home with the past.
Most cunningly had the Egyptian appealed to Ione's ruling foible—most dexterously had he applied the poisoned dart to her pride. He fancied he had arrested what he hoped, from the shortness of the time she had known Glaucus, was, at most, but an incipient fancy; and hastening to change the subject, he now led her to talk of her brother. Their conversation did not last long. He left her, resolved not again to trust so much to absence, but to visit—to watch her—every day.
No sooner had his shadow glided from her presence, than woman's pride—her sex's dissimulation—deserted his intended victim, and the haughty Ione burst into passionate tears.
THE GAY LIFE OF THE POMPEIAN LOUNGER. A MINIATURE LIKENESS OF THE ROMAN BATHS.
WHEN Glaucus left Ione, he felt as if he trod upon air. In the interview with which he had just been blessed, he had for the first time gathered from her distinctly that his love was not unwelcome to, and would not be unrewarded by, her. This hope filled him with a rapture for which earth and heaven seemed too narrow to afford a vent. Unconscious of the sudden enemy he had left behind, and forgetting not only his taunts but his very existence, Glaucus passed through the gay streets, repeating to himself, in the wantonness of joy, the music of the soft air to which Ione had listened with such intentness; and now he entered the Street of Fortune, with its raised footpath—its houses painted without, and the open doors admitting the view of the glowing frescoes within. Each end of the street was adorned with a triumphal arch: and as Glaucus now came before the Temple of Fortune, the jutting portico of that beautiful fane (which is supposed to have been built by one of the family of Cicero, perhaps by the orator himself) imparted a dignified and venerable feature to a scene otherwise more brilliant than lofty in its character. That temple was one of the most graceful specimens of Roman architecture. It was raised on a somewhat lofty podium; and between two flights of steps ascending to a platform stood the altar of the goddess. From this platform another flight of broad stairs led to the portico, from the height of whose fluted columns hung festoons of the richest flowers. On either side the extremities of the temple were placed statues of Grecian workmanship; and at a little distance from the temple rose the triumphal arch crowned with an equestrian statue of Caligula, which was flanked by trophies of bronze. In the space before the temple a lively throng were assembled—some seated on benches and discussing the politics of the empire, some conversing on the approaching spectacle of the amphitheatre. One knot of young men were lauding a new beauty, another discussing the merits of the last play; a third group, more stricken in age, were speculating on the chance of the trade with Alexandria, and amidst these were many merchants in the Eastern costume, whose loose and peculiar robes, painted and gemmed slippers, and composed and serious countenances, formed a striking contrast to the tunicked forms and animated gestures of the Italians. For that impatient and lively people had, as now, a language distinct from speech—a language of signs and motions, inexpressibly significant and vivacious: their descendants retain it, and the learned Jorio hath written a most entertaining work upon that species of hieroglyphical gesticulation.
Sauntering through the crowd, Glaucus soon found himself amidst a group of his merry and dissipated friends.
'Ah!' said Sallust, 'it is a lustrum since I saw you.'
'And how have you spent the lustrum? What new dishes have you discovered?'
'I have been scientific,' returned Sallust, 'and have made some experiments in the feeding of lampreys: I confess I despair of bringing them to the perfection which our Roman ancestors attained.'
'Miserable man! and why?'
'Because,' returned Sallust, with a sigh, 'it is no longer lawful to give them a slave to eat. I am very often tempted to make away with a very fat carptor (butler) whom I possess, and pop him slily into the reservoir. He would give the fish a most oleaginous flavor! But slaves are not slaves nowadays, and have no sympathy with their masters' interest—or Davus would destroy himself to oblige me!'
'What news from Rome?' said Lepidus, as he languidly joined the group.
'The emperor has been giving a splendid supper to the senators,' answered Sallust.
'He is a good creature,' quoth Lepidus; 'they say he never sends a man away without granting his request.'
'Perhaps he would let me kill a slave for my reservoir?' returned Sallust, eagerly.
'Not unlikely,' said Glaucus; 'for he who grants a favor to one Roman, must always do it at the expense of another. Be sure, that for every smile Titus has caused, a hundred eyes have wept.'
'Long live Titus!' cried Pansa, overhearing the emperor's name, as he swept patronizingly through the crowd; 'he has promised my brother a quaestorship, because he had run through his fortune.'
'And wishes now to enrich himself among the people, my Pansa,' said Glaucus.
'Exactly so,' said Pansa.
'That is putting the people to some use,' said Glaucus.
'To be sure, returned Pansa. 'Well, I must go and look after the aerarium—it is a little out of repair'; and followed by a long train of clients, distinguished from the rest of the throng by the togas they wore (for togas, once the sign of freedom in a citizen, were now the badge of servility to a patron), the aedile fidgeted fussily away.
'Poor Pansa!' said Lepidus: 'he never has time for pleasure. Thank Heaven I am not an aedile!'
'Ah, Glaucus! how are you? gay as ever?' said Clodius, joining the group.
'Are you come to sacrifice to Fortune?' said Sallust.
'I sacrifice to her every night,' returned the gamester.
'I do not doubt it. No man has made more victims!'
'By Hercules, a biting speech!' cried Glaucus, laughing.
'The dog's letter is never out of your mouth, Sallust,' said Clodius, angrily: 'you are always snarling.'
'I may well have the dog's letter in my mouth, since, whenever I play with you, I have the dog's throw in my hand,' returned Sallust.
'Hist!' said Glaucus, taking a rose from a flower-girl, who stood beside.
'The rose is the token of silence,' replied Sallust, 'but I love only to see it at the supper-table.'
'Talking of that, Diomed gives a grand feast next week,' said Sallust: 'are you invited, Glaucus?'
'Yes, I received an invitation this morning.'
'And I, too,' said Sallust, drawing a square piece of papyrus from his girdle: 'I see that he asks us an hour earlier than usual: an earnest of something sumptuous.'
'Oh! he is rich as Croesus,' said Clodius; 'and his bill of fare is as long as an epic.'
'Well, let us to the baths,' said Glaucus: 'this is the time when all the world is there; and Fulvius, whom you admire so much, is going to read us his last ode.'
The young men assented readily to the proposal, and they strolled to the baths.
Although the public thermae, or baths, were instituted rather for the poorer citizens than the wealthy (for the last had baths in their own houses), yet, to the crowds of all ranks who resorted to them, it was a favorite place for conversation, and for that indolent lounging so dear to a gay and thoughtless people. The baths at Pompeii differed, of course, in plan and construction from the vast and complicated thermae of Rome; and, indeed, it seems that in each city of the empire there was always some slight modification of arrangement in the general architecture of the public baths. This mightily puzzles the learned—as if architects and fashion were not capricious before the nineteenth century! Our party entered by the principal porch in the Street of Fortune. At the wing of the portico sat the keeper of the baths, with his two boxes before him, one for the money he received, one for the tickets he dispensed. Round the walls of the portico were seats crowded with persons of all ranks; while others, as the regimen of the physicians prescribed, were walking briskly to and fro the portico, stopping every now and then to gaze on the innumerable notices of shows, games, sales, exhibitions, which were painted or inscribed upon the walls. The general subject of conversation was, however, the spectacle announced in the amphitheatre; and each new-comer was fastened upon by a group eager to know if Pompeii had been so fortunate as to produce some monstrous criminal, some happy case of sacrilege or of murder, which would allow the aediles to provide a man for the jaws of the lion: all other more common exhibitions seemed dull and tame, when compared with the possibility of this fortunate occurrence.
'For my part,' said one jolly-looking man, who was a goldsmith, 'I think the emperor, if he is as good as they say, might have sent us a Jew.'
'Why not take one of the new sect of Nazarenes?' said a philosopher. 'I am not cruel: but an atheist, one who denies Jupiter himself, deserves no mercy.'
'I care not how many gods a man likes to believe in,' said the goldsmith; 'but to deny all gods is something monstrous.'
'Yet I fancy,' said Glaucus, 'that these people are not absolutely atheists. I am told that they believe in a God—nay, in a future state.'
'Quite a mistake, my dear Glaucus,' said the philosopher. 'I have conferred with them—they laughed in my face when I talked of Pluto and Hades.'
'O ye gods!' exclaimed the goldsmith, in horror; 'are there any of these wretches in Pompeii?'
'I know there are a few: but they meet so privately that it is impossible to discover who they are.'
As Glaucus turned away, a sculptor, who was a great enthusiast in his art, looked after him admiringly.
'Ah!' said he, 'if we could get him on the arena—there would be a model for you! What limbs! what a head! he ought to have been a gladiator! A subject—a subject—worthy of our art! Why don't they give him to the lion?'
Meanwhile Fulvius, the Roman poet, whom his contemporaries declared immortal, and who, but for this history, would never have been heard of in our neglectful age, came eagerly up to Glaucus. 'Oh, my Athenian, my Glaucus, you have come to hear my ode! That is indeed an honour; you, a Greek—to whom the very language of common life is poetry. How I thank you. It is but a trifle; but if I secure your approbation, perhaps I may get an introduction to Titus. Oh, Glaucus! a poet without a patron is an amphora without a label; the wine may be good, but nobody will laud it! And what says Pythagoras?—"Frankincense to the gods, but praise to man." A patron, then, is the poet's priest: he procures him the incense, and obtains him his believers.'
'But all Pompeii is your patron, and every portico an altar in your praise.'
'Ah! the poor Pompeians are very civil—they love to honour merit. But they are only the inhabitants of a petty town—spero meliora! Shall we within?'
'Certainly; we lose time till we hear your poem.'
At this instant there was a rush of some twenty persons from the baths into the portico; and a slave stationed at the door of a small corridor now admitted the poet, Glaucus, Clodius, and a troop of the bard's other friends, into the passage.
'A poor place this, compared with the Roman thermae!' said Lepidus, disdainfully.
'Yet is there some taste in the ceiling,' said Glaucus, who was in a mood to be pleased with everything; pointing to the stars which studded the roof.
Lepidus shrugged his shoulders, but was too languid to reply.
They now entered a somewhat spacious chamber, which served for the purposes of the apodyterium (that is, a place where the bathers prepared themselves for their luxurious ablutions). The vaulted ceiling was raised from a cornice, glowingly colored with motley and grotesque paintings; the ceiling itself was paneled in white compartments bordered with rich crimson; the unsullied and shining floor was paved with white mosaics, and along the walls were ranged benches for the accommodation of the loiterers. This chamber did not possess the numerous and spacious windows which Vitruvius attributes to his more magnificent frigidarium. The Pompeians, as all the southern Italians, were fond of banishing the light of their sultry skies, and combined in their voluptuous associations the idea of luxury with darkness. Two windows of glass alone admitted the soft and shaded ray; and the compartment in which one of these casements was placed was adorned with a large relief of the destruction of the Titans.
In this apartment Fulvius seated himself with a magisterial air, and his audience gathering round him, encouraged him to commence his recital.
The poet did not require much pressing. He drew forth from his vest a roll of papyrus, and after hemming three times, as much to command silence as to clear his voice, he began that wonderful ode, of which, to the great mortification of the author of this history, no single verse can be discovered.
By the plaudits he received, it was doubtless worthy of his fame; and Glaucus was the only listener who did not find it excel the best odes of Horace.
The poem concluded, those who took only the cold bath began to undress; they suspended their garments on hooks fastened in the wall, and receiving, according to their condition, either from their own slaves or those of the thermae, loose robes in exchange, withdrew into that graceful circular building which yet exists, to shame the unlaving posterity of the south.
The more luxurious departed by another door to the tepidarium, a place which was heated to a voluptuous warmth, partly by a movable fireplace, principally by a suspended pavement, beneath which was conducted the caloric of the laconicum.
Here this portion of the intended bathers, after unrobing themselves, remained for some time enjoying the artificial warmth of the luxurious air. And this room, as befitted its important rank in the long process of ablution, was more richly and elaborately decorated than the rest; the arched roof was beautifully carved and painted; the windows above, of ground glass, admitted but wandering and uncertain rays; below the massive cornices were rows of figures in massive and bold relief; the walls glowed with crimson, the pavement was skillfully tessellated in white mosaics. Here the habituated bathers, men who bathed seven times a day, would remain in a state of enervate and speechless lassitude, either before or (mostly) after the water-bath; and many of these victims of the pursuit of health turned their listless eyes on the newcomers, recognizing their friends with a nod, but dreading the fatigue of conversation.
From this place the party again diverged, according to their several fancies, some to the sudatorium, which answered the purpose of our vapor-baths, and thence to the warm-bath itself; those more accustomed to exercise, and capable of dispensing with so cheap a purchase of fatigue, resorted at once to the calidarium, or water-bath.
In order to complete this sketch, and give to the reader an adequate notion of this, the main luxury of the ancients, we will accompany Lepidus, who regularly underwent the whole process, save only the cold bath, which had gone lately out of fashion. Being then gradually warmed in the tepidarium, which has just been described, the delicate steps of the Pompeian elegant were conducted to the sudatorium. Here let the reader depict to himself the gradual process of the vapor-bath, accompanied by an exhalation of spicy perfumes. After our bather had undergone this operation, he was seized by his slaves, who always awaited him at the baths, and the dews of heat were removed by a kind of scraper, which (by the way) a modern traveler has gravely declared to be used only to remove the dirt, not one particle of which could ever settle on the polished skin of the practised bather. Thence, somewhat cooled, he passed into the water-bath, over which fresh perfumes were profusely scattered, and on emerging from the opposite part of the room, a cooling shower played over his head and form. Then wrapping himself in a light robe, he returned once more to the tepidarium, where he found Glaucus, who had not encountered the sudatorium; and now, the main delight and extravagance of the bath commenced. Their slaves anointed the bathers from vials of gold, of alabaster, or of crystal, studded with profusest gems, and containing the rarest unguents gathered from all quarters of the world. The number of these smegmata used by the wealthy would fill a modern volume—especially if the volume were printed by a fashionable publisher; Amaracinum, Megalium, Nardum—omne quod exit in um—while soft music played in an adjacent chamber, and such as used the bath in moderation, refreshed and restored by the grateful ceremony, conversed with all the zest and freshness of rejuvenated life.
'Blessed be he who invented baths!' said Glaucus, stretching himself along one of those bronze seats (then covered with soft cushions) which the visitor to Pompeii sees at this day in that same tepidarium. 'Whether he were Hercules or Bacchus, he deserved deification.'
'But tell me,' said a corpulent citizen, who was groaning and wheezing under the operation of being rubbed down, 'tell me, O Glaucus!—evil chance to thy hands, O slave! why so rough?—tell me—ugh—ugh!—are the baths at Rome really so magnificent?' Glaucus turned, and recognized Diomed, though not without some difficulty, so red and so inflamed were the good man's cheeks by the sudatory and the scraping he had so lately undergone. 'I fancy they must be a great deal finer than these. Eh?' Suppressing a smile, Glaucus replied:
'Imagine all Pompeii converted into baths, and you will then form a notion of the size of the imperial thermae of Rome. But a notion of the size only. Imagine every entertainment for mind and body—enumerate all the gymnastic games our fathers invented—repeat all the books Italy and Greece have produced—suppose places for all these games, admirers for all these works—add to this, baths of the vastest size, the most complicated construction—intersperse the whole with gardens, with theatres, with porticoes, with schools—suppose, in one word, a city of the gods, composed but of palaces and public edifices, and you may form some faint idea of the glories of the great baths of Rome.'
'By Hercules!' said Diomed, opening his eyes, 'why, it would take a man's whole life to bathe!'
'At Rome, it often does so,' replied Glaucus, gravely. 'There are many who live only at the baths. They repair there the first hour in which the doors are opened, and remain till that in which the doors are closed. They seem as if they knew nothing of the rest of Rome, as if they despised all other existence.'
'By Pollux! you amaze me.'
'Even those who bathe only thrice a day contrive to consume their lives in this occupation. They take their exercise in the tennis-court or the porticoes, to prepare them for the first bath; they lounge into the theatre, to refresh themselves after it. They take their prandium under the trees, and think over their second bath. By the time it is prepared, the prandium is digested. From the second bath they stroll into one of the peristyles, to hear some new poet recite: or into the library, to sleep over an old one. Then comes the supper, which they still consider but a part of the bath: and then a third time they bathe again, as the best place to converse with their friends.'
'Per Hercle! but we have their imitators at Pompeii.'
'Yes, and without their excuse. The magnificent voluptuaries of the Roman baths are happy: they see nothing but gorgeousness and splendor; they visit not the squalid parts of the city; they know not that there is poverty in the world. All Nature smiles for them, and her only frown is the last one which sends them to bathe in Cocytus. Believe me, they are your only true philosophers.'
While Glaucus was thus conversing, Lepidus, with closed eyes and scarce perceptible breath, was undergoing all the mystic operations, not one of which he ever suffered his attendants to omit. After the perfumes and the unguents, they scattered over him the luxurious powder which prevented any further accession of heat: and this being rubbed away by the smooth surface of the pumice, he began to indue, not the garments he had put off, but those more festive ones termed 'the synthesis', with which the Romans marked their respect for the coming ceremony of supper, if rather, from its hour (three o'clock in our measurement of time), it might not be more fitly denominated dinner. This done, he at length opened his eyes and gave signs of returning life.
At the same time, too, Sallust betokened by a long yawn the evidence of existence.
'It is supper time,' said the epicure; 'you, Glaucus and Lepidus, come and sup with me.'
'Recollect you are all three engaged to my house next week,' cried Diomed, who was mightily proud of the acquaintance of men of fashion.
'Ah, ah! we recollect,' said Sallust; 'the seat of memory, my Diomed, is certainly in the stomach.'
Passing now once again into the cooler air, and so into the street, our gallants of that day concluded the ceremony of a Pompeian bath.
ARBACES COGS HIS DICE WITH PLEASURE AND WINS THE GAME.
THE evening darkened over the restless city as Apaecides took his way to the house of the Egyptian. He avoided the more lighted and populous streets; and as he strode onward with his head buried in his bosom, and his arms folded within his robe, there was something startling in the contrast, which his solemn mien and wasted form presented to the thoughtless brows and animated air of those who occasionally crossed his path.
At length, however, a man of a more sober and staid demeanor, and who had twice passed him with a curious but doubting look, touched him on the shoulder.
'Apaecides!' said he, and he made a rapid sign with his hands: it was the sign of the cross.
'Well, Nazarene,' replied the priest, and his face grew paler; 'what wouldst thou?'
'Nay,' returned the stranger, 'I would not interrupt thy meditations; but the last time we met, I seemed not to be so unwelcome.'
'You are not unwelcome, Olinthus; but I am sad and weary: nor am I able this evening to discuss with you those themes which are most acceptable to you.'
'O backward of heart!' said Olinthus, with bitter fervor; and art thou sad and weary, and wilt thou turn from the very springs that refresh and heal?'
'O earth!' cried the young priest, striking his breast passionately, 'from what regions shall my eyes open to the true Olympus, where thy gods really dwell? Am I to believe with this man, that none whom for so many centuries my fathers worshipped have a being or a name? Am I to break down, as something blasphemous and profane, the very altars which I have deemed most sacred? or am I to think with Arbaces—what?' He paused, and strode rapidly away in the impatience of a man who strives to get rid of himself. But the Nazarene was one of those hardy, vigorous, and enthusiastic men, by whom God in all times has worked the revolutions of earth, and those, above all, in the establishment and in the reformation of His own religion—men who were formed to convert, because formed to endure. It is men of this mould whom nothing discourages, nothing dismays; in the fervor of belief they are inspired and they inspire. Their reason first kindles their passion, but the passion is the instrument they use; they force themselves into men's hearts, while they appear only to appeal to their judgment. Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm; it is the real allegory of the tale of Orpheus—it moves stones, it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.
Olinthus did not then suffer Apaecides thus easily to escape him. He overtook and addressed him thus:
'I do not wonder, Apaecides, that I distress you; that I shake all the elements of your mind: that you are lost in doubt; that you drift here and there in the vast ocean of uncertain and benighted thought. I wonder not at this, but bear with me a little; watch and pray—the darkness shall vanish, the storm sleep, and God Himself, as He came of yore on the seas of Samaria, shall walk over the lulled billows, to the delivery of your soul. Ours is a religion jealous in its demands, but how infinitely prodigal in its gifts! It troubles you for an hour, it repays you by immortality.'
'Such promises,' said Apaecides, sullenly, 'are the tricks by which man is ever gulled. Oh, glorious were the promises which led me to the shrine of Isis!'
'But,' answered the Nazarene, 'ask thy reason, can that religion be sound which outrages all morality? You are told to worship your gods. What are those gods, even according to yourselves? What their actions, what their attributes? Are they not all represented to you as the blackest of criminals? yet you are asked to serve them as the holiest of divinities. Jupiter himself is a parricide and an adulterer. What are the meaner deities but imitators of his vices? You are told not to murder, but you worship murderers; you are told not to commit adultery, and you make your prayers to an adulterer! Oh! what is this but a mockery of the holiest part of man's nature, which is faith? Turn now to the God, the one, the true God, to whose shrine I would lead you. If He seem to you too sublime, two shadowy, for those human associations, those touching connections between Creator and creature, to which the weak heart clings—contemplate Him in His Son, who put on mortality like ourselves. His mortality is not indeed declared, like that of your fabled gods, by the vices of our nature, but by the practice of all its virtues. In Him are united the austerest morals with the tenderest affections. If He were but a mere man, He had been worthy to become a god. You honour Socrates—he has his sect, his disciples, his schools. But what are the doubtful virtues of the Athenian, to the bright, the undisputed, the active, the unceasing, the devoted holiness of Christ? I speak to you now only of His human character. He came in that as the pattern of future ages, to show us the form of virtue which Plato thirsted to see embodied. This was the true sacrifice that He made for man; but the halo that encircled His dying hour not only brightened earth, but opened to us the sight of heaven! You are touched—you are moved. God works in your heart. His Spirit is with you. Come, resist not the holy impulse; come at once—unhesitatingly. A few of us are now assembled to expound the word of God. Come, let me guide you to them. You are sad, you are weary. Listen, then, to the words of God: "Come to me", saith He, "all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!"'
'I cannot now,' said Apaecides; 'another time.'
'Now—now!' exclaimed Olinthus, earnestly, and clasping him by the arm.
But Apaecides, yet unprepared for the renunciation of that faith—that life, for which he had sacrificed so much, and still haunted by the promises of the Egyptian, extricated himself forcibly from the grasp; and feeling an effort necessary to conquer the irresolution which the eloquence of the Christian had begun to effect in his heated and feverish mind, he gathered up his robes and fled away with a speed that defied pursuit.
Breathless and exhausted, he arrived at last in a remote and sequestered part of the city, and the lone house of the Egyptian stood before him. As he paused to recover himself, the moon emerged from a silver cloud, and shone full upon the walls of that mysterious habitation.
No other house was near—the darksome vines clustered far and wide in front of the building and behind it rose a copse of lofty forest trees, sleeping in the melancholy moonlight; beyond stretched the dim outline of the distant hills, and amongst them the quiet crest of Vesuvius, not then so lofty as the traveler beholds it now.
Apaecides passed through the arching vines, and arrived at the broad and spacious portico. Before it, on either side of the steps, reposed the image of the Egyptian sphinx, and the moonlight gave an additional and yet more solemn calm to those large, and harmonious, and passionless features, in which the sculptors of that type of wisdom united so much of loveliness with awe; half way up the extremities of the steps darkened the green and massive foliage of the aloe, and the shadow of the eastern palm cast its long and unwaving boughs partially over the marble surface of the stairs.
Something there was in the stillness of the place, and the strange aspect of the sculptured sphinxes, which thrilled the blood of the priest with a nameless and ghostly fear, and he longed even for an echo to his noiseless steps as he ascended to the threshold.
He knocked at the door, over which was wrought an inscription in characters unfamiliar to his eyes; it opened without a sound, and a tall Ethiopian slave, without question or salutation, motioned to him to proceed.
The wide hall was lighted by lofty candelabra of elaborate bronze, and round the walls were wrought vast hieroglyphics, in dark and solemn colors, which contrasted strangely with the bright hues and graceful shapes with which the inhabitants of Italy decorated their abodes. At the extremity of the hall, a slave, whose countenance, though not African, was darker by many shades than the usual color of the south, advanced to meet him.
'I seek Arbaces,' said the priest; but his voice trembled even in his own ear. The slave bowed his head in silence, and leading Apaecides to a wing without the hall, conducted him up a narrow staircase, and then traversing several rooms, in which the stern and thoughtful beauty of the sphinx still made the chief and most impressive object of the priest's notice, Apaecides found himself in a dim and half-lighted chamber, in the presence of the Egyptian.
Arbaces was seated before a small table, on which lay unfolded several scrolls of papyrus, impressed with the same character as that on the threshold of the mansion. A small tripod stood at a little distance, from the incense in which the smoke slowly rose. Near this was a vast globe, depicting the signs of heaven; and upon another table lay several instruments, of curious and quaint shape, whose uses were unknown to Apaecides. The farther extremity of the room was concealed by a curtain, and the oblong window in the roof admitted the rays of the moon, mingling sadly with the single lamp which burned in the apartment.
'Seat yourself, Apaecides,' said the Egyptian, without rising.
The young man obeyed.
'You ask me,' resumed Arbaces, after a short pause, in which he seemed absorbed in thought—'You ask me, or would do so, the mightiest secrets which the soul of man is fitted to receive; it is the enigma of life itself that you desire me to solve. Placed like children in the dark, and but for a little while, in this dim and confined existence, we shape our spectres in the obscurity; our thoughts now sink back into ourselves in terror, now wildly plunge themselves into the guideless gloom, guessing what it may contain; stretching our helpless hands here and there, lest, blindly, we stumble upon some hidden danger; not knowing the limits of our boundary, now feeling them suffocate us with compression, now seeing them extend far away till they vanish into eternity. In this state all wisdom consists necessarily in the solution of two questions: "What are we to believe? and What are we to reject?" These questions you desire me to decide.'
Apaecides bowed his head in assent.
'Man must have some belief,' continued the Egyptian, in a tone of sadness. 'He must fasten his hope to something: is our common nature that you inherit when, aghast and terrified to see that in which you have been taught to place your faith swept away, you float over a dreary and shoreless sea of incertitude, you cry for help, you ask for some plank to cling to, some land, however dim and distant, to attain. Well, then, have not forgotten our conversation of to-day?'
'I confessed to you that those deities for whom smoke so many altars were but inventions. I confessed to you that our rites and ceremonies were but mummeries, to delude and lure the herd to their proper good. I explained to you that from those delusions came the bonds of society, the harmony of the world, the power of the wise; that power is in the obedience of the vulgar. Continue we then these salutary delusions—if man must have some belief, continue to him that which his fathers have made dear to him, and which custom sanctifies and strengthens. In seeking a subtler faith for us, whose senses are too spiritual for the gross one, let us leave others that support which crumbles from ourselves. This is wise—it is benevolent.'
'This being settled,' resumed the Egyptian, 'the old landmarks being left uninjured for those whom we are about to desert, we gird up our loins and depart to new climes of faith. Dismiss at once from your recollection, from your thought, all that you have believed before. Suppose the mind a blank, an unwritten scroll, fit to receive impressions for the first time. Look round the world—observe its order—its regularity—its design. Something must have created it—the design speaks a designer: in that certainty we first touch land. But what is that something?—A god, you cry. Stay—no confused and confusing names. Of that which created the world, we know, we can know, nothing, save these attributes—power and unvarying regularity—stern, crushing, relentless regularity—heeding no individual cases—rolling—sweeping—burning on; no matter what scattered hearts, severed from the general mass, fall ground and scorched beneath its wheels. The mixture of evil with good—the existence of suffering and of crime—in all times have perplexed the wise. They created a god—they supposed him benevolent. How then came this evil? why did he permit it—nay, why invent, why perpetuate it? To account for this, the Persian creates a second spirit, whose nature is evil, and supposes a continual war between that and the god of good. In our own shadowy and tremendous Typhon, the Egyptians image a similar demon. Perplexing blunder that yet more bewilders us!—folly that arose from the vain delusion that makes a palpable, a corporeal, a human being, of this unknown power—that clothes the Invisible with attributes and a nature similar to the Seen. No: to this designer let us give a name that does not command our bewildering associations, and the mystery becomes more clear—that name is NECESSITY. Necessity, say the Greeks, compels the gods. Then why the gods?—their agency becomes unnecessary—dismiss them at once. Necessity is the ruler of all we see—power, regularity—these two qualities make its nature. Would you ask more?—you can learn nothing: whether it be eternal—whether it compel us, its creatures, to new careers after that darkness which we call death—we cannot tell. There leave we this ancient, unseen, unfathomable power, and come to that which, to our eyes, is the great minister of its functions. This we can task more, from this we can learn more: its evidence is around us—its name is NATURE. The error of the sages has been to direct their researches to the attributes of necessity, where all is gloom and blindness. Had they confined their researches to Nature—what of knowledge might we not already have achieved? Here patience, examination, are never directed in vain. We see what we explore; our minds ascend a palpable ladder of causes and effects. Nature is the great agent of the external universe, and Necessity imposes upon it the laws by which it acts, and imparts to us the powers by which we examine; those powers are curiosity and memory—their union is reason, their perfection is wisdom. Well, then, I examine by the help of these powers this inexhaustible Nature. I examine the earth, the air, the ocean, the heaven: I find that all have a mystic sympathy with each other—that the moon sways the tides—that the air maintains the earth, and is the medium of the life and sense of things—that by the knowledge of the stars we measure the limits of the earth—that we portion out the epochs of time—that by their pale light we are guided into the abyss of the past—that in their solemn lore we discern the destinies of the future. And thus, while we know not that which Necessity is, we learn, at least, her decrees. And now, what morality do we glean from this religion?—for religion it is. I believe in two deities—Nature and Necessity; I worship the last by reverence, the first by investigation. What is the morality my religion teaches? This—all things are subject but to general rules; the sun shines for the joy of the many—it may bring sorrow to the few; the night sheds sleep on the multitude—but it harbors murder as well as rest; the forests adorn the earth—but shelter the serpent and the lion; the ocean supports a thousand barks—but it engulfs the one. It is only thus for the general, and not for the universal benefit, that Nature acts, and Necessity speeds on her awful course. This is the morality of the dread agents of the world—it is mine, who am their creature. I would preserve the delusions of priestcraft, for they are serviceable to the multitude; I would impart to man the arts I discover, the sciences I perfect; I would speed the vast career of civilizing lore: in this I serve the mass, I fulfill the general law, I execute the great moral that Nature preaches. For myself I claim the individual exception; I claim it for the wise—satisfied that my individual actions are nothing in the great balance of good and evil; satisfied that the product of my knowledge can give greater blessings to the mass than my desires can operate evil on the few (for the first can extend to remotest regions and humanize nations yet unborn), I give to the world wisdom, to myself freedom. I enlighten the lives of others, and I enjoy my own. Yes; our wisdom is eternal, but our life is short: make the most of it while it lasts. Surrender thy youth to pleasure, and thy senses to delight. Soon comes the hour when the wine-cup is shattered, and the garlands shall cease to bloom. Enjoy while you may. Be still, O Apaecides, my pupil and my follower! I will teach thee the mechanism of Nature, her darkest and her wildest secrets—the lore which fools call magic—and the mighty mysteries of the stars. By this shalt thou discharge thy duty to the mass; by this shalt thou enlighten thy race. But I will lead thee also to pleasures of which the vulgar do not dream; and the day which thou givest to men shall be followed by the sweet night which thou surrenderest to thyself.'
As the Egyptian ceased there rose about, around, beneath, the softest music that Lydia ever taught, or Iona ever perfected. It came like a stream of sound, bathing the senses unawares; enervating, subduing with delight. It seemed the melodies of invisible spirits, such as the shepherd might have heard in the golden age, floating through the vales of Thessaly, or in the noontide glades of Paphos. The words which had rushed to the lip of Apaecides, in answer to the sophistries of the Egyptian, died tremblingly away. He felt it as a profanation to break upon that enchanted strain—the susceptibility of his excited nature, the Greek softness and ardour of his secret soul, were swayed and captured by surprise. He sank on the seat with parted lips and thirsting ear; while in a chorus of voices, bland and melting as those which waked Psyche in the halls of love, rose the following song:
THE HYMN OF EROS
By the cool banks where soft Cephisus flows, A voice sail'd trembling down the waves of air; The leaves blushed brighter in the Teian's rose, The doves couch'd breathless in their summer lair;
While from their hands the purple flowerets fell, The laughing Hours stood listening in the sky;— From Pan's green cave to AEgle's haunted cell, Heaved the charm'd earth in one delicious sigh.
Love, sons of earth! I am the Power of Love! Eldest of all the gods, with Chaos born; My smile sheds light along the courts above, My kisses wake the eyelids of the Morn.
Mine are the stars—there, ever as ye gaze, Ye meet the deep spell of my haunting eyes; Mine is the moon—and, mournful if her rays, 'Tis that she lingers where her Carian lies.
The flowers are mine—the blushes of the rose, The violet—charming Zephyr to the shade; Mine the quick light that in the Maybeam glows, And mine the day-dream in the lonely glade.
Love, sons of earth—for love is earth's soft lore, Look where ye will—earth overflows with ME; Learn from the waves that ever kiss the shore, And the winds nestling on the heaving sea.
'All teaches love!'—The sweet voice, like a dream, Melted in light; yet still the airs above, The waving sedges, and the whispering stream, And the green forest rustling, murmur'd 'LOVE!' As the voices died away, the Egyptian seized the hand of Apaecides, and led him, wandering, intoxicated, yet half-reluctant, across the chamber towards the curtain at the far end; and now, from behind that curtain, there seemed to burst a thousand sparkling stars; the veil itself, hitherto dark, was now lighted by these fires behind into the tenderest blue of heaven. It represented heaven itself—such a heaven, as in the nights of June might have shone down over the streams of Castaly. Here and there were painted rosy and aerial clouds, from which smiled, by the limner's art, faces of divinest beauty, and on which reposed the shapes of which Phidias and Apelles dreamed. And the stars which studded the transparent azure rolled rapidly as they shone, while the music, that again woke with a livelier and lighter sound, seemed to imitate the melody of the joyous spheres.
'Oh! what miracle is this, Arbaces,' said Apaecides in faltering accents. 'After having denied the gods, art thou about to reveal to me...'
'Their pleasures!' interrupted Arbaces, in a tone so different from its usual cold and tranquil harmony that Apaecides started, and thought the Egyptian himself transformed; and now, as they neared the curtain, a wild—a loud—an exulting melody burst from behind its concealment. With that sound the veil was rent in twain—it parted—it seemed to vanish into air: and a scene, which no Sybarite ever more than rivalled, broke upon the dazzled gaze of the youthful priest. A vast banquet-room stretched beyond, blazing with countless lights, which filled the warm air with the scents of frankincense, of jasmine, of violets, of myrrh; all that the most odorous flowers, all that the most costly spices could distil, seemed gathered into one ineffable and ambrosial essence: from the light columns that sprang upwards to the airy roof, hung draperies of white, studded with golden stars. At the extremities of the room two fountains cast up a spray, which, catching the rays of the roseate light, glittered like countless diamonds. In the centre of the room as they entered there rose slowly from the floor, to the sound of unseen minstrelsy, a table spread with all the viands which sense ever devoted to fancy, and vases of that lost Myrrhine fabric, so glowing in its colors, so transparent in its material, were crowned with the exotics of the East. The couches, to which this table was the centre, were covered with tapestries of azure and gold; and from invisible tubes the vaulted roof descended showers of fragrant waters, that cooled the delicious air, and contended with the lamps, as if the spirits of wave and fire disputed which element could furnish forth the most delicious odorous. And now, from behind the snowy draperies, trooped such forms as Adonis beheld when he lay on the lap of Venus. They came, some with garlands, others with lyres; they surrounded the youth, they led his steps to the banquet. They flung the chaplets round him in rosy chains. The earth—the thought of earth, vanished from his soul. He imagined himself in a dream, and suppressed his breath lest he should wake too soon; the senses, to which he had never yielded as yet, beat in his burning pulse, and confused his dizzy and reeling sight. And while thus amazed and lost, once again, but in brisk and Bacchic measures, rose the magic strain:
In the veins of the calix foams and glows The blood of the mantling vine, But oh! in the bowl of Youth there glows A Lesbian, more divine! Bright, bright, As the liquid light, Its waves through thine eyelids shine!
Fill up, fill up, to the sparkling brim, The juice of the young Lyaeus; The grape is the key that we owe to him From the gaol of the world to free us. Drink, drink! What need to shrink, When the lambs alone can see us?
Drink, drink, as I quaff from thine eyes The wine of a softer tree; Give the smiles to the god of the grape—thy sighs, Beloved one, give to me. Turn, turn, My glances burn, And thirst for a look from thee! As the song ended, a group of three maidens, entwined with a chain of starred flowers, and who, while they imitated, might have shamed the Graces, advanced towards him in the gliding measures of the Ionian dance: such as the Nereids wreathed in moonlight on the yellow sands of the AEgean wave—such as Cytherea taught her handmaids in the marriage-feast of Psyche and her son.
Now approaching, they wreathed their chaplet round his head; now kneeling, the youngest of the three proffered him the bowl, from which the wine of Lesbos foamed and sparkled. The youth resisted no more, he grasped the intoxicating cup, the blood mantled fiercely through his veins. He sank upon the breast of the nymph who sat beside him, and turning with swimming eyes to seek for Arbaces, whom he had lost in the whirl of his emotions, he beheld him seated beneath a canopy at the upper end of the table, and gazing upon him with a smile that encouraged him to pleasure. He beheld him, but not as he had hitherto seen, with dark and sable garments, with a brooding and solemn brow: a robe that dazzled the sight, so studded was its whitest surface with gold and gems, blazed upon his majestic form; white roses, alternated with the emerald and the ruby, and shaped tiara-like, crowned his raven locks. He appeared, like Ulysses, to have gained the glory of a second youth—his features seemed to have exchanged thought for beauty, and he towered amidst the loveliness that surrounded him, in all the beaming and relaxing benignity of the Olympian god.
'Drink, feast, love, my pupil!' said he, 'blush not that thou art passionate and young. That which thou art, thou feelest in thy veins: that which thou shalt be, survey!'
With this he pointed to a recess, and the eyes of Apaecides, following the gesture, beheld on a pedestal, placed between the statues of Bacchus and Idalia, the form of a skeleton.
'Start not,' resumed the Egyptian; 'that friendly guest admonishes us but of the shortness of life. From its jaws I hear a voice that summons us to ENJOY.'
As he spoke, a group of nymphs surrounded the statue; they laid chaplets on its pedestal, and, while the cups were emptied and refilled at that glowing board, they sang the following strain:
BACCHIC HYMNS TO THE IMAGE OF DEATH
Thou art in the land of the shadowy Host, Thou that didst drink and love: By the Solemn River, a gliding ghost, But thy thought is ours above! If memory yet can fly, Back to the golden sky, And mourn the pleasures lost! By the ruin'd hall these flowers we lay, Where thy soul once held its palace; When the rose to thy scent and sight was gay, And the smile was in the chalice, And the cithara's voice Could bid thy heart rejoice When night eclipsed the day.
Here a new group advancing, turned the tide of the music into a quicker and more joyous strain.
Death, death is the gloomy shore Where we all sail— Soft, soft, thou gliding oar; Blow soft, sweet gale! Chain with bright wreaths the Hours; Victims if all Ever, 'mid song and flowers, Victims should fall!
Pausing for a moment, yet quicker and quicker danced the silver-footed music:
Since Life's so short, we'll live to laugh, Ah! wherefore waste a minute! If youth's the cup we yet can quaff, Be love the pearl within it!
A third band now approached with brimming cups, which they poured in libation upon that strange altar; and once more, slow and solemn, rose the changeful melody:
Thou art welcome, Guest of gloom, From the far and fearful sea! When the last rose sheds its bloom, Our board shall be spread with thee! All hail, dark Guest! Who hath so fair a plea Our welcome Guest to be, As thou, whose solemn hall At last shall feast us all In the dim and dismal coast? Long yet be we the Host! And thou, Dead Shadow, thou, All joyless though thy brow, Thou—but our passing GUEST!
At this moment, she who sat beside Apaecides suddenly took up the song:
Happy is yet our doom, The earth and the sun are ours! And far from the dreary tomb Speed the wings of the rosy Hours— Sweet is for thee the bowl, Sweet are thy looks, my love; I fly to thy tender soul, As bird to its mated dove! Take me, ah, take! Clasp'd to thy guardian breast, Soft let me sink to rest: But wake me—ah, wake! And tell me with words and sighs, But more with thy melting eyes, That my sun is not set— That the Torch is not quench'd at the Urn That we love, and we breathe, and burn, Tell me—thou lov'st me yet!
BOOK THE SECOND
A FLASH HOUSE IN POMPEII, AND THE GENTLEMEN OF THE CLASSIC RING.
TO one of those parts of Pompeii, which were tenanted not by the lords of pleasure, but by its minions and its victims; the haunt of gladiators and prize-fighters; of the vicious and the penniless; of the savage and the obscene; the Alsatia of an ancient city—we are now transported.
It was a large room, that opened at once on the confined and crowded lane. Before the threshold was a group of men, whose iron and well-strung muscles, whose short and Herculean necks, whose hardy and reckless countenances, indicated the champions of the arena. On a shelf, without the shop, were ranged jars of wine and oil; and right over this was inserted in the wall a coarse painting, which exhibited gladiators drinking—so ancient and so venerable is the custom of signs! Within the room were placed several small tables, arranged somewhat in the modern fashion of 'boxes', and round these were seated several knots of men, some drinking, some playing at dice, some at that more skilful game called 'duodecim scriptae', which certain of the blundering learned have mistaken for chess, though it rather, perhaps, resembled backgammon of the two, and was usually, though not always, played by the assistance of dice. The hour was in the early forenoon, and nothing better, perhaps, than that unseasonable time itself denoted the habitual indolence of these tavern loungers.
Yet, despite the situation of the house and the character of its inmates, it indicated none of that sordid squalor which would have characterized a similar haunt in a modern city. The gay disposition of all the Pompeians, who sought, at least, to gratify the sense even where they neglected the mind, was typified by the gaudy colors which decorated the walls, and the shapes, fantastic but not inelegant, in which the lamps, the drinking-cups, the commonest household utensils, were wrought.
'By Pollux!' said one of the gladiators, as he leaned against the wall of the threshold, 'the wine thou sellest us, old Silenus'—and as he spoke he slapped a portly personage on the back—'is enough to thin the best blood in one's veins.'
The man thus caressingly saluted, and whose bared arms, white apron, and keys and napkin tucked carelessly within his girdle, indicated him to be the host of the tavern, was already passed into the autumn of his years; but his form was still so robust and athletic, that he might have shamed even the sinewy shapes beside him, save that the muscles had seeded, as it were, into flesh, that the cheeks were swelled and bloated, and the increasing stomach threw into shade the vast and massive chest which rose above it.
'None of thy scurrilous blusterings with me,' growled the gigantic landlord, in the gentle semi-roar of an insulted tiger; 'my wine is good enough for a carcass which shall so soon soak the dust of the spoliarium.'
'Croakest thou thus, old raven!' returned the gladiator, laughing scornfully; 'thou shalt live to hang thyself with despite when thou seest me win the palm crown; and when I get the purse at the amphitheatre, as I certainly shall, my first vow to Hercules shall be to forswear thee and thy vile potations evermore.'
'Hear to him—hear to this modest Pyrgopolinices! He has certainly served under Bombochides Cluninstaridysarchides,' cried the host. 'Sporus, Niger, Tetraides, he declares he shall win the purse from you. Why, by the gods! each of your muscles is strong enough to stifle all his body, or I know nothing of the arena!'
'Ha!' said the gladiator, coloring with rising fury, 'our lanista would tell a different story.'
'What story could he tell against me, vain Lydon?' said Tetraides, frowning.
'Or me, who have conquered in fifteen fights?' said the gigantic Niger, stalking up to the gladiator.
'Or me?' grunted Sporus, with eyes of fire.
'Tush!' said Lydon, folding his arms, and regarding his rivals with a reckless air of defiance. 'The time of trial will soon come; keep your valor till then.'
'Ay, do,' said the surly host; 'and if I press down my thumb to save you, may the Fates cut my thread!'
'Your rope, you mean,' said Lydon, sneeringly: 'here is a sesterce to buy one.'
The Titan wine-vender seized the hand extended to him, and griped it in so stern a vice that the blood spirted from the fingers' ends over the garments of the bystanders.
They set up a savage laugh.
'I will teach thee, young braggart, to play the Macedonian with me! I am no puny Persian, I warrant thee! What, man! have I not fought twenty years in the ring, and never lowered my arms once? And have I not received the rod from the editor's own hand as a sign of victory, and as a grace to retirement on my laurels? And am I now to be lectured by a boy?' So saying, he flung the hand from him in scorn.
Without changing a muscle, but with the same smiling face with which he had previously taunted mine host, did the gladiator brave the painful grasp he had undergone. But no sooner was his hand released, than, crouching for one moment as a wild cat crouches, you might see his hair bristle on his head and beard, and with a fierce and shrill yell he sprang on the throat of the giant, with an impetus that threw him, vast and sturdy as he was, from his balance—and down, with the crash of a falling rock, he fell—while over him fell also his ferocious foe.
Our host, perhaps, had had no need of the rope so kindly recommended to him by Lydon, had he remained three minutes longer in that position. But, summoned to his assistance by the noise of his fall, a woman, who had hitherto kept in an inner apartment, rushed to the scene of battle. This new ally was in herself a match for the gladiator; she was tall, lean, and with arms that could give other than soft embraces. In fact, the gentle helpmate of Burbo the wine-seller had, like himself, fought in the lists—nay under the emperor's eye. And Burbo himself—Burbo, the unconquered in the field, according to report, now and then yielded the palm to his soft Stratonice. This sweet creature no sooner saw the imminent peril that awaited her worse half, than without other weapons than those with which Nature had provided her, she darted upon the incumbent gladiator, and, clasping him round the waist with her long and snakelike arms, lifted him by a sudden wrench from the body of her husband, leaving only his hands still clinging to the throat of his foe. So have we seen a dog snatched by the hind legs from the strife with a fallen rival in the arms of some envious groom; so have we seen one half of him high in air—passive and offenceless—while the other half, head, teeth, eyes, claws, seemed buried and engulfed in the mangled and prostrate enemy. Meanwhile, the gladiators, lapped, and pampered, and glutted upon blood, crowded delightedly round the combatants—their nostrils distended—their lips grinning—their eyes gloatingly fixed on the bloody throat of the one and the indented talons of the other.
'Habet! (he has got it!) habet!' cried they, with a sort of yell, rubbing their nervous hands.
'Non habeo, ye liars; I have not got it!' shouted the host, as with a mighty effort he wrenched himself from those deadly hands, and rose to his feet, breathless, panting, lacerated, bloody; and fronting, with reeling eyes, the glaring look and grinning teeth of his baffled foe, now struggling (but struggling with disdain) in the gripe of the sturdy amazon.
'Fair play!' cried the gladiators: 'one to one'; and, crowding round Lydon and the woman, they separated our pleasing host from his courteous guest.
But Lydon, feeling ashamed at his present position, and endeavoring in vain to shake off the grasp of the virago, slipped his hand into his girdle, and drew forth a short knife. So menacing was his look, so brightly gleamed the blade, that Stratonice, who was used only to that fashion of battle which we moderns call the pugilistic, started back in alarm.
'O gods!' cried she, 'the ruffian!—he has concealed weapons! Is that fair? Is that like a gentleman and a gladiator? No, indeed, I scorn such fellows.' With that she contemptuously turned her back on the gladiator, and hastened to examine the condition of her husband.
But he, as much inured to the constitutional exercises as an English bull-dog is to a contest with a more gentle antagonist, had already recovered himself. The purple hues receded from the crimson surface of his cheek, the veins of the forehead retired into their wonted size. He shook himself with a complacent grunt, satisfied that he was still alive, and then looking at his foe from head to foot with an air of more approbation than he had ever bestowed upon him before:
'By Castor!' said he, 'thou art a stronger fellow than I took thee for! I see thou art a man of merit and virtue; give me thy hand, my hero!'
'Jolly old Burbo!' cried the gladiators, applauding, 'staunch to the backbone. Give him thy hand, Lydon.'
'Oh, to be sure,' said the gladiator: 'but now I have tasted his blood, I long to lap the whole.'
'By Hercules!' returned the host, quite unmoved, 'that is the true gladiator feeling. Pollux! to think what good training may make a man; why, a beast could not be fiercer!'
'A beast! O dullard! we beat the beasts hollow!' cried Tetraides.
'Well, well said Stratonice, who was now employed in smoothing her hair and adjusting her dress, 'if ye are all good friends again, I recommend you to be quiet and orderly; for some young noblemen, your patrons and backers, have sent to say they will come here to pay you a visit: they wish to see you more at their ease than at the schools, before they make up their bets on the great fight at the amphitheatre. So they always come to my house for that purpose: they know we only receive the best gladiators in Pompeii—our society is very select—praised be the gods!'
'Yes,' continued Burbo, drinking off a bowl, or rather a pail of wine, 'a man who has won my laurels can only encourage the brave. Lydon, drink, my boy; may you have an honorable old age like mine!'
'Come here,' said Stratonice, drawing her husband to her affectionately by the ears, in that caress which Tibullus has so prettily described—'Come here!'
'Not so hard, she-wolf! thou art worse than the gladiator,' murmured the huge jaws of Burbo.
'Hist!' said she, whispering him; 'Calenus has just stole in, disguised, by the back way. I hope he has brought the sesterces.'
'Ho! ho! I will join him, said Burbo; 'meanwhile, I say, keep a sharp eye on the cups—attend to the score. Let them not cheat thee, wife; they are heroes, to be sure, but then they are arrant rogues: Cacus was nothing to them.'
'Never fear me, fool!' was the conjugal reply; and Burbo, satisfied with the dear assurance, strode through the apartment, and sought the penetralia of his house.
'So those soft patrons are coming to look at our muscles,' said Niger. 'Who sent to previse thee of it, my mistress?'
'Lepidus. He brings with him Clodius, the surest better in Pompeii, and the young Greek, Glaucus.'
'A wager on a wager,' cried Tetraides; 'Clodius bets on me, for twenty sesterces! What say you, Lydon?'
'He bets on me!' said Lydon.
'No, on me!' grunted Sporus.
'Dolts! do you think he would prefer any of you to Niger?' said the athletic, thus modestly naming himself.
'Well, well,' said Stratonice, as she pierced a huge amphora for her guests, who had now seated themselves before one of the tables, 'great men and brave, as ye all think yourselves, which of you will fight the Numidian lion in case no malefactor should be found to deprive you of the option?'
'I who have escaped your arms, stout Stratonice,' said Lydon, 'might safely, I think, encounter the lion.'
'But tell me,' said Tetraides, 'where is that pretty young slave of yours—the blind girl, with bright eyes? I have not seen her a long time.'
'Oh! she is too delicate for you, my son of Neptune,' said the hostess, 'and too nice even for us, I think. We send her into the town to sell flowers and sing to the ladies: she makes us more money so than she would by waiting on you. Besides, she has often other employments which lie under the rose.'
'Other employments!' said Niger; 'why, she is too young for them.'
'Silence, beast!' said Stratonice; 'you think there is no play but the Corinthian. If Nydia were twice the age she is at present, she would be equally fit for Vesta—poor girl!'
'But, hark ye, Stratonice,' said Lydon; 'how didst thou come by so gentle and delicate a slave? She were more meet for the handmaid of some rich matron of Rome than for thee.'
'That is true,' returned Stratonice; 'and some day or other I shall make my fortune by selling her. How came I by Nydia, thou askest.'
'Why, thou seest, my slave Staphyla—thou rememberest Staphyla, Niger?'
'Ay, a large-handed wench, with a face like a comic mask. How should I forget her, by Pluto, whose handmaid she doubtless is at this moment!'
'Tush, brute!—Well, Staphyla died one day, and a great loss she was to me, and I went into the market to buy me another slave. But, by the gods! they were all grown so dear since I had bought poor Staphyla, and money was so scarce, that I was about to leave the place in despair, when a merchant plucked me by the robe. "Mistress," said he, "dost thou want a slave cheap I have a child to sell—a bargain. She is but little, and almost an infant, it is true; but she is quick and quiet, docile and clever, sings well, and is of good blood, I assure you." "Of what country?" said I. "Thessalian." Now I knew the Thessalians were acute and gentle; so I said I would see the girl. I found her just as you see her now, scarcely smaller and scarcely younger in appearance. She looked patient and resigned enough, with her hands crossed on her bosom, and her eyes downcast. I asked the merchant his price: it was moderate, and I bought her at once. The merchant brought her to my house, and disappeared in an instant. Well, my friends, guess my astonishment when I found she was blind! Ha! ha! a clever fellow that merchant! I ran at once to the magistrates, but the rogue was already gone from Pompeii. So I was forced to go home in a very ill humor, I assure you; and the poor girl felt the effects of it too. But it was not her fault that she was blind, for she had been so from her birth. By degrees, we got reconciled to our purchase. True, she had not the strength of Staphyla, and was of very little use in the house, but she could soon find her way about the town, as well as if she had the eyes of Argus; and when one morning she brought us home a handful of sesterces, which she said she had got from selling some flowers she had gathered in our poor little garden, we thought the gods had sent her to us. So from that time we let her go out as she likes, filling her basket with flowers, which she wreathes into garlands after the Thessalian fashion, which pleases the gallants; and the great people seem to take a fancy to her, for they always pay her more than they do any other flower-girl, and she brings all of it home to us, which is more than any other slave would do. So I work for myself, but I shall soon afford from her earnings to buy me a second Staphyla; doubtless, the Thessalian kidnapper had stolen the blind girl from gentle parents. Besides her skill in the garlands, she sings and plays on the cithara, which also brings money, and lately—but that is a secret.'
'That is a secret! What!' cried Lydon, 'art thou turned sphinx?'
'Sphinx, no!—why sphinx?'
'Cease thy gabble, good mistress, and bring us our meat—I am hungry,' said Sporus, impatiently.
'And I, too,' echoed the grim Niger, whetting his knife on the palm of his hand.
The amazon stalked away to the kitchen, and soon returned with a tray laden with large pieces of meat half-raw: for so, as now, did the heroes of the prize-fight imagine they best sustained their hardihood and ferocity: they drew round the table with the eyes of famished wolves—the meat vanished, the wine flowed. So leave we those important personages of classic life to follow the steps of Burbo.
IN the earlier times of Rome the priesthood was a profession, not of lucre but of honour. It was embraced by the noblest citizens—it was forbidden to the plebeians. Afterwards, and long previous to the present date, it was equally open to all ranks; at least, that part of the profession which embraced the flamens, or priests—not of religion generally but of peculiar gods. Even the priest of Jupiter (the Flamen Dialis) preceded by a lictor, and entitled by his office to the entrance of the senate, at first the especial dignitary of the patricians, was subsequently the choice of the people. The less national and less honored deities were usually served by plebeian ministers; and many embraced the profession, as now the Roman Catholic Christians enter the monastic fraternity, less from the impulse of devotion than the suggestions of a calculating poverty. Thus Calenus, the priest of Isis, was of the lowest origin. His relations, though not his parents, were freedmen. He had received from them a liberal education, and from his father a small patrimony, which he had soon exhausted. He embraced the priesthood as a last resource from distress. Whatever the state emoluments of the sacred profession, which at that time were probably small, the officers of a popular temple could never complain of the profits of their calling. There is no profession so lucrative as that which practises on the superstition of the multitude.
Calenus had but one surviving relative at Pompeii, and that was Burbo. Various dark and disreputable ties, stronger than those of blood, united together their hearts and interests; and often the minister of Isis stole disguised and furtively from the supposed austerity of his devotions; and gliding through the back door of the retired gladiator, a man infamous alike by vices and by profession, rejoiced to throw off the last rag of an hypocrisy which, but for the dictates of avarice, his ruling passion, would at all time have sat clumsily upon a nature too brutal for even the mimicry of virtue.
Wrapped in one of those large mantles which came in use among the Romans in proportion as they dismissed the toga, whose ample folds well concealed the form, and in which a sort of hood (attached to it) afforded no less a security to the features, Calenus now sat in the small and private chamber of the wine-cellar, whence a small passage ran at once to that back entrance, with which nearly all the houses of Pompeii were furnished.
Opposite to him sat the sturdy Burbo, carefully counting on a table between them a little pile of coins which the priest had just poured from his purse—for purses were as common then as now, with this difference—they were usually better furnished!
'You see,' said Calenus, that we pay you handsomely, and you ought to thank me for recommending you to so advantageous a market.'
'I do, my cousin, I do,' replied Burbo, affectionately, as he swept the coins into a leathern receptacle, which he then deposited in his girdle, drawing the buckle round his capacious waist more closely than he was wont to do in the lax hours of his domestic avocations. 'And by Isis, Pisis, and Nisis, or whatever other gods there may be in Egypt, my little Nydia is a very Hesperides—a garden of gold to me.'
'She sings well, and plays like a muse,' returned Calenus; 'those are virtues that he who employs me always pays liberally.'
'He is a god,' cried Burbo, enthusiastically; 'every rich man who is generous deserves to be worshipped. But come, a cup of wine, old friend: tell me more about it. What does she do? she is frightened, talks of her oath, and reveals nothing.'
'Nor will I, by my right hand! I, too, have taken that terrible oath of secrecy.'
'Oath! what are oaths to men like us?'
'True oaths of a common fashion; but this!'—and the stalwart priest shuddered as he spoke. 'Yet,' he continued, in emptying a huge cup of unmixed wine, 'I own to thee, that it is not so much the oath that I dread as the vengeance of him who proposed it. By the gods! he is a mighty sorcerer, and could draw my confession from the moon, did I dare to make it to her. Talk no more of this. By Pollux! wild as those banquets are which I enjoy with him, I am never quite at my ease there. I love, my boy, one jolly hour with thee, and one of the plain, unsophisticated, laughing girls that I meet in this chamber, all smoke-dried though it be, better than whole nights of those magnificent debauches.'
'Ho! sayest thou so! To-morrow night, please the gods, we will have then a snug carousal.'
'With all my heart,' said the priest, rubbing his hands, and drawing himself nearer to the table.
At this moment they heard a slight noise at the door, as of one feeling the handle. The priest lowered the hood over his head.
'Tush!' whispered the host, 'it is but the blind girl,' as Nydia opened the door, and entered the apartment.
'Ho! girl, and how durst thou? thou lookest pale—thou hast kept late revels? No matter, the young must be always the young,' said Burbo, encouragingly.
The girl made no answer, but she dropped on one of the seats with an air of lassitude. Her color went and came rapidly: she beat the floor impatiently with her small feet, then she suddenly raised her face, and said with a determined voice: