'Master, you may starve me if you will—you may beat me—you may threaten me with death—but I will go no more to that unholy place!'
'How, fool!' said Burbo, in a savage voice, and his heavy brows met darkly over his fierce and bloodshot eyes; 'how, rebellious! Take care.'
'I have said it,' said the poor girl, crossing her hands on her breast.
'What! my modest one, sweet vestal, thou wilt go no more! Very well, thou shalt be carried.'
'I will raise the city with my cries,' said she, passionately; and the color mounted to her brow.
'We will take care of that too; thou shalt go gagged.'
'Then may the gods help me!' said Nydia, rising; 'I will appeal to the magistrates.'
'Thine oath remember!' said a hollow voice, as for the first time Calenus joined in the dialogue.
At these words a trembling shook the frame of the unfortunate girl; she clasped her hands imploringly. 'Wretch that I am!' she cried, and burst violently into sobs.
Whether or not it was the sound of that vehement sorrow which brought the gentle Stratonice to the spot, her grisly form at this moment appeared in the chamber.
'How now? what hast thou been doing with my slave, brute?' said she, angrily, to Burbo.
'Be quiet, wife,' said he, in a tone half-sullen, half-timid; 'you want new girdles and fine clothes, do you? Well then, take care of your slave, or you may want them long. Voe capiti tuo—vengeance on thy head, wretched one!'
'What is this?' said the hag, looking from one to the other.
Nydia started as by a sudden impulse from the wall against which she had leaned: she threw herself at the feet of Stratonice; she embraced her knees, and looking up at her with those sightless but touching eyes:
'O my mistress!' sobbed she, 'you are a woman—you have had sisters—you have been young like me, feel for me—save me! I will go to those horrible feasts no more!'
'Stuff!' said the hag, dragging her up rudely by one of those delicate hands, fit for no harsher labor than that of weaving the flowers which made her pleasure or her trade; 'stuff! these fine scruples are not for slaves.'
'Hark ye,' said Burbo, drawing forth his purse, and chinking its contents: 'you hear this music, wife; by Pollux! if you do not break in yon colt with a tight rein, you will hear it no more.'
'The girl is tired,' said Stratonice, nodding to Calenus; 'she will be more docile when you next want her.'
'You! you! who is here?' cried Nydia, casting her eyes round the apartment with so fearful and straining a survey, that Calenus rose in alarm from his seat.
'She must see with those eyes!' muttered he.
'Who is here! Speak, in heaven's name! Ah, if you were blind like me, you would be less cruel,' said she; and she again burst into tears.
'Take her away,' said Burbo, impatiently; 'I hate these whimperings.'
'Come!' said Stratonice, pushing the poor child by the shoulders. Nydia drew herself aside, with an air to which resolution gave dignity.
'Hear me,' she said; 'I have served you faithfully—I who was brought up—Ah! my mother, my poor mother! didst thou dream I should come to this?' She dashed the tear from her eyes, and proceeded: 'Command me in aught else, and I will obey; but I tell you now, hard, stern, inexorable as you are—I tell you that I will go there no more; or, if I am forced there, that I will implore the mercy of the praetor himself—I have said it. Hear me, ye gods, I swear!'
The hag's eyes glowed with fire; she seized the child by the hair with one hand, and raised on high the other—that formidable right hand, the least blow of which seemed capable to crush the frail and delicate form that trembled in her grasp. That thought itself appeared to strike her, for she suspended the blow, changed her purpose, and dragging Nydia to the wall, seized from a hook a rope, often, alas! applied to a similar purpose, and the next moment the shrill, the agonized shrieks of the blind girl, rang piercingly through the house.
GLAUCUS MAKES A PURCHASE THAT AFTERWARDS COSTS HIM DEAR.
'HOLLA, my brave fellows!' said Lepidus, stooping his head as he entered the low doorway of the house of Burbo. 'We have come to see which of you most honors your lanista.' The gladiators rose from the table in respect to three gallants known to be among the gayest and richest youths of Pompeii, and whose voices were therefore the dispensers of amphitheatrical reputation.
'What fine animals!' said Clodius to Glaucus: 'worthy to be gladiators!'
'It is a pity they are not warriors,' returned Glaucus.
A singular thing it was to see the dainty and fastidious Lepidus, whom in a banquet a ray of daylight seemed to blind—whom in the bath a breeze of air seemed to blast—in whom Nature seemed twisted and perverted from every natural impulse, and curdled into one dubious thing of effeminacy and art—a singular thing was it to see this Lepidus, now all eagerness, and energy, and life, patting the vast shoulders of the gladiators with a blanched and girlish hand, feeling with a mincing gripe their great brawn and iron muscles, all lost in calculating admiration at that manhood which he had spent his life in carefully banishing from himself.
So have we seen at this day the beardless flutterers of the saloons of London thronging round the heroes of the Fives-court—so have we seen them admire, and gaze, and calculate a bet—so have we seen them meet together, in ludicrous yet in melancholy assemblage, the two extremes of civilized society—the patrons of pleasure and its slaves—vilest of all slaves—at once ferocious and mercenary; male prostitutes, who sell their strength as women their beauty; beasts in act, but baser than beasts in motive, for the last, at least, do not mangle themselves for money!
'Ha! Niger, how will you fight?' said Lepidus: 'and with whom?'
'Sporus challenges me,' said the grim giant; 'we shall fight to the death, I hope.'
'Ah! to be sure,' grunted Sporus, with a twinkle of his small eye.
'He takes the sword, I the net and the trident: it will be rare sport. I hope the survivor will have enough to keep up the dignity of the crown.'
'Never fear, we'll fill the purse, my Hector,' said Clodius:
'let me see—you fight against Niger? Glaucus, a bet—I back Niger.'
'I told you so,' cried Niger exultingly. 'The noble Clodius knows me; count yourself dead already, my Sporus.'
Clodius took out his tablet. 'A bet—ten sestertia. What say you?'
'So be it,' said Glaucus. 'But whom have we here? I never saw this hero before'; and he glanced at Lydon, whose limbs were slighter than those of his companions, and who had something of grace, and something even of nobleness, in his face, which his profession had not yet wholly destroyed.
'It is Lydon, a youngster, practised only with the wooden sword as yet,' answered Niger, condescendingly. 'But he has the true blood in him, and has challenged Tetraides.'
'He challenged me,' said Lydon: 'I accept the offer.'
'And how do you fight?' asked Lepidus. 'Chut, my boy, wait a while before you contend with Tetraides.' Lydon smiled disdainfully.
'Is he a citizen or a slave?' said Clodius.
'A citizen—we are all citizens here,' quoth Niger.
'Stretch out your arm, my Lydon,' said Lepidus, with the air of a connoisseur.
The gladiator, with a significant glance at his companions, extended an arm which, if not so huge in its girth as those of his comrades, was so firm in its muscles, so beautifully symmetrical in its proportions, that the three visitors uttered simultaneously an admiring exclamation.
'Well, man, what is your weapon?' said Clodius, tablet in hand.
'We are to fight first with the cestus; afterwards, if both survive, with swords,' returned Tetraides, sharply, and with an envious scowl.
'With the cestus!' cried Glaucus; 'there you are wrong, Lydon; the cestus is the Greek fashion: I know it well. You should have encouraged flesh for that contest: you are far too thin for it—avoid the cestus.'
'I cannot,' said Lydon.
'I have said—because he has challenged me.'
'But he will not hold you to the precise weapon.'
'My honour holds me!' returned Lydon, proudly.
'I bet on Tetraides, two to one, at the cestus,' said Clodius; shall it be, Lepidus?—even betting, with swords.'
'If you give me three to one, I will not take the odds, said Lepidus: 'Lydon will never come to the swords. You are mighty courteous.'
'What say you, Glaucus?' said Clodius.
'I will take the odds three to one.'
'Ten sestertia to thirty.'
Clodius wrote the bet in his book.
'Pardon me, noble sponsor mine,' said Lydon, in a low voice to Glaucus: 'but how much think you the victor will gain?'
'How much? why, perhaps seven sestertia.'
'You are sure it will be as much?'
'At least. But out on you!—a Greek would have thought of the honour, and not the money. O Italians! everywhere ye are Italians!'
A blush mantled over the bronzed cheek of the gladiator.
'Do not wrong me, noble Glaucus; I think of both, but I should never have been a gladiator but for the money.'
'Base! mayest thou fall! A miser never was a hero.'
'I am not a miser,' said Lydon, haughtily, and he withdrew to the other end of the room.
'But I don't see Burbo; where is Burbo? I must talk with Burbo,' cried Clodius.
'He is within,' said Niger, pointing to the door at the extremity of the room.
'And Stratonice, the brave old lass, where is she?' quoth Lepidus.
'Why, she was here just before you entered; but she heard something that displeased her yonder, and vanished. Pollux! old Burbo had perhaps caught hold of some girl in the back room. I heard a female's voice crying out; the old dame is as jealous as Juno.'
'Ho! excellent!' cried Lepidus, laughing. 'Come, Clodius, let us go shares with Jupiter; perhaps he has caught a Leda.'
At this moment a loud cry of pain and terror startled the group.
'Oh, spare me! spare me! I am but a child, I am blind—is not that punishment enough?'
'O Pallas! I know that voice, it is my poor flower-girl!' exclaimed Glaucus, and he darted at once into the quarter whence the cry rose.
He burst the door; he beheld Nydia writhing in the grasp of the infuriate hag; the cord, already dabbled with blood, was raised in the air—it was suddenly arrested.
'Fury!' said Glaucus, and with his left hand he caught Nydia from her grasp; 'how dare you use thus a girl—one of your own sex, a child! My Nydia, my poor infant!'
'Oh? is that you—is that Glaucus?' exclaimed the flower-girl, in a tone almost of transport; the tears stood arrested on her cheek; she smiled, she clung to his breast, she kissed his robe as she clung.
'And how dare you, pert stranger! interfere between a free woman and her slave. By the gods! despite your fine tunic and your filthy perfumes, I doubt whether you are even a Roman citizen, my mannikin.'
'Fair words, mistress—fair words!' said Clodius, now entering with Lepidus. 'This is my friend and sworn brother; he must be put under shelter of your tongue, sweet one; it rains stones!'
'Give me my slave!' shrieked the virago, placing her mighty grasp on the breast of the Greek.
'Not if all your sister Furies could help you,' answered Glaucus. 'Fear not, sweet Nydia; an Athenian never forsook distress!'
'Holla!' said Burbo, rising reluctantly, 'What turmoil is all this about a slave? Let go the young gentleman, wife—let him go: for his sake the pert thing shall be spared this once.' So saying, he drew, or rather dragged off, his ferocious help-mate.
'Methought when we entered,' said Clodius, 'there was another man present?'
'He is gone.'
For the priest of Isis had indeed thought it high time to vanish.
'Oh, a friend of mine! a brother cupman, a quiet dog, who does not love these snarlings,' said Burbo, carelessly. 'But go, child, you will tear the gentleman's tunic if you cling to him so tight; go, you are pardoned.'
'Oh, do not—do not forsake me!' cried Nydia, clinging yet closer to the Athenian.
Moved by her forlorn situation, her appeal to him, her own innumerable and touching graces, the Greek seated himself on one of the rude chairs. He held her on his knees—he wiped the blood from her shoulders with his long hair—he kissed the tears from her cheeks—he whispered to her a thousand of those soothing words with which we calm the grief of a child—and so beautiful did he seem in his gentle and consoling task, that even the fierce heart of Stratonice was touched. His presence seemed to shed light over that base and obscene haunt—young, beautiful, glorious, he was the emblem of all that earth made most happy, comforting one that earth had abandoned!
'Well, who could have thought our blind Nydia had been so honored!' said the virago, wiping her heated brow.
Glaucus looked up at Burbo.
'My good man,' said he, 'this is your slave; she sings well, she is accustomed to the care of flowers—I wish to make a present of such a slave to a lady. Will you sell her to me?' As he spoke he felt the whole frame of the poor girl tremble with delight; she started up, she put her disheveled hair from her eyes, she looked around, as if, alas, she had the power to see!
'Sell our Nydia! no, indeed,' said Stratonice, gruffly.
Nydia sank back with a long sigh, and again clasped the robe of her protector.
'Nonsense!' said Clodius, imperiously: 'you must oblige me. What, man! what, old dame! offend me, and your trade is ruined. Is not Burbo my kinsman Pansa's client? Am I not the oracle of the amphitheatre and its heroes? If I say the word, break up your wine-jars—you sell no more. Glaucus, the slave is yours.'
Burbo scratched his huge head, in evident embarrassment.
'The girl is worth her weight in gold to me.'
'Name your price, I am rich,' said Glaucus.
The ancient Italians were like the modern, there was nothing they would not sell, much less a poor blind girl.
'I paid six sestertia for her, she is worth twelve now,' muttered Stratonice.
'You shall have twenty; come to the magistrates at once, and then to my house for your money.'
'I would not have sold the dear girl for a hundred but to oblige noble Clodius,' said Burbo, whiningly. 'And you will speak to Pansa about the place of designator at the amphitheatre, noble Clodius? it would just suit me.'
'Thou shalt have it,' said Clodius; adding in a whisper to Burbo, 'Yon Greek can make your fortune; money runs through him like a sieve: mark to-day with white chalk, my Priam.'
'An dabis?' said Glaucus, in the formal question of sale and barter.
'Dabitur,' answered Burbo.
'Then, then, I am to go with you—with you? O happiness!' murmured Nydia.
'Pretty one, yes; and thy hardest task henceforth shall be to sing thy Grecian hymns to the loveliest lady in Pompeii.'
The girl sprang from his clasp; a change came over her whole face, bright the instant before; she sighed heavily, and then once more taking his hand, she said:
'I thought I was to go to your house?'
'And so thou shalt for the present; come, we lose time.'
THE RIVAL OF GLAUCUS PRESSES ONWARD IN THE RACE.
IONE was one of those brilliant characters which, but once or twice, flash across our career. She united in the highest perfection the rarest of earthly gifts—Genius and Beauty. No one ever possessed superior intellectual qualities without knowing them—the alliteration of modesty and merit is pretty enough, but where merit is great, the veil of that modesty you admire never disguises its extent from its possessor. It is the proud consciousness of certain qualities that it cannot reveal to the everyday world, that gives to genius that shy, and reserved, and troubled air, which puzzles and flatters you when you encounter it.
Ione, then, knew her genius; but, with that charming versatility that belongs of right to women, she had the faculty so few of a kindred genius in the less malleable sex can claim—the faculty to bend and model her graceful intellect to all whom it encountered. The sparkling fountain threw its waters alike upon the strand, the cavern, and the flowers; it refreshed, it smiled, it dazzled everywhere. That pride, which is the necessary result of superiority, she wore easily—in her breast it concentred itself in independence. She pursued thus her own bright and solitary path. She asked no aged matron to direct and guide her—she walked alone by the torch of her own unflickering purity. She obeyed no tyrannical and absolute custom. She moulded custom to her own will, but this so delicately and with so feminine a grace, so perfect an exemption from error, that you could not say she outraged custom but commanded it. The wealth of her graces was inexhaustible—she beautified the commonest action; a word, a look from her, seemed magic. Love her, and you entered into a new world, you passed from this trite and commonplace earth. You were in a land in which your eyes saw everything through an enchanted medium. In her presence you felt as if listening to exquisite music; you were steeped in that sentiment which has so little of earth in it, and which music so well inspires—that intoxication which refines and exalts, which seizes, it is true, the senses, but gives them the character of the soul.
She was peculiarly formed, then, to command and fascinate the less ordinary and the bolder natures of men; to love her was to unite two passions, that of love and of ambition—you aspired when you adored her. It was no wonder that she had completely chained and subdued the mysterious but burning soul of the Egyptian, a man in whom dwelt the fiercest passions. Her beauty and her soul alike enthralled him.
Set apart himself from the common world, he loved that daringness of character which also made itself, among common things, aloof and alone. He did not, or he would not see, that that very isolation put her yet more from him than from the vulgar. Far as the poles—far as the night from day, his solitude was divided from hers. He was solitary from his dark and solemn vices—she from her beautiful fancies and her purity of virtue.
If it was not strange that Ione thus enthralled the Egyptian, far less strange was it that she had captured, as suddenly as irrevocably, the bright and sunny heart of the Athenian. The gladness of a temperament which seemed woven from the beams of light had led Glaucus into pleasure. He obeyed no more vicious dictates when he wandered into the dissipations of his time, than the exhilarating voices of youth and health. He threw the brightness of his nature over every abyss and cavern through which he strayed. His imagination dazzled him, but his heart never was corrupted. Of far more penetration than his companions deemed, he saw that they sought to prey upon his riches and his youth: but he despised wealth save as the means of enjoyment, and youth was the great sympathy that united him to them. He felt, it is true, the impulse of nobler thoughts and higher aims than in pleasure could be indulged: but the world was one vast prison, to which the Sovereign of Rome was the Imperial gaoler; and the very virtues, which in the free days of Athens would have made him ambitious, in the slavery of earth made him inactive and supine. For in that unnatural and bloated civilization, all that was noble in emulation was forbidden. Ambition in the regions of a despotic and luxurious court was but the contest of flattery and craft. Avarice had become the sole ambition—men desired praetorships and provinces only as the license to pillage, and government was but the excuse of rapine. It is in small states that glory is most active and pure—the more confined the limits of the circle, the more ardent the patriotism. In small states, opinion is concentrated and strong—every eye reads your actions—your public motives are blended with your private ties—every spot in your narrow sphere is crowded with forms familiar since your childhood—the applause of your citizens is like the caresses of your friends. But in large states, the city is but the court: the provinces—unknown to you, unfamiliar in customs, perhaps in language—have no claim on your patriotism, the ancestry of their inhabitants is not yours. In the court you desire favor instead of glory; at a distance from the court, public opinion has vanished from you, and self-interest has no counterpoise.
Italy, Italy, while I write, your skies are over me—your seas flow beneath my feet, listen not to the blind policy which would unite all your crested cities, mourning for their republics, into one empire; false, pernicious delusion! your only hope of regeneration is in division. Florence, Milan, Venice, Genoa, may be free once more, if each is free. But dream not of freedom for the whole while you enslave the parts; the heart must be the centre of the system, the blood must circulate freely everywhere; and in vast communities you behold but a bloated and feeble giant, whose brain is imbecile, whose limbs are dead, and who pays in disease and weakness the penalty of transcending the natural proportions of health and vigour.
Thus thrown back upon themselves, the more ardent qualities of Glaucus found no vent, save in that overflowing imagination which gave grace to pleasure, and poetry to thought. Ease was less despicable than contention with parasites and slaves, and luxury could yet be refined though ambition could not be ennobled. But all that was best and brightest in his soul woke at once when he knew Ione. Here was an empire, worthy of demigods to attain; here was a glory, which the reeking smoke of a foul society could not soil or dim. Love, in every time, in every state, can thus find space for its golden altars. And tell me if there ever, even in the ages most favorable to glory, could be a triumph more exalted and elating than the conquest of one noble heart?
And whether it was that this sentiment inspired him, his ideas glowed more brightly, his soul seemed more awake and more visible, in Ione's presence. If natural to love her, it was natural that she should return the passion. Young, brilliant, eloquent, enamoured, and Athenian, he was to her as the incarnation of the poetry of her father's land. They were not like creatures of a world in which strife and sorrow are the elements; they were like things to be seen only in the holiday of nature, so glorious and so fresh were their youth, their beauty, and their love. They seemed out of place in the harsh and every-day earth; they belonged of right to the Saturnian age, and the dreams of demigod and nymph. It was as if the poetry of life gathered and fed itself in them, and in their hearts were concentrated the last rays of the sun of Delos and of Greece.
But if Ione was independent in her choice of life, so was her modest pride proportionably vigilant and easily alarmed. The falsehood of the Egyptian was invented by a deep knowledge of her nature. The story of coarseness, of indelicacy, in Glaucus, stung her to the quick. She felt it a reproach upon her character and her career, a punishment above all to her love; she felt, for the first time, how suddenly she had yielded to that love; she blushed with shame at a weakness, the extent of which she was startled to perceive: she imagined it was that weakness which had incurred the contempt of Glaucus; she endured the bitterest curse of noble natures—humiliation! Yet her love, perhaps, was no less alarmed than her pride. If one moment she murmured reproaches upon Glaucus—if one moment she renounced, she almost hated him—at the next she burst into passionate tears, her heart yielded to its softness, and she said in the bitterness of anguish, 'He despises me—he does not love me.'
From the hour the Egyptian had left her she had retired to her most secluded chamber, she had shut out her handmaids, she had denied herself to the crowds that besieged her door. Glaucus was excluded with the rest; he wondered, but he guessed not why! He never attributed to his Ione—his queen—his goddess—that woman—like caprice of which the love-poets of Italy so unceasingly complain. He imagined her, in the majesty of her candour, above all the arts that torture. He was troubled, but his hopes were not dimmed, for he knew already that he loved and was beloved; what more could he desire as an amulet against fear?
At deepest night, then, when the streets were hushed, and the high moon only beheld his devotions, he stole to that temple of his heart—her home; and wooed her after the beautiful fashion of his country. He covered her threshold with the richest garlands, in which every flower was a volume of sweet passion; and he charmed the long summer night with the sound of the Lydian lute: and verses, which the inspiration of the moment sufficed to weave.
But the window above opened not; no smile made yet more holy the shining air of night. All was still and dark. He knew not if his verse was welcome and his suit was heard.
Yet Ione slept not, nor disdained to hear. Those soft strains ascended to her chamber; they soothed, they subdued her. While she listened, she believed nothing against her lover; but when they were stilled at last, and his step departed, the spell ceased; and, in the bitterness of her soul, she almost conceived in that delicate flattery a new affront.
I said she was denied to all; but there was one exception, there was one person who would not be denied, assuming over her actions and her house something like the authority of a parent; Arbaces, for himself, claimed an exemption from all the ceremonies observed by others. He entered the threshold with the license of one who feels that he is privileged and at home. He made his way to her solitude and with that sort of quiet and unapologetic air which seemed to consider the right as a thing of course. With all the independence of Ione's character, his heart had enabled him to obtain a secret and powerful control over her mind. She could not shake it off; sometimes she desired to do so; but she never actively struggled against it. She was fascinated by his serpent eye. He arrested, he commanded her, by the magic of a mind long accustomed to awe and to subdue. Utterly unaware of his real character or his hidden love, she felt for him the reverence which genius feels for wisdom, and virtue for sanctity. She regarded him as one of those mighty sages of old, who attained to the mysteries of knowledge by an exemption from the passions of their kind. She scarcely considered him as a being, like herself, of the earth, but as an oracle at once dark and sacred. She did not love him, but she feared. His presence was unwelcome to her; it dimmed her spirit even in its brightest mood; he seemed, with his chilling and lofty aspect, like some eminence which casts a shadow over the sun. But she never thought of forbidding his visits. She was passive under the influence which created in her breast, not the repugnance, but something of the stillness of terror.
Arbaces himself now resolved to exert all his arts to possess himself of that treasure he so burningly coveted. He was cheered and elated by his conquests over her brother. From the hour in which Apaecides fell beneath the voluptuous sorcery of that fete which we have described, he felt his empire over the young priest triumphant and insured. He knew that there is no victim so thoroughly subdued as a young and fervent man for the first time delivered to the thraldom of the senses.
When Apaecides recovered, with the morning light, from the profound sleep which succeeded to the delirium of wonder and of pleasure, he was, it is true, ashamed—terrified—appalled. His vows of austerity and celibacy echoed in his ear; his thirst after holiness—had it been quenched at so unhallowed a stream? But Arbaces knew well the means by which to confirm his conquest. From the arts of pleasure he led the young priest at once to those of his mysterious wisdom. He bared to his amazed eyes the initiatory secrets of the sombre philosophy of the Nile—those secrets plucked from the stars, and the wild chemistry, which, in those days, when Reason herself was but the creature of Imagination, might well pass for the lore of a diviner magic. He seemed to the young eyes of the priest as a being above mortality, and endowed with supernatural gifts. That yearning and intense desire for the knowledge which is not of earth—which had burned from his boyhood in the heart of the priest—was dazzled, until it confused and mastered his clearer sense. He gave himself to the art which thus addressed at once the two strongest of human passions, that of pleasure and that of knowledge. He was loth to believe that one so wise could err, that one so lofty could stoop to deceive. Entangled in the dark web of metaphysical moralities, he caught at the excuse by which the Egyptian converted vice into a virtue. His pride was insensibly flattered that Arbaces had deigned to rank him with himself, to set him apart from the laws which bound the vulgar, to make him an august participator, both in the mystic studies and the magic fascinations of the Egyptian's solitude. The pure and stern lessons of that creed to which Olinthus had sought to make him convert, were swept away from his memory by the deluge of new passions. And the Egyptian, who was versed in the articles of that true faith, and who soon learned from his pupil the effect which had been produced upon him by its believers, sought, not unskilfully, to undo that effect, by a tone of reasoning, half-sarcastic and half-earnest.
'This faith,' said he, 'is but a borrowed plagiarism from one of the many allegories invented by our priests of old. Observe,' he added, pointing to a hieroglyphical scroll—'observe in these ancient figures the origin of the Christian's Trinity. Here are also three gods—the Deity, the Spirit, and the Son. Observe, that the epithet of the Son is "Saviour"—observe, that the sign by which his human qualities are denoted is the cross.' Note here, too, the mystic history of Osiris, how he put on death; how he lay in the grave; and how, thus fulfilling a solemn atonement, he rose again from the dead! In these stories we but design to paint an allegory from the operations of nature and the evolutions of the eternal heavens. But the allegory unknown, the types themselves have furnished to credulous nations the materials of many creeds. They have travelled to the vast plains of India; they have mixed themselves up in the visionary speculations of the Greek; becoming more and more gross and embodied, as they emerge farther from the shadows of their antique origin, they have assumed a human and palpable form in this novel faith; and the believers of Galilee are but the unconscious repeaters of one of the superstitions of the Nile!'
This was the last argument which completely subdued the priest. It was necessary to him, as to all, to believe in something; and undivided and, at last, unreluctant, he surrendered himself to that belief which Arbaces inculcated, and which all that was human in passion—all that was flattering in vanity—all that was alluring in pleasure, served to invite to, and contributed to confirm.
This conquest, thus easily made, the Egyptian could now give himself wholly up to the pursuit of a far dearer and mightier object; and he hailed, in his success with the brother, an omen of his triumph over the sister.
He had seen Ione on the day following the revel we have witnessed; and which was also the day after he had poisoned her mind against his rival. The next day, and the next, he saw her also: and each time he laid himself out with consummate art, partly to confirm her impression against Glaucus, and principally to prepare her for the impressions he desired her to receive. The proud Ione took care to conceal the anguish she endured; and the pride of woman has an hypocrisy which can deceive the most penetrating, and shame the most astute. But Arbaces was no less cautious not to recur to a subject which he felt it was most politic to treat as of the lightest importance. He knew that by dwelling much upon the fault of a rival, you only give him dignity in the eyes of your mistress: the wisest plan is, neither loudly to hate, nor bitterly to contemn; the wisest plan is to lower him by an indifference of tone, as if you could not dream that he could be loved. Your safety is in concealing the wound to your own pride, and imperceptibly alarming that of the umpire, whose voice is fate! Such, in all times, will be the policy of one who knows the science of the sex—it was now the Egyptian's.
He recurred no more, then, to the presumption of Glaucus; he mentioned his name, but not more often than that of Clodius or of Lepidus. He affected to class them together as things of a low and ephemeral species; as things wanting nothing of the butterfly, save its innocence and its grace. Sometimes he slightly alluded to some invented debauch, in which he declared them companions; sometimes he adverted to them as the antipodes of those lofty and spiritual natures, to whose order that of Ione belonged. Blinded alike by the pride of Ione, and, perhaps, by his own, he dreamed not that she already loved; but he dreaded lest she might have formed for Glaucus the first fluttering prepossessions that lead to love. And, secretly, he ground his teeth in rage and jealousy, when he reflected on the youth, the fascinations, and the brilliancy of that formidable rival whom he pretended to undervalue.
It was on the fourth day from the date of the close of the previous book, that Arbaces and Ione sat together.
'You wear your veil at home,' said the Egyptian; 'that is not fair to those whom you honour with your friendship.'
'But to Arbaces,' answered Ione, who, indeed, had cast the veil over her features to conceal eyes red with weeping—'to Arbaces, who looks only to the mind, what matters it that the face is concealed?'
'I do look only to the mind,' replied the Egyptian: 'show me then your face—for there I shall see it.'
'You grow gallant in the air of Pompeii,' said Ione, with a forced tone of gaiety.
'Do you think, fair Ione, that it is only at Pompeii that I have learned to value you?' The Egyptian's voice trembled—he paused for a moment, and then resumed.
'There is a love, beautiful Greek, which is not the love only of the thoughtless and the young—there is a love which sees not with the eyes, which hears not with the ears; but in which soul is enamoured of soul. The countryman of thy ancestors, the cave-nursed Plato, dreamed of such a love—his followers have sought to imitate it; but it is a love that is not for the herd to echo—it is a love that only high and noble natures can conceive—it hath nothing in common with the sympathies and ties of coarse affection—wrinkles do not revolt it—homeliness of feature does not deter; it asks youth, it is true, but it asks it only in the freshness of the emotions; it asks beauty, it is true, but it is the beauty of the thought and of the spirit. Such is the love, O Ione, which is a worthy offering to thee from the cold and the austere. Austere and cold thou deemest me—such is the love that I venture to lay upon thy shrine—thou canst receive it without a blush.'
'And its name is friendship!' replied Ione: her answer was innocent, yet it sounded like the reproof of one conscious of the design of the speaker.
'Friendship!' said Arbaces, vehemently. 'No; that is a word too often profaned to apply to a sentiment so sacred. Friendship! it is a tie that binds fools and profligates! Friendship! it is the bond that unites the frivolous hearts of a Glaucus and a Clodius! Friendship! no, that is an affection of earth, of vulgar habits and sordid sympathies; the feeling of which I speak is borrowed from the stars'—it partakes of that mystic and ineffable yearning, which we feel when we gaze on them—it burns, yet it purifies—it is the lamp of naphtha in the alabaster vase, glowing with fragrant odorous, but shining only through the purest vessels. No; it is not love, and it is not friendship, that Arbaces feels for Ione. Give it no name—earth has no name for it—it is not of earth—why debase it with earthly epithets and earthly associations?'
Never before had Arbaces ventured so far, yet he felt his ground step by step: he knew that he uttered a language which, if at this day of affected platonisms it would speak unequivocally to the ears of beauty, was at that time strange and unfamiliar, to which no precise idea could be attached, from which he could imperceptibly advance or recede, as occasion suited, as hope encouraged or fear deterred. Ione trembled, though she knew not why; her veil hid her features, and masked an expression, which, if seen by the Egyptian, would have at once damped and enraged him; in fact, he never was more displeasing to her—the harmonious modulation of the most suasive voice that ever disguised unhallowed thought fell discordantly on her ear. Her whole soul was still filled with the image of Glaucus; and the accent of tenderness from another only revolted and dismayed; yet she did not conceive that any passion more ardent than that platonism which Arbaces expressed lurked beneath his words. She thought that he, in truth, spoke only of the affection and sympathy of the soul; but was it not precisely that affection and that sympathy which had made a part of those emotions she felt for Glaucus; and could any other footstep than his approach the haunted adytum of her heart?
Anxious at once to change the conversation, she replied, therefore, with a cold and indifferent voice, 'Whomsoever Arbaces honors with the sentiment of esteem, it is natural that his elevated wisdom should color that sentiment with its own hues; it is natural that his friendship should be purer than that of others, whose pursuits and errors he does not deign to share. But tell me, Arbaces, hast thou seen my brother of late? He has not visited me for several days; and when I last saw him his manner disturbed and alarmed me much. I fear lest he was too precipitate in the severe choice that he has adopted, and that he repents an irrevocable step.'
'Be cheered, Ione,' replied the Egyptian. 'It is true that, some little time since he was troubled and sad of spirit; those doubts beset him which were likely to haunt one of that fervent temperament, which ever ebbs and flows, and vibrates between excitement and exhaustion. But he, Ione, he came to me his anxieties and his distress; he sought one who pitied me and loved him; I have calmed his mind—I have removed his doubts—I have taken him from the threshold of Wisdom into its temple; and before the majesty of the goddess his soul is hushed and soothed. Fear not, he will repent no more; they who trust themselves to Arbaces never repent but for a moment.'
'You rejoice me,' answered Ione. 'My dear brother! in his contentment I am happy.'
The conversation then turned upon lighter subjects; the Egyptian exerted himself to please, he condescended even to entertain; the vast variety of his knowledge enabled him to adorn and light up every subject on which he touched; and Ione, forgetting the displeasing effect of his former words, was carried away, despite her sadness, by the magic of his intellect. Her manner became unrestrained and her language fluent; and Arbaces, who had waited his opportunity, now hastened to seize it.
'You have never seen,' said he, 'the interior of my home; it may amuse you to do so: it contains some rooms that may explain to you what you have often asked me to describe—the fashion of an Egyptian house; not indeed, that you will perceive in the poor and minute proportions of Roman architecture the massive strength, the vast space, the gigantic magnificence, or even the domestic construction of the palaces of Thebes and Memphis; but something there is, here and there, that may serve to express to you some notion of that antique civilization which has humanized the world. Devote, then, to the austere friend of your youth, one of these bright summer evenings, and let me boast that my gloomy mansion has been honored with the presence of the admired Ione.'
Unconscious of the pollutions of the mansion, of the danger that awaited her, Ione readily assented to the proposal. The next evening was fixed for the visit; and the Egyptian, with a serene countenance, and a heart beating with fierce and unholy joy, departed. Scarce had he gone, when another visitor claimed admission.... But now we return to Glaucus.
THE POOR TORTOISE. NEW CHANGES FOR NYDIA.
THE morning sun shone over the small and odorous garden enclosed within the peristyle of the house of the Athenian. He lay reclined, sad and listlessly, on the smooth grass which intersected the viridarium; and a slight canopy stretched above, broke the fierce rays of the summer sun.
When that fairy mansion was first disinterred from the earth they found in the garden the shell of a tortoise that had been its inmate. That animal, so strange a link in the creation, to which Nature seems to have denied all the pleasure of life, save life's passive and dream-like perception, had been the guest of the place for years before Glaucus purchased it; for years, indeed which went beyond the memory of man, and to which tradition assigned an almost incredible date. The house had been built and rebuilt—its possessors had changed and fluctuated—generations had flourished and decayed—and still the tortoise dragged on its slow and unsympathizing existence. In the earthquake, which sixteen years before had overthrown many of the public buildings of the city, and scared away the amazed inhabitants, the house now inhabited by Glaucus had been terribly shattered. The possessors deserted it for many days; on their return they cleared away the ruins which encumbered the viridarium, and found still the tortoise, unharmed and unconscious of the surrounding destruction. It seemed to bear a charmed life in its languid blood and imperceptible motions; yet it was not so inactive as it seemed: it held a regular and monotonous course; inch by inch it traversed the little orbit of its domain, taking months to accomplish the whole gyration. It was a restless voyager, that tortoise!—patiently, and with pain, did it perform its self-appointed journeys, evincing no interest in the things around it—a philosopher concentrated in itself. There was something grand in its solitary selfishness!—the sun in which it basked—the waters poured daily over it—the air, which it insensibly inhaled, were its sole and unfailing luxuries. The mild changes of the season, in that lovely clime, affected it not. It covered itself with its shell—as the saint in his piety—as the sage in his wisdom—as the lover in his hope.
It was impervious to the shocks and mutations of time—it was an emblem of time itself: slow, regular, perpetual; unwitting of the passions that fret themselves around—of the wear and tear of mortality. The poor tortoise! nothing less than the bursting of volcanoes, the convulsions of the riven world, could have quenched its sluggish spark! The inexorable Death, that spared not pomp or beauty, passed unheedingly by a thing to which death could bring so insignificant a change.
For this animal the mercurial and vivid Greek felt all the wonder and affection of contrast. He could spend hours in surveying its creeping progress, in moralizing over its mechanism. He despised it in joy—he envied it in sorrow.
Regarding it now as he lay along the sward—its dull mass moving while it seemed motionless, the Athenian murmured to himself:
'The eagle dropped a stone from his talons, thinking to break thy shell: the stone crushed the head of a poet. This is the allegory of Fate! Dull thing! Thou hadst a father and a mother; perhaps, ages ago, thou thyself hadst a mate. Did thy parents love, or didst thou? Did thy slow blood circulate more gladly when thou didst creep to the side of thy wedded one? Wert thou capable of affection? Could it distress thee if she were away from thy side? Couldst thou feel when she was present? What would I not give to know the history of thy mailed breast—to gaze upon the mechanism of thy faint desires—to mark what hair—breadth difference separates thy sorrow from thy joy! Yet, methinks, thou wouldst know if Ione were present! Thou wouldst feel her coming like a happier air—like a gladder sun. I envy thee now, for thou knowest not that she is absent; and I—would I could be like thee—between the intervals of seeing her! What doubt, what presentiment, haunts me! why will she not admit me? Days have passed since I heard her voice. For the first time, life grows flat to me. I am as one who is left alone at a banquet, the lights dead, and the flowers faded. Ah! Ione, couldst thou dream how I adore thee!'
From these enamoured reveries, Glaucus was interrupted by the entrance of Nydia. She came with her light, though cautious step, along the marble tablinum. She passed the portico, and paused at the flowers which bordered the garden. She had her water-vase in her hand, and she sprinkled the thirsting plants, which seemed to brighten at her approach. She bent to inhale their odor. She touched them timidly and caressingly. She felt, along their stems, if any withered leaf or creeping insect marred their beauty. And as she hovered from flower to flower, with her earnest and youthful countenance and graceful motions, you could not have imagined a fitter handmaid for the goddess of the garden.
'Nydia, my child!' said Glaucus.
At the sound of his voice she paused at once—listening, blushing, breathless; with her lips parted, her face upturned to catch the direction of the sound, she laid down the vase—she hastened to him; and wonderful it was to see how unerringly she threaded her dark way through the flowers, and came by the shortest path to the side of her new lord.
'Nydia,' said Glaucus, tenderly stroking back her long and beautiful hair, 'it is now three days since thou hast been under the protection of my household gods. Have they smiled on thee? Art thou happy?'
'Ah! so happy!' sighed the slave.
'And now,' continued Glaucus, 'that thou hast recovered somewhat from the hateful recollections of thy former state,—and now that they have fitted thee (touching her broidered tunic) with garments more meet for thy delicate shape—and now, sweet child, that thou hast accustomed thyself to a happiness, which may the gods grant thee ever! I am about to pray at thy hands a boon.'
'Oh! what can I do for thee?' said Nydia, clasping her hands.
'Listen,' said Glaucus, 'and young as thou art, thou shalt be my confidant. Hast thou ever heard the name of Ione?'
The blind girl gasped for breath, and turning pale as one of the statues which shone upon them from the peristyle, she answered with an effort, and after a moment's pause:
'Yes! I have heard that she is of Neapolis, and beautiful.'
'Beautiful! her beauty is a thing to dazzle the day! Neapolis! nay, she is Greek by origin; Greece only could furnish forth such shapes. Nydia, I love her!'
'I thought so,' replied Nydia, calmly.
'I love, and thou shalt tell her so. I am about to send thee to her. Happy Nydia, thou wilt be in her chamber—thou wilt drink the music of her voice—thou wilt bask in the sunny air of her presence!'
'What! what! wilt thou send me from thee?'
'Thou wilt go to Ione,' answered Glaucus, in a tone that said, 'What more canst thou desire?'
Nydia burst into tears.
Glaucus, raising himself, drew her towards him with the soothing caresses of a brother.
'My child, my Nydia, thou weepest in ignorance of the happiness I bestow on thee. She is gentle, and kind, and soft as the breeze of spring. She will be a sister to thy youth—she will appreciate thy winning talents—she will love thy simple graces as none other could, for they are like her own. Weepest thou still, fond fool? I will not force thee, sweet. Wilt thou not do for me this kindness?'
'Well, if I can serve thee, command. See, I weep no longer—I am calm.'
'That is my own Nydia,' continued Glaucus, kissing her hand. 'Go, then, to her: if thou art disappointed in her kindness—if I have deceived thee, return when thou wilt. I do not give thee to another; I but lend. My home ever be thy refuge, sweet one. Ah! would it could shelter all the friendless and distressed! But if my heart whispers truly, I shall claim thee again soon, my child. My home and Ione's will become the same, and thou shalt dwell with both.'
A shiver passed through the slight frame of the blind girl, but she wept no more—she was resigned.
'Go, then, my Nydia, to Ione's house—they shall show thee the way. Take her the fairest flowers thou canst pluck; the vase which contains them I will give thee: thou must excuse its unworthiness. Thou shalt take, too, with thee the lute that I gave thee yesterday, and from which thou knowest so well to awaken the charming spirit. Thou shalt give her, also, this letter, in which, after a hundred efforts, I have embodied something of my thoughts. Let thy ear catch every accent, every modulation of her voice, and tell me, when we meet again, if its music should flatter me or discourage. It is now, Nydia, some days since I have been admitted to Ione; there is something mysterious in this exclusion. I am distracted with doubts and fears; learn—for thou art quick, and thy care for me will sharpen tenfold thy acuteness—learn the cause of this unkindness; speak of me as often as thou canst; let my name come ever to thy lips: insinuate how I love rather than proclaim it; watch if she sighs whilst thou speakest, if she answer thee; or, if she reproves, in what accents she reproves. Be my friend, plead for me: and oh! how vastly wilt thou overpay the little I have done for thee! Thou comprehendest, Nydia; thou art yet a child—have I said more than thou canst understand?'
'And thou wilt serve me?'
'Come to me when thou hast gathered the flowers, and I will give thee the vase I speak of; seek me in the chamber of Leda. Pretty one, thou dost not grieve now?'
'Glaucus, I am a slave; what business have I with grief or joy?'
'Sayest thou so? No, Nydia, be free. I give thee freedom; enjoy it as thou wilt, and pardon me that I reckoned on thy desire to serve me.'
'You are offended. Oh! I would not, for that which no freedom can give, offend you, Glaucus. My guardian, my saviour, my protector, forgive the poor blind girl! She does not grieve even in leaving thee, if she can contribute to thy happiness.'
'May the gods bless this grateful heart!' said Glaucus, greatly moved; and, unconscious of the fires he excited, he repeatedly kissed her forehead.
'Thou forgivest me,' said she, 'and thou wilt talk no more of freedom; my happiness is to be thy slave: thou hast promised thou wilt not give me to another...'
'I have promised.'
'And now, then, I will gather the flowers.'
Silently, Nydia took from the hand of Glaucus the costly and jewelled vase, in which the flowers vied with each other in hue and fragrance; tearlessly she received his parting admonition. She paused for a moment when his voice ceased—she did not trust herself to reply—she sought his hand—she raised it to her lips, dropped her veil over her face, and passed at once from his presence. She paused again as she reached the threshold; she stretched her hands towards it, and murmured:
'Three happy days—days of unspeakable delight, have I known since I passed thee—blessed threshold! may peace dwell ever with thee when I am gone! And now, my heart tears itself from thee, and the only sound it utters bids me—die!'
THE HAPPY BEAUTY AND THE BLIND SLAVE.
A SLAVE entered the chamber of Ione. A messenger from Glaucus desired to be admitted.
Ione hesitated an instant.
'She is blind, that messenger,' said the slave; 'she will do her commission to none but thee.'
Base is that heart which does not respect affliction! The moment she heard the messenger was blind, Ione felt the impossibility of returning a chilling reply. Glaucus had chosen a herald that was indeed sacred—a herald that could not be denied.
'What can he want with me? what message can he send?' and the heart of Ione beat quick. The curtain across the door was withdrawn; a soft and echoless step fell upon the marble; and Nydia, led by one of the attendants, entered with her precious gift.
She stood still a moment, as if listening for some sound that might direct her.
'Will the noble Ione,' said she, in a soft and low voice, 'deign to speak, that I may know whither to steer these benighted steps, and that I may lay my offerings at her feet?'
'Fair child,' said Ione, touched and soothingly, 'give not thyself the pain to cross these slippery floors, my attendant will bring to me what thou hast to present'; and she motioned to the handmaid to take the vase.
'I may give these flowers to none but thee,' answered Nydia; and, guided by her ear, she walked slowly to the place where Ione sat, and kneeling when she came before her, proffered the vase.
Ione took it from her hand, and placed it on the table at her side. She then raised her gently, and would have seated her on the couch, but the girl modestly resisted.
'I have not yet discharged my office,' said she; and she drew the letter of Glaucus from her vest. 'This will, perhaps, explain why he who sent me chose so unworthy a messenger to Ione.'
The Neapolitan took the letter with a hand, the trembling of which Nydia at once felt and sighed to feel. With folded arms, and downcast looks, she stood before the proud and stately form of Ione—no less proud, perhaps, in her attitude of submission. Ione waved her hand, and the attendants withdrew; she gazed again upon the form of the young slave in surprise and beautiful compassion; then, retiring a little from her, she opened and read the following letter:
'Glaucus to Ione sends more than he dares to utter. Is Ione ill? thy slaves tell me "No", and that assurance comforts me. Has Glaucus offended Ione?—ah! that question I may not ask from them. For five days I have been banished from thy presence. Has the sun shone?—I know it not. Has the sky smiled?—it has had no smile for me. My sun and my sky are Ione. Do I offend thee? Am I too bold? Do I say that on the tablet which my tongue has hesitated to breathe? Alas! it is in thine absence that I feel most the spells by which thou hast subdued me. And absence, that deprives me of joy, brings me courage. Thou wilt not see me; thou hast banished also the common flatterers that flock around thee. Canst thou confound me with them? It is not possible! Thou knowest too well that I am not of them—that their clay is not mine. For even were I of the humblest mould, the fragrance of the rose has penetrated me, and the spirit of thy nature hath passed within me, to embalm, to sanctify, to inspire. Have they slandered me to thee, Ione? Thou wilt not believe them. Did the Delphic oracle itself tell me thou wert unworthy, I would not believe it; and am I less incredulous than thou I think of the last time we met—of the song which I sang to thee—of the look that thou gavest me in return. Disguise it as thou wilt, Ione, there is something kindred between us, and our eyes acknowledged it, though our lips were silent. Deign to see me, to listen to me, and after that exclude me if thou wilt. I meant not so soon to say I loved. But those words rush to my heart—they will have way. Accept, then, my homage and my vows. We met first at the shrine of Pallas; shall we not meet before a softer and a more ancient altar?
'Beautiful! adored Ione! If my hot youth and my Athenian blood have misguided and allured me, they have but taught my wanderings to appreciate the rest—the haven they have attained. I hang up my dripping robes on the Sea-god's shrine. I have escaped shipwreck. I have found THEE. Ione, deign to see me; thou art gentle to strangers, wilt thou be less merciful to those of thine own land? I await thy reply. Accept the flowers which I send—their sweet breath has a language more eloquent than words. They take from the sun the odorous they return—they are the emblem of the love that receives and repays tenfold—the emblem of the heart that drunk thy rays, and owes to thee the germ of the treasures that it proffers to thy smile. I send these by one whom thou wilt receive for her own sake, if not for mine. She, like us, is a stranger; her fathers' ashes lie under brighter skies: but, less happy than we, she is blind and a slave. Poor Nydia! I seek as much as possible to repair to her the cruelties of Nature and of Fate, in asking permission to place her with thee. She is gentle, quick, and docile. She is skilled in music and the song; and she is a very Chloris to the flowers. She thinks, Ione, that thou wilt love her: if thou dost not, send her back to me.
'One word more—let me be bold, Ione. Why thinkest thou so highly of yon dark Egyptian? he hath not about him the air of honest men. We Greeks learn mankind from our cradle; we are not the less profound, in that we affect no sombre mien; our lips smile, but our eyes are grave—they observe—they note—they study. Arbaces is not one to be credulously trusted: can it be that he hath wronged me to thee? I think it, for I left him with thee; thou sawest how my presence stung him; since then thou hast not admitted me. Believe nothing that he can say to my disfavor; if thou dost, tell me so at once; for this Ione owes to Glaucus. Farewell! this letter touches thy hand; these characters meet thine eyes—shall they be more blessed than he who is their author. Once more, farewell!'
It seemed to Ione, as she read this letter, as if a mist had fallen from her eyes. What had been the supposed offence of Glaucus?—that he had not really loved! And now, plainly, and in no dubious terms, he confessed that love. From that moment his power was fully restored. At every tender word in that letter, so full of romantic and trustful passion, her heart smote her. And had she doubted his faith, and had she believed another? and had she not, at least, allowed to him the culprit's right to know his crime, to plead in his defence?—the tears rolled down her cheeks—she kissed the letter—she placed it in her bosom: and, turning to Nydia, who stood in the same place and in the same posture:
'Wilt thou sit, my child,' said she, 'while I write an answer to this letter?'
'You will answer it, then!' said Nydia, coldly. 'Well, the slave that accompanied me will take back your answer.'
'For you,' said Ione, 'stay with me—trust me, your service shall be light.'
Nydia bowed her head.
'What is your name, fair girl?'
'They call me Nydia.'
'The land of Olympus—Thessaly.'
'Thou shalt be to me a friend,' said Ione, caressingly, 'as thou art already half a countrywoman. Meanwhile, I beseech thee, stand not on these cold and glassy marbles. There! now that thou art seated, I can leave thee for an instant.'
'Ione to Glaucus greeting. Come to me, Glaucus,' wrote Ione, 'come to me to-morrow. I may have been unjust to thee; but I will tell thee, at least, the fault that has been imputed to thy charge. Fear not, henceforth, the Egyptian—fear none. Thou sayest thou hast expressed too much—alas! in these hasty words I have already done so. Farewell.'
As Ione reappeared with the letter, which she did not dare to read after she had written (Ah! common rashness, common timidity of love!)—Nydia started from her seat.
'You have written to Glaucus?'
'And will he thank the messenger who gives to him thy letter?'
Ione forgot that her companion was blind; she blushed from the brow to the neck, and remained silent.
'I mean this,' added Nydia, in a calmer tone; 'the lightest word of coldness from thee will sadden him—the lightest kindness will rejoice. If it be the first, let the slave take back thine answer; if it be the last, let me—I will return this evening.'
'And why, Nydia,' asked Ione, evasively, 'Wouldst thou be the bearer of my letter?'
'It is so, then!' said Nydia. 'Ah! how could it be otherwise; who could be unkind to Glaucus?'
'My child,' said Ione, a little more reservedly than before, 'thou speakest warmly—Glaucus, then, is amiable in thine eyes?'
'Noble Ione! Glaucus has been that to me which neither fortune nor the gods have been—a friend!'
The sadness mingled with dignity with which Nydia uttered these simple words, affected the beautiful Ione: she bent down and kissed her. 'Thou art grateful, and deservedly so; why should I blush to say that Glaucus is worthy of thy gratitude? Go, my Nydia—take to him thyself this letter—but return again. If I am from home when thou returnest—as this evening, perhaps, I shall be—thy chamber shall be prepared next my own. Nydia, I have no sister—wilt thou be one to me?' The Thessalian kissed the hand of Ione, and then said, with some embarrassment:
'One favor, fair Ione—may I dare to ask it?'
'Thou canst not ask what I will not grant,' replied the Neapolitan.
'They tell me,' said Nydia, 'that thou art beautiful beyond the loveliness of earth. Alas! I cannot see that which gladdens the world! Wilt thou suffer me, then, to pass my hand over thy face?—that is my sole criterion of beauty, and I usually guess aright.'
She did not wait for the answer of Ione, but, as she spoke, gently and slowly passed her hand over the bending and half-averted features of the Greek—features which but one image in the world can yet depicture and recall—that image is the mutilated, but all-wondrous, statue in her native city—her own Neapolis—that Parian face, before which all the beauty of the Florentine Venus is poor and earthly—that aspect so full of harmony—of youth—of genius—of the soul—which modern critics have supposed the representation of Psyche.
Her touch lingered over the braided hair and polished brow—over the downy and damask cheek—over the dimpled lip—the swan-like and whitish neck. 'I know now, that thou art beautiful,' she said: 'and I can picture thee to my darkness henceforth, and for ever!'
When Nydia left her, Ione sank into a deep but delicious reverie. Glaucus then loved her; he owned it—yes, he loved her. She drew forth again that dear confession; she paused over every word, she kissed every line; she did not ask why he had been maligned, she only felt assured that he had been so. She wondered how she had ever believed a syllable against him; she wondered how the Egyptian had been enabled to exercise a power against Glaucus; she felt a chill creep over her as she again turned to his warning against Arbaces, and her secret fear of that gloomy being darkened into awe. She was awakened from these thoughts by her maidens, who came to announce to her that the hour appointed to visit Arbaces was arrived; she started, she had forgotten the promise. Her first impression was to renounce it; her second, was to laugh at her own fears of her eldest surviving friend. She hastened to add the usual ornaments to her dress, and doubtful whether she should yet question the Egyptian more closely with respect to his accusation of Glaucus, or whether she should wait till, without citing the authority, she should insinuate to Glaucus the accusation itself, she took her way to the gloomy mansion of Arbaces.
IONE ENTRAPPED. THE MOUSE TRIES TO GNAW THE NET.
'DEAREST Nydia!' exclaimed Glaucus as he read the letter of Ione, 'whitest robed messenger that ever passed between earth and heaven—how, how shall I thank thee?'
'I am rewarded,' said the poor Thessalian.
'To-morrow—to-morrow! how shall I while the hours till then?'
The enamoured Greek would not let Nydia escape him, though she sought several times to leave the chamber; he made her recite to him over and over again every syllable of the brief conversation that had taken place between her and Ione; a thousand times, forgetting her misfortune, he questioned her of the looks, of the countenance of his beloved; and then quickly again excusing his fault, he bade her recommence the whole recital which he had thus interrupted. The hours thus painful to Nydia passed rapidly and delightfully to him, and the twilight had already darkened ere he once more dismissed her to Ione with a fresh letter and with new flowers. Scarcely had she gone, than Clodius and several of his gay companions broke in upon him; they rallied him on his seclusion during the whole day, and absence from his customary haunts; they invited him to accompany them to the various resorts in that lively city, which night and day proffered diversity to pleasure. Then, as now, in the south (for no land, perhaps, losing more of greatness has retained more of custom), it was the delight of the Italians to assemble at the evening; and, under the porticoes of temples or the shade of the groves that interspersed the streets, listening to music or the recitals of some inventive tale-teller, they hailed the rising moon with libations of wine and the melodies of song. Glaucus was too happy to be unsocial; he longed to cast off the exuberance of joy that oppressed him. He willingly accepted the proposal of his comrades, and laughingly they sallied out together down the populous and glittering streets.
In the meantime Nydia once more gained the house of Ione, who had long left it; she inquired indifferently whither Ione had gone.
The answer arrested and appalled her.
'To the house of Arbaces—of the Egyptian? Impossible!'
'It is true, my little one,' said the slave, who had replied to her question. 'She has known the Egyptian long.'
'Long! ye gods, yet Glaucus loves her?' murmured Nydia to herself.
'And has,' asked she aloud, 'has she often visited him before?'
'Never till now,' answered the slave. 'If all the rumored scandal of Pompeii be true, it would be better, perhaps, if she had not ventured there at present. But she, poor mistress mine, hears nothing of that which reaches us; the talk of the vestibulum reaches not to the peristyle.'
'Never till now!' repeated Nydia. 'Art thou sure?'
'Sure, pretty one: but what is that to thee or to us?'
Nydia hesitated a moment, and then, putting down the flowers with which she had been charged, she called to the slave who had accompanied her, and left the house without saying another word.
Not till she had got half-way back to the house of Glaucus did she break silence, and even then she only murmured inly:
'She does not dream—she cannot—of the dangers into which she has plunged. Fool that I am—shall I save her?—yes, for I love Glaucus better than myself.'
When she arrived at the house of the Athenian, she learnt that he had gone out with a party of his friends, and none knew whither. He probably would not be home before midnight.
The Thessalian groaned; she sank upon a seat in the hall and covered her face with her hands as if to collect her thoughts. 'There is no time to be lost,' thought she, starting up. She turned to the slave who had accompanied her.
'Knowest thou,' said she, 'if Ione has any relative, any intimate friend at Pompeii?'
'Why, by Jupiter!' answered the slave, 'art thou silly enough to ask the question? Every one in Pompeii knows that Ione has a brother who, young and rich, has been—under the rose I speak—so foolish as to become a priest of Isis.'
'A priest of Isis! O Gods! his name?'
'I know it all,' muttered Nydia: 'brother and sister, then, are to be both victims! Apaecides! yes, that was the name I heard in... Ha! he well, then, knows the peril that surrounds his sister; I will go to him.'
She sprang up at that thought, and taking the staff which always guided her steps, she hastened to the neighboring shrine of Isis. Till she had been under the guardianship of the kindly Greek, that staff had sufficed to conduct the poor blind girl from corner to corner of Pompeii. Every street, every turning in the more frequented parts, was familiar to her; and as the inhabitants entertained a tender and half-superstitious veneration for those subject to her infirmity, the passengers had always given way to her timid steps. Poor girl, she little dreamed that she should, ere many days were passed, find her blindness her protection, and a guide far safer than the keenest eyes!
But since she had been under the roof of Glaucus, he had ordered a slave to accompany her always; and the poor devil thus appointed, who was somewhat of the fattest, and who, after having twice performed the journey to Ione's house, now saw himself condemned to a third excursion (whither the gods only knew), hastened after her, deploring his fate, and solemnly assuring Castor and Pollux that he believed the blind girl had the talaria of Mercury as well as the infirmity of Cupid.
Nydia, however, required but little of his assistance to find her way to the popular temple of Isis: the space before it was now deserted, and she won without obstacle to the sacred rail.
'There is no one here,' said the fat slave. 'What dost thou want, or whom Knowest thou not that the priests do not live in the temple?'
'Call out,' said she, impatiently; 'night and day there is always one flamen, at least, watching in the shrine of Isis.'
The slave called—no one appeared.
'Seest thou no one?'
'Thou mistakest; I hear a sigh: look again.'
The slave, wondering and grumbling, cast round his heavy eyes, and before one of the altars, whose remains still crowd the narrow space, he beheld a form bending as in meditation.
'I see a figure, said he; 'and by the white garments, it is a priest.'
'O flamen of Isis!' cried Nydia; 'servant of the Most Ancient, hear me!'
'Who calls?' said a low and melancholy voice.
'One who has no common tidings to impart to a member of your body: I come to declare and not to ask oracles.'
'With whom wouldst thou confer? This is no hour for thy conference; depart, disturb me not; the night is sacred to the gods, the day to men.'
'Methinks I know thy voice? thou art he whom I seek; yet I have heard thee speak but once before. Art thou not the priest Apaecides?'
'I am that man,' replied the priest, emerging from the altar, and approaching the rail.
'Thou art! the gods be praised!' Waving her hand to the slave, she bade him withdraw to a distance; and he, who naturally imagined some superstition connected, perhaps, with the safety of Ione, could alone lead her to the temple, obeyed, and seated himself on the ground, at a little distance. 'Hush!' said she, speaking quick and low; 'art thou indeed Apaecides?'
'If thou knowest me, canst thou not recall my features?'
'I am blind,' answered Nydia; 'my eyes are in my ear, and that recognizes thee: yet swear that thou art he.'
'By the gods I swear it, by my right hand, and by the moon!'
'Hush! speak low—bend near—give me thy hand; knowest thou Arbaces? Hast thou laid flowers at the feet of the dead? Ah! thy hand is cold—hark yet!—hast thou taken the awful vow?'
'Who art thou, whence comest thou, pale maiden?' said Apaecides, fearfully: 'I know thee not; thine is not the breast on which this head hath lain; I have never seen thee before.'
'But thou hast heard my voice: no matter, those recollections it should shame us both to recall. Listen, thou hast a sister.'
'Speak! speak! what of her?'
'Thou knowest the banquets of the dead, stranger—it pleases thee, perhaps, to share them—would it please thee to have thy sister a partaker? Would it please thee that Arbaces was her host?'
'O gods, he dare not! Girl, if thou mockest me, tremble! I will tear thee limb from limb!'
'I speak the truth; and while I speak, Ione is in the halls of Arbaces—for the first time his guest. Thou knowest if there be peril in that first time! Farewell! I have fulfilled my charge.'
'Stay! stay!' cried the priest, passing his wan hand over his brow. 'If this be true, what—what can be done to save her? They may not admit me. I know not all the mazes of that intricate mansion. O Nemesis! justly am I punished!'
'I will dismiss yon slave, be thou my guide and comrade; I will lead thee to the private door of the house: I will whisper to thee the word which admits. Take some weapon: it may be needful!'
'Wait an instant,' said Apaecides, retiring into one of the cells that flank the temple, and reappearing in a few moments wrapped in a large cloak, which was then much worn by all classes, and which concealed his sacred dress. 'Now,' he said, grinding his teeth, 'if Arbaces hath dared to—but he dare not! he dare not! Why should I suspect him? Is he so base a villain? I will not think it—yet, sophist! dark bewilderer that he is! O gods protect—hush! are there gods? Yes, there is one goddess, at least, whose voice I can command; and that is—Vengeance!'
Muttering these disconnected thoughts, Apaecides, followed by his silent and sightless companion, hastened through the most solitary paths to the house of the Egyptian.
The slave, abruptly dismissed by Nydia, shrugged his shoulders, muttered an adjuration, and, nothing loath, rolled off to his cubiculum.
THE SOLITUDE AND SOLILOQUY OF THE EGYPTIAN. HIS CHARACTER ANALYSED.
WE must go back a few hours in the progress of our story. At the first grey dawn of the day, which Glaucus had already marked with white, the Egyptian was seated, sleepless and alone, on the summit of the lofty and pyramidal tower which flanked his house. A tall parapet around it served as a wall, and conspired, with the height of the edifice and the gloomy trees that girded the mansion, to defy the prying eyes of curiosity or observation. A table, on which lay a scroll, filled with mystic figures, was before him. On high, the stars waxed dim and faint, and the shades of night melted from the sterile mountain-tops; only above Vesuvius there rested a deep and massy cloud, which for several days past had gathered darker and more solid over its summit. The struggle of night and day was more visible over the broad ocean, which stretched calm, like a gigantic lake, bounded by the circling shores that, covered with vines and foliage, and gleaming here and there with the white walls of sleeping cities, sloped to the scarce rippling waves.
It was the hour above all others most sacred to the daring science of the Egyptian—the science which would read our changeful destinies in the stars.
He had filled his scroll, he had noted the moment and the sign; and, leaning upon his hand, he had surrendered himself to the thoughts which his calculation excited.
'Again do the stars forewarn me! Some danger, then, assuredly awaits me!' said he, slowly; 'some danger, violent and sudden in its nature. The stars wear for me the same mocking menace which, if our chronicles do not err, they once wore for Pyrrhus—for him, doomed to strive for all things, to enjoy none—all attacking, nothing gaining—battles without fruit, laurels without triumph, fame without success; at last made craven by his own superstitions, and slain like a dog by a tile from the hand of an old woman! Verily, the stars flatter when they give me a type in this fool of war—when they promise to the ardour of my wisdom the same results as to the madness of his ambition—perpetual exercise—no certain goal!—the Sisyphus task, the mountain and the stone!—the stone, a gloomy image!—it reminds me that I am threatened with somewhat of the same death as the Epirote. Let me look again. "Beware," say the shining prophets, "how thou passest under ancient roofs, or besieged walls, or overhanging cliffs—a stone hurled from above, is charged by the curses of destiny against thee!" And, at no distant date from this, comes the peril: but I cannot, of a certainty, read the day and hour. Well! if my glass runs low, the sands shall sparkle to the last. Yet, if I escape this peril—ay, if I escape—bright and clear as the moonlight track along the waters glows the rest of my existence. I see honors, happiness, success, shining upon every billow of the dark gulf beneath which I must sink at last. What, then, with such destinies beyond the peril, shall I succumb to the peril? My soul whispers hope, it sweeps exultingly beyond the boding hour, it revels in the future—its own courage is its fittest omen. If I were to perish so suddenly and so soon, the shadow of death would darken over me, and I should feel the icy presentiment of my doom. My soul would express, in sadness and in gloom, its forecast of the dreary Orcus. But it smiles—it assures me of deliverance.'
As he thus concluded his soliloquy, the Egyptian involuntarily rose. He paced rapidly the narrow space of that star-roofed floor, and, pausing at the parapet, looked again upon the grey and melancholy heavens. The chills of the faint dawn came refreshingly upon his brow, and gradually his mind resumed its natural and collected calm. He withdrew his gaze from the stars, as, one after one, they receded into the depths of heaven; and his eyes fell over the broad expanse below. Dim in the silenced port of the city rose the masts of the galleys; along that mart of luxury and of labor was stilled the mighty hum. No lights, save here and there from before the columns of a temple, or in the porticoes of the voiceless forum, broke the wan and fluctuating light of the struggling morn. From the heart of the torpid city, so soon to vibrate with a thousand passions, there came no sound: the streams of life circulated not; they lay locked under the ice of sleep. From the huge space of the amphitheatre, with its stony seats rising one above the other—coiled and round as some slumbering monster—rose a thin and ghastly mist, which gathered darker, and more dark, over the scattered foliage that gloomed in its vicinity. The city seemed as, after the awful change of seventeen ages, it seems now to the traveler,—a City of the Dead.'
The ocean itself—that serene and tideless sea—lay scarce less hushed, save that from its deep bosom came, softened by the distance, a faint and regular murmur, like the breathing of its sleep; and curving far, as with outstretched arms, into the green and beautiful land, it seemed unconsciously to clasp to its breast the cities sloping to its margin—Stabiae, and Herculaneum, and Pompeii—those children and darlings of the deep. 'Ye slumber,' said the Egyptian, as he scowled over the cities, the boast and flower of Campania; 'ye slumber!—would it were the eternal repose of death! As ye now—jewels in the crown of empire—so once were the cities of the Nile! Their greatness hath perished from them, they sleep amidst ruins, their palaces and their shrines are tombs, the serpent coils in the grass of their streets, the lizard basks in their solitary halls. By that mysterious law of Nature, which humbles one to exalt the other, ye have thriven upon their ruins; thou, haughty Rome, hast usurped the glories of Sesostris and Semiramis—thou art a robber, clothing thyself with their spoils! And these—slaves in thy triumph—that I (the last son of forgotten monarchs) survey below, reservoirs of thine all-pervading power and luxury, I curse as I behold! The time shall come when Egypt shall be avenged! when the barbarian's steed shall make his manger in the Golden House of Nero! and thou that hast sown the wind with conquest shalt reap the harvest in the whirlwind of desolation!'
As the Egyptian uttered a prediction which fate so fearfully fulfilled, a more solemn and boding image of ill omen never occurred to the dreams of painter or of poet. The morning light, which can pale so wanly even the young cheek of beauty, gave his majestic and stately features almost the colors of the grave, with the dark hair falling massively around them, and the dark robes flowing long and loose, and the arm outstretched from that lofty eminence, and the glittering eyes, fierce with a savage gladness—half prophet and half fiend!
He turned his gaze from the city and the ocean; before him lay the vineyards and meadows of the rich Campania. The gate and walls—ancient, half Pelasgic—of the city, seemed not to bound its extent. Villas and villages stretched on every side up the ascent of Vesuvius, not nearly then so steep or so lofty as at present. For, as Rome itself is built on an exhausted volcano, so in similar security the inhabitants of the South tenanted the green and vine-clad places around a volcano whose fires they believed at rest for ever. From the gate stretched the long street of tombs, various in size and architecture, by which, on that side, the city is as yet approached. Above all, rode the cloud-capped summit of the Dread Mountain, with the shadows, now dark, now light, betraying the mossy caverns and ashy rocks, which testified the past conflagrations, and might have prophesied—but man is blind—that which was to come!
Difficult was it then and there to guess the causes why the tradition of the place wore so gloomy and stern a hue; why, in those smiling plains, for miles around—to Baiae and Misenum—the poets had imagined the entrance and thresholds of their hell—their Acheron, and their fabled Styx: why, in those Phlegrae, now laughing with the vine, they placed the battles of the gods, and supposed the daring Titans to have sought the victory of heaven—save, indeed, that yet, in yon seared and blasted summit, fancy might think to read the characters of the Olympian thunderbolt.
But it was neither the rugged height of the still volcano, nor the fertility of the sloping fields, nor the melancholy avenue of tombs, nor the glittering villas of a polished and luxurious people, that now arrested the eye of the Egyptian. On one part of the landscape, the mountain of Vesuvius descended to the plain in a narrow and uncultivated ridge, broken here and there by jagged crags and copses of wild foliage. At the base of this lay a marshy and unwholesome pool; and the intent gaze of Arbaces caught the outline of some living form moving by the marshes, and stooping ever and anon as if to pluck its rank produce.
'Ho!' said he, aloud, 'I have then, another companion in these unworldly night—watches. The witch of Vesuvius is abroad. What! doth she, too, as the credulous imagine—doth she, too, learn the lore of the great stars? Hath she been uttering foul magic to the moon, or culling (as her pauses betoken) foul herbs from the venomous marsh? Well, I must see this fellow-laborer. Whoever strives to know learns that no human lore is despicable. Despicable only you—ye fat and bloated things—slaves of luxury—sluggards in thought—who, cultivating nothing but the barren sense, dream that its poor soil can produce alike the myrtle and the laurel. No, the wise only can enjoy—to us only true luxury is given, when mind, brain, invention, experience, thought, learning, imagination, all contribute like rivers to swell the seas of SENSE!—Ione!'