As Arbaces uttered that last and charmed word, his thoughts sunk at once into a more deep and profound channel. His steps paused; he took not his eyes from the ground; once or twice he smiled joyously, and then, as he turned from his place of vigil, and sought his couch, he muttered, 'If death frowns so near, I will say at least that I have lived—Ione shall be mine!'
The character of Arbaces was one of those intricate and varied webs, in which even the mind that sat within it was sometimes confused and perplexed. In him, the son of a fallen dynasty, the outcast of a sunken people, was that spirit of discontented pride, which ever rankles in one of a sterner mould, who feels himself inexorably shut from the sphere in which his fathers shone, and to which Nature as well as birth no less entitles himself. This sentiment hath no benevolence; it wars with society, it sees enemies in mankind. But with this sentiment did not go its common companion, poverty. Arbaces possessed wealth which equalled that of most of the Roman nobles; and this enabled him to gratify to the utmost the passions which had no outlet in business or ambition. Travelling from clime to clime, and beholding still Rome everywhere, he increased both his hatred of society and his passion for pleasure. He was in a vast prison, which, however, he could fill with the ministers of luxury. He could not escape from the prison, and his only object, therefore, was to give it the character of the palace. The Egyptians, from the earliest time, were devoted to the joys of sense; Arbaces inherited both their appetite for sensuality and the glow of imagination which struck light from its rottenness. But still, unsocial in his pleasures as in his graver pursuits, and brooking neither superior nor equal, he admitted few to his companionship, save the willing slaves of his profligacy. He was the solitary lord of a crowded harem; but, with all, he felt condemned to that satiety which is the constant curse of men whose intellect is above their pursuits, and that which once had been the impulse of passion froze down to the ordinance of custom. From the disappointments of sense he sought to raise himself by the cultivation of knowledge; but as it was not his object to serve mankind, so he despised that knowledge which is practical and useful. His dark imagination loved to exercise itself in those more visionary and obscure researches which are ever the most delightful to a wayward and solitary mind, and to which he himself was invited by the daring pride of his disposition and the mysterious traditions of his clime. Dismissing faith in the confused creeds of the heathen world, he reposed the greatest faith in the power of human wisdom. He did not know (perhaps no one in that age distinctly did) the limits which Nature imposes upon our discoveries. Seeing that the higher we mount in knowledge the more wonders we behold, he imagined that Nature not only worked miracles in her ordinary course, but that she might, by the cabala of some master soul, be diverted from that course itself. Thus he pursued science, across her appointed boundaries, into the land of perplexity and shadow. From the truths of astronomy he wandered into astrological fallacy; from the secrets of chemistry he passed into the spectral labyrinth of magic; and he who could be sceptical as to the power of the gods, was credulously superstitious as to the power of man.
The cultivation of magic, carried at that day to a singular height among the would-be wise, was especially Eastern in its origin; it was alien to the early philosophy of the Greeks; nor had it been received by them with favor until Ostanes, who accompanied the army of Xerxes, introduced, amongst the simple credulities of Hellas, the solemn superstitions of Zoroaster. Under the Roman emperors it had become, however, naturalized at Rome (a meet subject for Juvenal's fiery wit). Intimately connected with magic was the worship of Isis, and the Egyptian religion was the means by which was extended the devotion to Egyptian sorcery. The theurgic, or benevolent magic—the goetic, or dark and evil necromancy—were alike in pre-eminent repute during the first century of the Christian era; and the marvels of Faustus are not comparable to those of Apollonius. Kings, courtiers, and sages, all trembled before the professors of the dread science. And not the least remarkable of his tribe was the most formidable and profound Arbaces. His fame and his discoveries were known to all the cultivators of magic; they even survived himself. But it was not by his real name that he was honored by the sorcerer and the sage: his real name, indeed, was unknown in Italy, for 'Arbaces' was not a genuinely Egyptian but a Median appellation, which, in the admixture and unsettlement of the ancient races, had become common in the country of the Nile; and there were various reasons, not only of pride, but of policy (for in youth he had conspired against the majesty of Rome), which induced him to conceal his true name and rank. But neither by the name he had borrowed from the Mede, nor by that which in the colleges of Egypt would have attested his origin from kings, did the cultivators of magic acknowledge the potent master. He received from their homage a more mystic appellation, and was long remembered in Magna Graecia and the Eastern plain by the name of 'Hermes, the Lord of the Flaming Belt'. His subtle speculations and boasted attributes of wisdom, recorded in various volumes, were among those tokens 'of the curious arts' which the Christian converts most joyfully, yet most fearfully, burnt at Ephesus, depriving posterity of the proofs of the cunning of the fiend.
The conscience of Arbaces was solely of the intellect—it was awed by no moral laws. If man imposed these checks upon the herd, so he believed that man, by superior wisdom, could raise himself above them. 'If (he reasoned) I have the genius to impose laws, have I not the right to command my own creations? Still more, have I not the right to control—to evade—to scorn—the fabrications of yet meaner intellects than my own?' Thus, if he were a villain, he justified his villainy by what ought to have made him virtuous—namely, the elevation of his capacities.
Most men have more or less the passion for power; in Arbaces that passion corresponded exactly to his character. It was not the passion for an external and brute authority. He desired not the purple and the fasces, the insignia of vulgar command. His youthful ambition once foiled and defeated, scorn had supplied its place—his pride, his contempt for Rome—Rome, which had become the synonym of the world (Rome, whose haughty name he regarded with the same disdain as that which Rome herself lavished upon the barbarian), did not permit him to aspire to sway over others, for that would render him at once the tool or creature of the emperor. He, the Son of the Great Race of Rameses—he execute the orders of, and receive his power from, another!—the mere notion filled him with rage. But in rejecting an ambition that coveted nominal distinctions, he but indulged the more in the ambition to rule the heart. Honoring mental power as the greatest of earthly gifts, he loved to feel that power palpably in himself, by extending it over all whom he encountered. Thus had he ever sought the young—thus had he ever fascinated and controlled them. He loved to find subjects in men's souls—to rule over an invisible and immaterial empire!—had he been less sensual and less wealthy, he might have sought to become the founder of a new religion. As it was, his energies were checked by his pleasures. Besides, however, the vague love of this moral sway (vanity so dear to sages!) he was influenced by a singular and dreamlike devotion to all that belonged to the mystic Land his ancestors had swayed. Although he disbelieved in her deities, he believed in the allegories they represented (or rather he interpreted those allegories anew). He loved to keep alive the worship of Egypt, because he thus maintained the shadow and the recollection of her power. He loaded, therefore, the altars of Osiris and of Isis with regal donations, and was ever anxious to dignify their priesthood by new and wealthy converts. The vow taken—the priesthood embraced—he usually chose the comrades of his pleasures from those whom he made his victims, partly because he thus secured to himself their secrecy—partly because he thus yet more confirmed to himself his peculiar power. Hence the motives of his conduct to Apaecides, strengthened as these were, in that instance, by his passion for Ione.
He had seldom lived long in one place; but as he grew older, he grew more wearied of the excitement of new scenes, and he had sojourned among the delightful cities of Campania for a period which surprised even himself. In fact, his pride somewhat crippled his choice of residence. His unsuccessful conspiracy excluded him from those burning climes which he deemed of right his own hereditary possession, and which now cowered, supine and sunken, under the wings of the Roman eagle. Rome herself was hateful to his indignant soul; nor did he love to find his riches rivalled by the minions of the court, and cast into comparative poverty by the mighty magnificence of the court itself. The Campanian cities proffered to him all that his nature craved—the luxuries of an unequalled climate—the imaginative refinements of a voluptuous civilization. He was removed from the sight of a superior wealth; he was without rivals to his riches; he was free from the spies of a jealous court. As long as he was rich, none pried into his conduct. He pursued the dark tenour of his way undisturbed and secure.
It is the curse of sensualists never to love till the pleasures of sense begin to pall; their ardent youth is frittered away in countless desires—their hearts are exhausted. So, ever chasing love, and taught by a restless imagination to exaggerate, perhaps, its charms, the Egyptian had spent all the glory of his years without attaining the object of his desires. The beauty of to-morrow succeeded the beauty of to-day, and the shadows bewildered him in his pursuit of the substance. When, two years before the present date, he beheld Ione, he saw, for the first time, one whom he imagined he could love. He stood, then, upon that bridge of life, from which man sees before him distinctly a wasted youth on the one side, and the darkness of approaching age upon the other: a time in which we are more than ever anxious, perhaps, to secure to ourselves, ere it be yet too late, whatever we have been taught to consider necessary to the enjoyment of a life of which the brighter half is gone.
With an earnestness and a patience which he had never before commanded for his pleasures, Arbaces had devoted himself to win the heart of Ione. It did not content him to love, he desired to be loved. In this hope he had watched the expanding youth of the beautiful Neapolitan; and, knowing the influence that the mind possesses over those who are taught to cultivate the mind, he had contributed willingly to form the genius and enlighten the intellect of Ione, in the hope that she would be thus able to appreciate what he felt would be his best claim to her affection: viz, a character which, however criminal and perverted, was rich in its original elements of strength and grandeur. When he felt that character to be acknowledged, he willingly allowed, nay, encouraged her, to mix among the idle votaries of pleasure, in the belief that her soul, fitted for higher commune, would miss the companionship of his own, and that, in comparison with others, she would learn to love herself. He had forgot, that as the sunflower to the sun, so youth turns to youth, until his jealousy of Glaucus suddenly apprised him of his error. From that moment, though, as we have seen, he knew not the extent of his danger, a fiercer and more tumultuous direction was given to a passion long controlled. Nothing kindles the fire of love like the sprinkling of the anxieties of jealousy; it takes then a wilder, a more resistless flame; it forgets its softness; it ceases to be tender; it assumes something of the intensity—of the ferocity—of hate.
Arbaces resolved to lose no further time upon cautious and perilous preparations: he resolved to place an irrevocable barrier between himself and his rivals: he resolved to possess himself of the person of Ione: not that in his present love, so long nursed and fed by hopes purer than those of passion alone, he would have been contented with that mere possession. He desired the heart, the soul, no less than the beauty, of Ione; but he imagined that once separated by a daring crime from the rest of mankind—once bound to Ione by a tie that memory could not break, she would be driven to concentrate her thoughts in him—that his arts would complete his conquest, and that, according to the true moral of the Roman and the Sabine, the empire obtained by force would be cemented by gentler means. This resolution was yet more confirmed in him by his belief in the prophecies of the stars: they had long foretold to him this year, and even the present month, as the epoch of some dread disaster, menacing life itself. He was driven to a certain and limited date. He resolved to crowd, monarch-like, on his funeral pyre all that his soul held most dear. In his own words, if he were to die, he resolved to feel that he had lived, and that Ione should be his own.
WHAT BECOMES OF IONE IN THE HOUSE OF ARBACES. THE FIRST SIGNAL OF THE WRATH OF THE DREAD FOE.
WHEN Ione entered the spacious hall of the Egyptian, the same awe which had crept over her brother impressed itself also upon her: there seemed to her as to him something ominous and warning in the still and mournful faces of those dread Theban monsters, whose majestic and passionless features the marble so well portrayed:
Their look, with the reach of past ages, was wise, And the soul of eternity thought in their eyes. The tall AEthiopian slave grinned as he admitted her, and motioned to her to proceed. Half-way up the hall she was met by Arbaces himself, in festive robes, which glittered with jewels. Although it was broad day without, the mansion, according to the practice of the luxurious, was artificially darkened, and the lamps cast their still and odor-giving light over the rich floors and ivory roofs.
'Beautiful Ione,' said Arbaces, as he bent to touch her hand, 'it is you that have eclipsed the day—it is your eyes that light up the halls—it is your breath which fills them with perfumes.'
'You must not talk to me thus,' said Ione, smiling, 'you forget that your lore has sufficiently instructed my mind to render these graceful flatteries to my person unwelcome. It was you who taught me to disdain adulation: will you unteach your pupil?'
There was something so frank and charming in the manner of Ione, as she thus spoke, that the Egyptian was more than ever enamoured, and more than ever disposed to renew the offence he had committed; he, however, answered quickly and gaily, and hastened to renew the conversation.
He led her through the various chambers of a house, which seemed to contain to her eyes, inexperienced to other splendor than the minute elegance of Campanian cities, the treasures of the world.
In the walls were set pictures of inestimable art, the lights shone over statues of the noblest age of Greece. Cabinets of gems, each cabinet itself a gem, filled up the interstices of the columns; the most precious woods lined the thresholds and composed the doors; gold and jewels seemed lavished all around. Sometimes they were alone in these rooms—sometimes they passed through silent rows of slaves, who, kneeling as she passed, proffered to her offerings of bracelets, of chains, of gems, which the Egyptian vainly entreated her to receive.
'I have often heard,' said she, wonderingly, 'that you were rich; but I never dreamed of the amount of your wealth.'
'Would I could coin it all,' replied the Egyptian, 'into one crown, which I might place upon that snowy brow!'
'Alas! the weight would crush me; I should be a second Tarpeia,' answered Ione, laughingly.
'But thou dost not disdain riches, O Ione! they know not what life is capable of who are not wealthy. Gold is the great magician of earth—it realizes our dreams—it gives them the power of a god—there is a grandeur, a sublimity, in its possession; it is the mightiest, yet the most obedient of our slaves.'
The artful Arbaces sought to dazzle the young Neapolitan by his treasures and his eloquence; he sought to awaken in her the desire to be mistress of what she surveyed: he hoped that she would confound the owner with the possessions, and that the charms of his wealth would be reflected on himself. Meanwhile, Ione was secretly somewhat uneasy at the gallantries which escaped from those lips, which, till lately, had seemed to disdain the common homage we pay to beauty; and with that delicate subtlety, which woman alone possesses, she sought to ward off shafts deliberately aimed, and to laugh or to talk away the meaning from his warming language. Nothing in the world is more pretty than that same species of defence; it is the charm of the African necromancer who professed with a feather to turn aside the winds.
The Egyptian was intoxicated and subdued by her grace even more than by her beauty: it was with difficulty that he suppressed his emotions; alas! the feather was only powerful against the summer breezes—it would be the sport of the storm.
Suddenly, as they stood in one hall, which was surrounded by draperies of silver and white, the Egyptian clapped his hands, and, as if by enchantment, a banquet rose from the floor—a couch or throne, with a crimson canopy, ascended simultaneously at the feet of Ione—and at the same instant from behind the curtains swelled the invisible and softest music.
Arbaces placed himself at the feet of Ione—and children, young and beautiful as Loves, ministered to the feast.
The feast was over, the music sank into a low and subdued strain, and Arbaces thus addressed his beautiful guest:
'Hast thou never in this dark and uncertain world—hast thou never aspired, my pupil, to look beyond—hast thou never wished to put aside the veil of futurity, and to behold on the shores of Fate the shadowy images of things to be? For it is not the past alone that has its ghosts: each event to come has also its spectrum—its shade; when the hour arrives, life enters it, the shadow becomes corporeal, and walks the world. Thus, in the land beyond the grave, are ever two impalpable and spiritual hosts—the things to be, the things that have been! If by our wisdom we can penetrate that land, we see the one as the other, and learn, as I have learned, not alone the mysteries of the dead, but also the destiny of the living.'
'As thou hast learned!—Can wisdom attain so far?'
'Wilt thou prove my knowledge, Ione, and behold the representation of thine own fate? It is a drama more striking than those of AEschylus: it is one I have prepared for thee, if thou wilt see the shadows perform their part.'
The Neapolitan trembled; she thought of Glaucus, and sighed as well as trembled: were their destinies to be united? Half incredulous, half believing, half awed, half alarmed by the words of her strange host, she remained for some moments silent, and then answered:
'It may revolt—it may terrify; the knowledge of the future will perhaps only embitter the present!'
'Not so, Ione. I have myself looked upon thy future lot, and the ghosts of thy Future bask in the gardens of Elysium: amidst the asphodel and the rose they prepare the garlands of thy sweet destiny, and the Fates, so harsh to others, weave only for thee the web of happiness and love. Wilt thou then come and behold thy doom, so that thou mayest enjoy it beforehand?'
Again the heart of Ione murmured 'Glaucus'; she uttered a half-audible assent; the Egyptian rose, and taking her by the hand, he led her across the banquet-room—the curtains withdrew as by magic hands, and the music broke forth in a louder and gladder strain; they passed a row of columns, on either side of which fountains cast aloft their fragrant waters; they descended by broad and easy steps into a garden. The eve had commenced; the moon was already high in heaven, and those sweet flowers that sleep by day, and fill, with ineffable odorous, the airs of night, were thickly scattered amidst alleys cut through the star-lit foliage; or, gathered in baskets, lay like offerings at the feet of the frequent statues that gleamed along their path.
'Whither wouldst thou lead me, Arbaces?' said Ione, wonderingly.
'But yonder,' said he, pointing to a small building which stood at the end of the vista. 'It is a temple consecrated to the Fates—our rites require such holy ground.'
They passed into a narrow hall, at the end of which hung a sable curtain. Arbaces lifted it; Ione entered, and found herself in total darkness.
'Be not alarmed,' said the Egyptian, 'the light will rise instantly.' While he so spoke, a soft, and warm, and gradual light diffused itself around; as it spread over each object, Ione perceived that she was in an apartment of moderate size, hung everywhere with black; a couch with draperies of the same hue was beside her. In the centre of the room was a small altar, on which stood a tripod of bronze. At one side, upon a lofty column of granite, was a colossal head of the blackest marble, which she perceived, by the crown of wheat-ears that encircled the brow, represented the great Egyptian goddess. Arbaces stood before the altar: he had laid his garland on the shrine, and seemed occupied with pouring into the tripod the contents of a brazen vase; suddenly from that tripod leaped into life a blue, quick, darting, irregular flame; the Egyptian drew back to the side of Ione, and muttered some words in a language unfamiliar to her ear; the curtain at the back of the altar waved tremulously to and fro—it parted slowly, and in the aperture which was thus made, Ione beheld an indistinct and pale landscape, which gradually grew brighter and clearer as she gazed; at length she discovered plainly trees, and rivers, and meadows, and all the beautiful diversity of the richest earth. At length, before the landscape, a dim shadow glided; it rested opposite to Ione; slowly the same charm seemed to operate upon it as over the rest of the scene; it took form and shape, and lo!—in its feature and in its form Ione beheld herself!
Then the scene behind the spectre faded away, and was succeeded by the representation of a gorgeous palace; a throne was raised in the centre of its hall, the dim forms of slaves and guards were ranged around it, and a pale hand held over the throne the likeness of a diadem.
A new actor now appeared; he was clothed from head to foot in a dark robe—his face was concealed—he knelt at the feet of the shadowy Ione—he clasped her hand—he pointed to the throne, as if to invite her to ascend it.
The Neapolitan's heart beat violently. 'Shall the shadow disclose itself?' whispered a voice beside her—the voice of Arbaces.
'Ah, yes!' answered Ione, softly.
Arbaces raised his hand—the spectre seemed to drop the mantle that concealed its form—and Ione shrieked—it was Arbaces himself that thus knelt before her.
'This is, indeed, thy fate!' whispered again the Egyptian's voice in her ear. 'And thou art destined to be the bride of Arbaces.'
Ione started—the black curtain closed over the phantasmagoria: and Arbaces himself—the real, the living Arbaces—was at her feet.
'Oh, Ione!' said he, passionately gazing upon her, 'listen to one who has long struggled vainly with his love. I adore thee! The Fates do not lie—thou art destined to be mine—I have sought the world around, and found none like thee. From my youth upward, I have sighed for such as thou art. I have dreamed till I saw thee—I wake, and I behold thee. Turn not away from me, Ione; think not of me as thou hast thought; I am not that being—cold, insensate, and morose, which I have seemed to thee. Never woman had lover so devoted—so passionate as I will be to Ione. Do not struggle in my clasp: see—I release thy hand. Take it from me if thou wilt—well be it so! But do not reject me, Ione—do not rashly reject—judge of thy power over him whom thou canst thus transform. I, who never knelt to mortal being, kneel to thee. I, who have commanded fate, receive from thee my own. Ione, tremble not, thou art my queen—my goddess—be my bride! All the wishes thou canst form shall be fulfilled. The ends of the earth shall minister to thee—pomp, power, luxury, shall be thy slaves. Arbaces shall have no ambition, save the pride of obeying thee. Ione, turn upon me those eyes—shed upon me thy smile. Dark is my soul when thy face is hid from it: shine over me, my sun—my heaven—my daylight!—Ione, Ione—do not reject my love!'
Alone, and in the power of this singular and fearful man, Ione was not yet terrified; the respect of his language, the softness of his voice, reassured her; and, in her own purity, she felt protection. But she was confused—astonished: it was some moments before she could recover the power of reply.
'Rise, Arbaces!' said she at length; and she resigned to him once more her hand, which she as quickly withdrew again, when she felt upon it the burning pressure of his lips. 'Rise! and if thou art serious, if thy language be in earnest...'
'If!' said he tenderly.
'Well, then, listen to me: you have been my guardian, my friend, my monitor; for this new character I was not prepared—think not,' she added quickly, as she saw his dark eyes glitter with the fierceness of his passion—'think not that I scorn—that I am untouched—that I am not honored by this homage; but, say—canst thou hear me calmly?'
'Ay, though thy words were lightning, and could blast me!'
'I love another!' said Ione, blushingly, but in a firm voice.
'By the gods—by hell!' shouted Arbaces, rising to his fullest height; 'dare not tell me that—dare not mock me—it is impossible!—Whom hast thou seen—whom known? Oh, Ione, it is thy woman's invention, thy woman's art that speaks—thou wouldst gain time; I have surprised—I have terrified thee. Do with me as thou wilt—say that thou lovest not me; but say not that thou lovest another!'
'Alas!' began Ione; and then, appalled before his sudden and unlooked-for violence, she burst into tears.
Arbaces came nearer to her—his breath glowed fiercely on her cheek; he wound his arms round her—she sprang from his embrace. In the struggle a tablet fell from her bosom on the ground: Arbaces perceived, and seized it—it was the letter that morning received from Glaucus. Ione sank upon the couch, half dead with terror.
Rapidly the eyes of Arbaces ran over the writing; the Neapolitan did not dare to gaze upon him: she did not see the deadly paleness that came over his countenance—she marked not his withering frown, nor the quivering of his lip, nor the convulsions that heaved his breast. He read it to the end, and then, as the letter fell from his hand, he said, in a voice of deceitful calmness:
'Is the writer of this the man thou lovest?'
Ione sobbed, but answered not.
'Speak!' he rather shrieked than said.
'It is—it is!
'And his name—it is written here—his name is Glaucus!'
Ione, clasping her hands, looked round as for succour or escape.
'Then hear me,' said Arbaces, sinking his voice into a whisper; 'thou shalt go to thy tomb rather than to his arms! What! thinkest thou Arbaces will brook a rival such as this puny Greek? What! thinkest thou that he has watched the fruit ripen, to yield it to another! Pretty fool—no! Thou art mine—all—only mine: and thus—thus I seize and claim thee!' As he spoke, he caught Ione in his arms; and, in that ferocious grasp, was all the energy—less of love than of revenge.
But to Ione despair gave supernatural strength: she again tore herself from him—she rushed to that part of the room by which she had entered—she half withdrew the curtain—he had seized her—again she broke away from him—and fell, exhausted, and with a loud shriek, at the base of the column which supported the head of the Egyptian goddess. Arbaces paused for a moment, as if to regain his breath; and thence once more darted upon his prey.
At that instant the curtain was rudely torn aside, the Egyptian felt a fierce and strong grasp upon his shoulder. He turned—he beheld before him the flashing eyes of Glaucus, and the pale, worn, but menacing, countenance of Apaecides. 'Ah,' he muttered, as he glared from one to the other, 'what Fury hath sent ye hither?'
'Ate,' answered Glaucus; and he closed at once with the Egyptian. Meanwhile, Apaecides raised his sister, now lifeless, from the ground; his strength, exhausted by a mind long overwrought, did not suffice to bear her away, light and delicate though her shape: he placed her, therefore, on the couch, and stood over her with a brandishing knife, watching the contest between Glaucus and the Egyptian, and ready to plunge his weapon in the bosom of Arbaces should he be victorious in the struggle. There is, perhaps, nothing on earth so terrible as the naked and unarmed contest of animal strength, no weapon but those which Nature supplies to rage. Both the antagonists were now locked in each other's grasp—the hand of each seeking the throat of the other—the face drawn back—the fierce eyes flashing—the muscles strained—the veins swelled—the lips apart—the teeth set—both were strong beyond the ordinary power of men, both animated by relentless wrath; they coiled, they wound, around each other; they rocked to and fro—they swayed from end to end of their confined arena—they uttered cries of ire and revenge—they were now before the altar—now at the base of the column where the struggle had commenced: they drew back for breath—Arbaces leaning against the column—Glaucus a few paces apart.
'O ancient goddess!' exclaimed Arbaces, clasping the column, and raising his eyes toward the sacred image it supported, 'protect thy chosen—proclaim they vengeance against this thing of an upstart creed, who with sacrilegious violence profanes thy resting-place and assails thy servant.'
As he spoke, the still and vast features of the goddess seemed suddenly to glow with life; through the black marble, as through a transparent veil, flushed luminously a crimson and burning hue; around the head played and darted coruscations of livid lightning; the eyes became like balls of lurid fire, and seemed fixed in withering and intolerable wrath upon the countenance of the Greek. Awed and appalled by this sudden and mystic answer to the prayer of his foe, and not free from the hereditary superstitions of his race, the cheeks of Glaucus paled before that strange and ghastly animation of the marble—his knees knocked together—he stood, seized with a divine panic, dismayed, aghast, half unmanned before his foe! Arbaces gave him not breathing time to recover his stupor: 'Die, wretch!' he shouted, in a voice of thunder, as he sprang upon the Greek; 'the Mighty Mother claims thee as a living sacrifice!' Taken thus by surprise in the first consternation of his superstitious fears, the Greek lost his footing—the marble floor was as smooth as glass—he slid—he fell. Arbaces planted his foot on the breast of his fallen foe. Apaecides, taught by his sacred profession, as well as by his knowledge of Arbaces, to distrust all miraculous interpositions, had not shared the dismay of his companion; he rushed forward—his knife gleamed in the air—the watchful Egyptian caught his arm as it descended—one wrench of his powerful hand tore the weapon from the weak grasp of the priest—one sweeping blow stretched him to the earth—with a loud and exulting yell Arbaces brandished the knife on high. Glaucus gazed upon his impending fate with unwinking eyes, and in the stern and scornful resignation of a fallen gladiator, when, at that awful instant, the floor shook under them with a rapid and convulsive throe—a mightier spirit than that of the Egyptian was abroad!—a giant and crushing power, before which sunk into sudden impotence his passion and his arts. IT woke—it stirred—that Dread Demon of the Earthquake—laughing to scorn alike the magic of human guile and the malice of human wrath. As a Titan, on whom the mountains are piled, it roused itself from the sleep of years, it moved on its tortured couch—the caverns below groaned and trembled beneath the motion of its limbs. In the moment of his vengeance and his power, the self-prized demigod was humbled to his real clay. Far and wide along the soil went a hoarse and rumbling sound—the curtains of the chamber shook as at the blast of a storm—the altar rocked—the tripod reeled, and high over the place of contest, the column trembled and waved from side to side—the sable head of the goddess tottered and fell from its pedestal—and as the Egyptian stooped above his intended victim, right upon his bended form, right between the shoulder and the neck, struck the marble mass! The shock stretched him like the blow of death, at once, suddenly, without sound or motion, or semblance of life, upon the floor, apparently crushed by the very divinity he had impiously animated and invoked!
'The Earth has preserved her children,' said Glaucus, staggering to his feet. 'Blessed be the dread convulsion! Let us worship the providence of the gods!' He assisted Apaecides to rise, and then turned upward the face of Arbaces; it seemed locked as in death; blood gushed from the Egyptian's lips over his glittering robes; he fell heavily from the arms of Glaucus, and the red stream trickled slowly along the marble. Again the earth shook beneath their feet; they were forced to cling to each other; the convulsion ceased as suddenly as it came; they tarried no longer; Glaucus bore Ione lightly in his arms, and they fled from the unhallowed spot. But scarce had they entered the garden than they were met on all sides by flying and disordered groups of women and slaves, whose festive and glittering garments contrasted in mockery the solemn terror of the hour; they did not appear to heed the strangers—they were occupied only with their own fears. After the tranquillity of sixteen years, that burning and treacherous soil again menaced destruction; they uttered but one cry, 'THE EARTHQUAKE! THE EARTHQUAKE!' and passing unmolested from the midst of them, Apaecides and his companions, without entering the house, hastened down one of the alleys, passed a small open gate, and there, sitting on a little mound over which spread the gloom of the dark green aloes, the moonlight fell on the bended figure of the blind girl—she was weeping bitterly.
BOOK THE THIRD
THE FORUM OF THE POMPEIANS. THE FIRST RUDE MACHINERY BY WHICH THE NEW ERA OF THE WORLD WAS WROUGHT.
IT was early noon, and the forum was crowded alike with the busy and the idle. As at Paris at this day, so at that time in the cities of Italy, men lived almost wholly out of doors: the public buildings, the forum, the porticoes, the baths, the temples themselves, might be considered their real homes; it was no wonder that they decorated so gorgeously these favorite places of resort—they felt for them a sort of domestic affection as well as a public pride. And animated was, indeed, the aspect of the forum of Pompeii at that time! Along its broad pavement, composed of large flags of marble, were assembled various groups, conversing in that energetic fashion which appropriates a gesture to every word, and which is still the characteristic of the people of the south. Here, in seven stalls on one side the colonnade, sat the money-changers, with their glittering heaps before them, and merchants and seamen in various costumes crowding round their stalls. On one side, several men in long togas were seen bustling rapidly up to a stately edifice, where the magistrates administered justice—these were the lawyers, active, chattering, joking, and punning, as you may find them at this day in Westminster. In the centre of the space, pedestals supported various statues, of which the most remarkable was the stately form of Cicero. Around the court ran a regular and symmetrical colonnade of Doric architecture; and there several, whose business drew them early to the place, were taking the slight morning repast which made an Italian breakfast, talking vehemently on the earthquake of the preceding night as they dipped pieces of bread in their cups of diluted wine. In the open space, too, you might perceive various petty traders exercising the arts of their calling. Here one man was holding out ribands to a fair dame from the country; another man was vaunting to a stout farmer the excellence of his shoes; a third, a kind of stall-restaurateur, still so common in the Italian cities, was supplying many a hungry mouth with hot messes from his small and itinerant stove, while—contrast strongly typical of the mingled bustle and intellect of the time—close by, a schoolmaster was expounding to his puzzled pupils the elements of the Latin grammar.' A gallery above the portico, which was ascended by small wooden staircases, had also its throng; though, as here the immediate business of the place was mainly carried on, its groups wore a more quiet and serious air.
Every now and then the crowd below respectfully gave way as some senator swept along to the Temple of Jupiter (which filled up one side of the forum, and was the senators' hall of meeting), nodding with ostentatious condescension to such of his friends or clients as he distinguished amongst the throng. Mingling amidst the gay dresses of the better orders you saw the hardy forms of the neighboring farmers, as they made their way to the public granaries. Hard by the temple you caught a view of the triumphal arch, and the long street beyond swarming with inhabitants; in one of the niches of the arch a fountain played, cheerily sparkling in the sunbeams; and above its cornice rose the bronzed and equestrian statue of Caligula, strongly contrasting the gay summer skies. Behind the stalls of the money-changers was that building now called the Pantheon; and a crowd of the poorer Pompeians passed through the small vestibule which admitted to the interior, with panniers under their arms, pressing on towards a platform, placed between two columns, where such provisions as the priests had rescued from sacrifice were exposed for sale.
At one of the public edifices appropriated to the business of the city, workmen were employed upon the columns, and you heard the noise of their labor every now and then rising above the hum of the multitude: the columns are unfinished to this day!
All, then, united, nothing could exceed in variety the costumes, the ranks, the manners, the occupations of the crowd—nothing could exceed the bustle, the gaiety, the animation—where pleasure and commerce, idleness and labor, avarice and ambition, mingled in one gulf their motley rushing, yet harmonius, streams.
Facing the steps of the Temple of Jupiter, with folded arms, and a knit and contemptuous brow, stood a man of about fifty years of age. His dress was remarkably plain—not so much from its material, as from the absence of all those ornaments which were worn by the Pompeians of every rank—partly from the love of show, partly, also, because they were chiefly wrought into those shapes deemed most efficacious in resisting the assaults of magic and the influence of the evil eye. His forehead was high and bald; the few locks that remained at the back of the head were concealed by a sort of cowl, which made a part of his cloak, to be raised or lowered at pleasure, and was now drawn half-way over the head, as a protection from the rays of the sun. The color of his garments was brown, no popular hue with the Pompeians; all the usual admixtures of scarlet or purple seemed carefully excluded. His belt, or girdle, contained a small receptacle for ink, which hooked on to the girdle, a stilus (or implement of writing), and tablets of no ordinary size. What was rather remarkable, the cincture held no purse, which was the almost indispensable appurtenance of the girdle, even when that purse had the misfortune to be empty!
It was not often that the gay and egotistical Pompeians busied themselves with observing the countenances and actions of their neighbors; but there was that in the lip and eye of this bystander so remarkably bitter and disdainful, as he surveyed the religious procession sweeping up the stairs of the temple, that it could not fail to arrest the notice of many.
'Who is yon cynic?' asked a merchant of his companion, a jeweller.
'It is Olinthus,' replied the jeweller; 'a reputed Nazarene.'
The merchant shuddered. 'A dread sect!' said he, in a whispered and fearful voice. 'It is said that when they meet at nights they always commence their ceremonies by the murder of a new-born babe; they profess a community of goods, too—the wretches! A community of goods! What would become of merchants, or jewellers either, if such notions were in fashion?'
'That is very true,' said the jeweller; 'besides, they wear no jewels—they mutter imprecations when they see a serpent; and at Pompeii all our ornaments are serpentine.'
'Do but observe,' said a third, who was a fabricant of bronze, 'how yon Nazarene scowls at the piety of the sacrificial procession. He is murmuring curses on the temple, be sure. Do you know, Celcinus, that this fellow, passing by my shop the other day, and seeing me employed on a statue of Minerva, told me with a frown that, had it been marble, he would have broken it; but the bronze was too strong for him. "Break a goddess!" said I. "A goddess!" answered the atheist; "it is a demon—an evil spirit!" Then he passed on his way cursing. Are such things to be borne? What marvel that the earth heaved so fearfully last night, anxious to reject the atheist from her bosom?—An atheist, do I say? worse still—a scorner of the Fine Arts! Woe to us fabricants of bronze, if such fellows as this give the law to society!'
'These are the incendiaries that burnt Rome under Nero,' groaned the jeweller.
While such were the friendly remarks provoked by the air and faith of the Nazarene, Olinthus himself became sensible of the effect he was producing; he turned his eyes round, and observed the intent faces of the accumulating throng, whispering as they gazed; and surveying them for a moment with an expression, first of defiance and afterwards of compassion, he gathered his cloak round him and passed on, muttering audibly, 'Deluded idolaters!—did not last night's convulsion warn ye? Alas! how will ye meet the last day?'
The crowd that heard these boding words gave them different interpretations, according to their different shades of ignorance and of fear; all, however, concurred in imagining them to convey some awful imprecation. They regarded the Christian as the enemy of mankind; the epithets they lavished upon him, of which 'Atheist' was the most favored and frequent, may serve, perhaps, to warn us, believers of that same creed now triumphant, how we indulge the persecution of opinion Olinthus then underwent, and how we apply to those whose notions differ from our own the terms at that day lavished on the fathers of our faith.
As Olinthus stalked through the crowd, and gained one of the more private places of egress from the forum, he perceived gazing upon him a pale and earnest countenance, which he was not slow to recognize.
Wrapped in a pallium that partially concealed his sacred robes, the young Apaecides surveyed the disciple of that new and mysterious creed, to which at one time he had been half a convert.
'Is he, too, an impostor? Does this man, so plain and simple in life, in garb, in mien—does he too, like Arbaces, make austerity the robe of the sensualist? Does the veil of Vesta hide the vices of the prostitute?'
Olinthus, accustomed to men of all classes, and combining with the enthusiasm of his faith a profound experience of his kind, guessed, perhaps, by the index of the countenance, something of what passed within the breast of the priest. He met the survey of Apaecides with a steady eye, and a brow of serene and open candour.
'Peace be with thee!' said he, saluting Apaecides.
'Peace!' echoed the priest, in so hollow a tone that it went at once to the heart of the Nazarene.
'In that wish,' continued Olinthus, 'all good things are combined—without virtue thou canst not have peace. Like the rainbow, Peace rests upon the earth, but its arch is lost in heaven. Heaven bathes it in hues of light—it springs up amidst tears and clouds—it is a reflection of the Eternal Sun—it is an assurance of calm—it is the sign of a great covenant between Man and God. Such peace, O young man! is the smile of the soul; it is an emanation from the distant orb of immortal light. PEACE be with you!'
'Alas!' began Apaecides, when he caught the gaze of the curious loiterers, inquisitive to know what could possibly be the theme of conversation between a reputed Nazarene and a priest of Isis. He stopped short, and then added in a low tone: 'We cannot converse here, I will follow thee to the banks of the river; there is a walk which at this time is usually deserted and solitary.'
Olinthus bowed assent. He passed through the streets with a hasty step, but a quick and observant eye. Every now and then he exchanged a significant glance, a slight sign, with some passenger, whose garb usually betokened the wearer to belong to the humbler classes; for Christianity was in this the type of all other and less mighty revolutions—the grain of mustard-seed was in the heart of the lowly. Amidst the huts of poverty and labor, the vast stream which afterwards poured its broad waters beside the cities and palaces of earth took its neglected source.
THE NOONDAY EXCURSION ON THE CAMPANIAN SEAS.
'BUT tell me, Glaucus,' said Ione, as they glided down the rippling Sarnus in their boat of pleasure, 'how camest thou with Apaecides to my rescue from that bad man?'
'Ask Nydia yonder,' answered the Athenian, pointing to the blind girl, who sat at a little distance from them, leaning pensively over her lyre; 'she must have thy thanks, not we. It seems that she came to my house, and, finding me from home, sought thy brother in his temple; he accompanied her to Arbaces; on their way they encountered me, with a company of friends, whom thy kind letter had given me a spirit cheerful enough to join. Nydia's quick ear detected my voice—a few words sufficed to make me the companion of Apaecides; I told not my associates why I left them—could I trust thy name to their light tongues and gossiping opinion?—Nydia led us to the garden gate, by which we afterwards bore thee—we entered, and were about to plunge into the mysteries of that evil house, when we heard thy cry in another direction. Thou knowest the rest.'
Ione blushed deeply. She then raised her eyes to those of Glaucus, and he felt all the thanks she could not utter. 'Come hither, my Nydia,' said she, tenderly, to the Thessalian.
'Did I not tell thee that thou shouldst be my sister and friend? Hast thou not already been more?—my guardian, my preserver!'
'It is nothing,' answered Nydia coldly, and without stirring.
'Ah! I forgot,' continued Ione, 'I should come to thee'; and she moved along the benches till she reached the place where Nydia sat, and flinging her arms caressingly round her, covered her cheeks with kisses.
Nydia was that morning paler than her wont, and her countenance grew even more wan and colorless as she submitted to the embrace of the beautiful Neapolitan. 'But how camest thou, Nydia,' whispered Ione, 'to surmise so faithfully the danger I was exposed to? Didst thou know aught of the Egyptian?'
'Yes, I knew of his vices.'
'Noble Ione, I have been a slave to the vicious—those whom I served were his minions.'
'And thou hast entered his house since thou knewest so well that private entrance?'
'I have played on my lyre to Arbaces,' answered the Thessalian, with embarrassment.
'And thou hast escaped the contagion from which thou hast saved Ione?' returned the Neapolitan, in a voice too low for the ear of Glaucus.
'Noble Ione, I have neither beauty nor station; I am a child, and a slave, and blind. The despicable are ever safe.'
It was with a pained, and proud, and indignant tone that Nydia made this humble reply; and Ione felt that she only wounded Nydia by pursuing the subject. She remained silent, and the bark now floated into the sea.
'Confess that I was right, Ione,' said Glaucus, 'in prevailing on thee not to waste this beautiful noon in thy chamber—confess that I was right.'
'Thou wert right, Glaucus,' said Nydia, abruptly.
'The dear child speaks for thee,' returned the Athenian. 'But permit me to move opposite to thee, or our light boat will be over-balanced.'
So saying, he took his seat exactly opposite to Ione, and leaning forward, he fancied that it was her breath, and not the winds of summer, that flung fragrance over the sea.
'Thou wert to tell me,' said Glaucus, 'why for so many days thy door was closed to me?'
'Oh, think of it no more!' answered Ione, quickly; 'I gave my ear to what I now know was the malice of slander.'
'And my slanderer was the Egyptian?'
Ione's silence assented to the question.
'His motives are sufficiently obvious.'
'Talk not of him,' said Ione, covering her face with her hands, as if to shut out his very thought.
'Perhaps he may be already by the banks of the slow Styx,' resumed Glaucus; 'yet in that case we should probably have heard of his death. Thy brother, methinks, hath felt the dark influence of his gloomy soul. When we arrived last night at thy house he left me abruptly. Will he ever vouchsafe to be my friend?'
'He is consumed with some secret care,' answered Ione, tearfully. 'Would that we could lure him from himself! Let us join in that tender office.'
'He shall be my brother,' returned the Greek.
'How calmly,' said Ione, rousing herself from the gloom into which her thoughts of Apaecides had plunged her—'how calmly the clouds seem to repose in heaven; and yet you tell me, for I knew it not myself, that the earth shook beneath us last night.'
'It did, and more violently, they say, than it has done since the great convulsion sixteen years ago: the land we live in yet nurses mysterious terror; and the reign of Pluto, which spreads beneath our burning fields, seems rent with unseen commotion. Didst thou not feel the earth quake, Nydia, where thou wert seated last night? and was it not the fear that it occasioned thee that made thee weep?'
'I felt the soil creep and heave beneath me, like some monstrous serpent,' answered Nydia; 'but as I saw nothing, I did not fear: I imagined the convulsion to be a spell of the Egyptian's. They say he has power over the elements.'
'Thou art a Thessalian, my Nydia,' replied Glaucus, 'and hast a national right to believe in magic.
'Magic!—who doubts it?' answered Nydia, simply: 'dost thou?'
'Until last night (when a necromantic prodigy did indeed appal me), methinks I was not credulous in any other magic save that of love!' said Glaucus, in a tremulous voice, and fixing his eyes on Ione.
'Ah!' said Nydia, with a sort of shiver, and she awoke mechanically a few pleasing notes from her lyre; the sound suited well the tranquility of the waters, and the sunny stillness of the noon.
'Play to us, dear Nydia, said Glaucus—'play and give us one of thine old Thessalian songs: whether it be of magic or not, as thou wilt—let it, at least, be of love!'
'Of love!' repeated Nydia, raising her large, wandering eyes, that ever thrilled those who saw them with a mingled fear and pity; you could never familiarize yourself to their aspect: so strange did it seem that those dark wild orbs were ignorant of the day, and either so fixed was their deep mysterious gaze, or so restless and perturbed their glance, that you felt, when you encountered them, that same vague, and chilling, and half-preternatural impression, which comes over you in the presence of the insane—of those who, having a life outwardly like your own, have a life within life—dissimilar—unsearchable—unguessed!
'Will you that I should sing of love?' said she, fixing those eyes upon Glaucus.
'Yes,' replied he, looking down.
She moved a little way from the arm of Ione, still cast round her, as if that soft embrace embarrassed; and placing her light and graceful instrument on her knee, after a short prelude, she sang the following strain:
The Wind and the Beam loved the Rose, And the Rose loved one; For who recks the wind where it blows? Or loves not the sun?
None knew whence the humble Wind stole, Poor sport of the skies— None dreamt that the Wind had a soul, In its mournful sighs!
Oh, happy Beam! how canst thou prove That bright love of thine? In thy light is the proof of thy love. Thou hast but—to shine!
How its love can the Wind reveal? Unwelcome its sigh; Mute—mute to its Rose let it steal— Its proof is—to die!
'Thou singest but sadly, sweet girl,' said Glaucus; 'thy youth only feels as yet the dark shadow of Love; far other inspiration doth he wake, when he himself bursts and brightens upon us.
'I sing as I was taught,' replied Nydia, sighing.
'Thy master was love-crossed, then—try thy hand at a gayer air. Nay, girl, give the instrument to me.' As Nydia obeyed, her hand touched his, and, with that slight touch, her breast heaved—her cheek flushed. Ione and Glaucus, occupied with each other, perceived not those signs of strange and premature emotions, which preyed upon a heart that, nourished by imagination, dispensed with hope.
And now, broad, blue, bright, before them, spread that halcyon sea, fair as at this moment, seventeen centuries from that date, I behold it rippling on the same divinest shores. Clime that yet enervates with a soft and Circean spell—that moulds us insensibly, mysteriously, into harmony with thyself, banishing the thought of austerer labor, the voices of wild ambition, the contests and the roar of life; filling us with gentle and subduing dreams, making necessary to our nature that which is its least earthly portion, so that the very air inspires us with the yearning and thirst of love. Whoever visits thee seems to leave earth and its harsh cares behind—to enter by the Ivory gate into the Land of Dreams. The young and laughing Hours of the PRESENT—the Hours, those children of Saturn, which he hungers ever to devour, seem snatched from his grasp. The past—the future—are forgotten; we enjoy but the breathing time. Flower of the world's garden—Fountain of Delight—Italy of Italy—beautiful, benign Campania!—vain were, indeed, the Titans, if on this spot they yet struggled for another heaven! Here, if God meant this working-day life for a perpetual holiday, who would not sigh to dwell for ever—asking nothing, hoping nothing, fearing nothing, while thy skies shine over him—while thy seas sparkle at his feet—while thine air brought him sweet messages from the violet and the orange—and while the heart, resigned to—beating with—but one emotion, could find the lips and the eyes, which flatter it (vanity of vanities!) that love can defy custom, and be eternal?
It was then in this clime—on those seas, that the Athenian gazed upon a face that might have suited the nymph, the spirit of the place: feeding his eyes on the changeful roses of that softest cheek, happy beyond the happiness of common life, loving, and knowing himself beloved.
In the tale of human passion, in past ages, there is something of interest even in the remoteness of the time. We love to feel within us the bond which unites the most distant era—men, nations, customs perish; THE AFFECTIONS ARE IMMORTAL!—they are the sympathies which unite the ceaseless generations. The past lives again, when we look upon its emotions—it lives in our own! That which was, ever is! The magician's gift, that revives the dead—that animates the dust of forgotten graves, is not in the author's skill—it is in the heart of the reader!
Still vainly seeking the eyes of Ione, as, half downcast, half averted, they shunned his own, the Athenian, in a low and soft voice, thus expressed the feelings inspired by happier thoughts than those which had colored the song of Nydia.
THE SONG OF GLAUCUS
I As the bark floateth on o'er the summer-lit sea, Floats my heart o'er the deeps of its passion for thee; All lost in the space, without terror it glides, For bright with thy soul is the face of the tides. Now heaving, now hush'd, is that passionate ocean, As it catches thy smile or thy sighs; And the twin-stars that shine on the wanderer's devotion Its guide and its god—are thine eyes!
The bark may go down, should the cloud sweep above, For its being is bound to the light of thy love. As thy faith and thy smile are its life and its joy, So thy frown or thy change are the storms that destroy. Ah! sweeter to sink while the sky is serene, If time hath a change for thy heart! If to live be to weep over what thou hast been, Let me die while I know what thou art!
As the last words of the song trembled over the sea, Ione raised her looks—they met those of her lover. Happy Nydia!—happy in thy affliction, that thou couldst not see that fascinated and charmed gaze, that said so much—that made the eye the voice of the soul—that promised the impossibility of change!
But, though the Thessalian could not detect that gaze, she divined its meaning by their silence—by their sighs. She pressed her hands lightly across her breast, as if to keep down its bitter and jealous thoughts; and then she hastened to speak—for that silence was intolerable to her.
'After all, O Glaucus!' said she, 'there is nothing very mirthful in your strain!'
'Yet I meant it to be so, when I took up thy lyre, pretty one. Perhaps happiness will not permit us to be mirthful.'
'How strange is it,' said Ione, changing a conversation which oppressed her while it charmed—'that for the last several days yonder cloud has hung motionless over Vesuvius! Yet not indeed motionless, for sometimes it changes its form; and now methinks it looks like some vast giant, with an arm outstretched over the city. Dost thou see the likeness—or is it only to my fancy?'
'Fair Ione! I see it also. It is astonishingly distinct. The giant seems seated on the brow of the mountain, the different shades of the cloud appear to form a white robe that sweeps over its vast breast and limbs; it seems to gaze with a steady face upon the city below, to point with one hand, as thou sayest, over its glittering streets, and to raise the other (dost thou note it?) towards the higher heaven. It is like the ghost of some huge Titan brooding over the beautiful world he lost; sorrowful for the past—yet with something of menace for the future.'
'Could that mountain have any connection with the last night's earthquake? They say that, ages ago, almost in the earliest era of tradition, it gave forth fires as AEtna still. Perhaps the flames yet lurk and dart beneath.'
'It is possible,' said Glaucus, musingly.
'Thou sayest thou art slow to believe in magic,' said Nydia, suddenly. 'I have heard that a potent witch dwells amongst the scorched caverns of the mountain, and yon cloud may be the dim shadow of the demon she confers with.'
'Thou art full of the romance of thy native Thessaly,' said Glaucus; 'and a strange mixture of sense and all conflicting superstitions.'
'We are ever superstitious in the dark,' replied Nydia. 'Tell me,' she added, after a slight pause, 'tell me, O Glaucus! do all that are beautiful resemble each other? They say you are beautiful, and Ione also. Are your faces then the same? I fancy not, yet it ought to be so.'
'Fancy no such grievous wrong to Ione,' answered Glaucus, laughing. 'But we do not, alas! resemble each other, as the homely and the beautiful sometimes do. Ione's hair is dark, mine light; Ione's eyes are—what color, Ione? I cannot see, turn them to me. Oh, are they black? no, they are too soft. Are they blue? no, they are too deep: they change with every ray of the sun—I know not their color: but mine, sweet Nydia, are grey, and bright only when Ione shines on them! Ione's cheek is...'
'I do not understand one word of thy description,' interrupted Nydia, peevishly. 'I comprehend only that you do not resemble each other, and I am glad of it.'
'Why, Nydia?' said Ione.
Nydia colored slightly. 'Because,' she replied, coldly, 'I have always imagined you under different forms, and one likes to know one is right.'
'And what hast thou imagined Glaucus to resemble?' asked Ione, softly.
'Music!' replied Nydia, looking down.
'Thou art right,' thought Ione.
'And what likeness hast thou ascribed to Ione?'
'I cannot tell yet,' answered the blind girl; 'I have not yet known her long enough to find a shape and sign for my guesses.'
'I will tell thee, then,' said Glaucus, passionately; 'she is like the sun that warms—like the wave that refreshes.'
'The sun sometimes scorches, and the wave sometimes drowns,' answered Nydia.
'Take then these roses,' said Glaucus; 'let their fragrance suggest to thee Ione.'
'Alas, the roses will fade!' said the Neapolitan, archly.
Thus conversing, they wore away the hours; the lovers, conscious only of the brightness and smiles of love; the blind girl feeling only its darkness—its tortures—the fierceness of jealousy and its woe!
And now, as they drifted on, Glaucus once more resumed the lyre, and woke its strings with a careless hand to a strain, so wildly and gladly beautiful, that even Nydia was aroused from her reverie, and uttered a cry of admiration.
'Thou seest, my child,' cried Glaucus, 'that I can yet redeem the character of love's music, and that I was wrong in saying happiness could not be gay. Listen, Nydia! listen, dear Ione! and hear:
THE BIRTH OF LOVE
Like a Star in the seas above, Like a Dream to the waves of sleep— Up—up—THE INCARNATE LOVE— She rose from the charmed deep! And over the Cyprian Isle The skies shed their silent smile; And the Forest's green heart was rife With the stir of the gushing life— The life that had leap'd to birth, In the veins of the happy earth! Hail! oh, hail! The dimmest sea-cave below thee, The farthest sky-arch above, In their innermost stillness know thee: And heave with the Birth of Love! Gale! soft Gale! Thou comest on thy silver winglets, From thy home in the tender west, Now fanning her golden ringlets, Now hush'd on her heaving breast. And afar on the murmuring sand, The Seasons wait hand in hand To welcome thee, Birth Divine, To the earth which is henceforth thine.
Behold! how she kneels in the shell, Bright pearl in its floating cell! Behold! how the shell's rose-hues, The cheek and the breast of snow, And the delicate limbs suffuse, Like a blush, with a bashful glow. Sailing on, slowly sailing O'er the wild water; All hail! as the fond light is hailing Her daughter, All hail! We are thine, all thine evermore: Not a leaf on the laughing shore, Not a wave on the heaving sea, Nor a single sigh In the boundless sky, But is vow'd evermore to thee!
And thou, my beloved one—thou, As I gaze on thy soft eyes now, Methinks from their depths I view The Holy Birth born anew; Thy lids are the gentle cell Where the young Love blushing lies; See! she breaks from the mystic shell, She comes from thy tender eyes! Hail! all hail! She comes, as she came from the sea, To my soul as it looks on thee; She comes, she comes! She comes, as she came from the sea, To my soul as it looks on thee! Hail! all hail!
FOLLOWED by Apaecides, the Nazarene gained the side of the Sarnus—that river, which now has shrunk into a petty stream, then rushed gaily into the sea, covered with countless vessels, and reflecting on its waves the gardens, the vines, the palaces, and the temples of Pompeii. From its more noisy and frequented banks, Olinthus directed his steps to a path which ran amidst a shady vista of trees, at the distance of a few paces from the river. This walk was in the evening a favorite resort of the Pompeians, but during the heat and business of the day was seldom visited, save by some groups of playful children, some meditative poet, or some disputative philosophers. At the side farthest from the river, frequent copses of box interspersed the more delicate and evanescent foliage, and these were cut into a thousand quaint shapes, sometimes into the forms of fauns and satyrs, sometimes into the mimicry of Egyptian pyramids, sometimes into the letters that composed the name of a popular or eminent citizen. Thus the false taste is equally ancient as the pure; and the retired traders of Hackney and Paddington, a century ago, were little aware, perhaps, that in their tortured yews and sculptured box, they found their models in the most polished period of Roman antiquity, in the gardens of Pompeii, and the villas of the fastidious Pliny.
This walk now, as the noonday sun shone perpendicularly through the chequered leaves, was entirely deserted; at least no other forms than those of Olinthus and the priest infringed upon the solitude. They sat themselves on one of the benches, placed at intervals between the trees, and facing the faint breeze that came languidly from the river, whose waves danced and sparkled before them—a singular and contrasted pair; the believer in the latest—the priest of the most ancient—worship of the world!
'Since thou leftst me so abruptly,' said Olinthus, 'hast thou been happy? has thy heart found contentment under these priestly robes? hast thou, still yearning for the voice of God, heard it whisper comfort to thee from the oracles of Isis? That sigh, that averted countenance, give me the answer my soul predicted.'
'Alas!' answered Apaecides, sadly, 'thou seest before thee a wretched and distracted man! From my childhood upward I have idolized the dreams of virtue! I have envied the holiness of men who, in caves and lonely temples, have been admitted to the companionship of beings above the world; my days have been consumed with feverish and vague desires; my nights with mocking but solemn visions. Seduced by the mystic prophecies of an impostor, I have indued these robes;—my nature (I confess it to thee frankly)—my nature has revolted at what I have seen and been doomed to share in! Searching after truth, I have become but the minister of falsehoods. On the evening in which we last met, I was buoyed by hopes created by that same impostor, whom I ought already to have better known. I have—no matter—no matter! suffice it, I have added perjury and sin to rashness and to sorrow. The veil is now rent for ever from my eyes; I behold a villain where I obeyed a demigod; the earth darkens in my sight; I am in the deepest abyss of gloom; I know not if there be gods above; if we are the things of chance; if beyond the bounded and melancholy present there is annihilation or an hereafter—tell me, then, thy faith; solve me these doubts, if thou hast indeed the power!'
'I do not marvel,' answered the Nazarene, 'that thou hast thus erred, or that thou art thus sceptic. Eighty years ago there was no assurance to man of God, or of a certain and definite future beyond the grave. New laws are declared to him who has ears—a heaven, a true Olympus, is revealed to him who has eyes—heed then, and listen.'
And with all the earnestness of a man believing ardently himself, and zealous to convert, the Nazarene poured forth to Apaecides the assurances of Scriptural promise. He spoke first of the sufferings and miracles of Christ—he wept as he spoke: he turned next to the glories of the Saviour's Ascension—to the clear predictions of Revelation. He described that pure and unsensual heaven destined to the virtuous—those fires and torments that were the doom of guilt.
The doubts which spring up to the mind of later reasoners, in the immensity of the sacrifice of God to man, were not such as would occur to an early heathen. He had been accustomed to believe that the gods had lived upon earth, and taken upon themselves the forms of men; had shared in human passions, in human labours, and in human misfortunes. What was the travail of his own Alcmena's son, whose altars now smoked with the incense of countless cities, but a toil for the human race? Had not the great Dorian Apollo expiated a mystic sin by descending to the grave? Those who were the deities of heaven had been the lawgivers or benefactors on earth, and gratitude had led to worship. It seemed therefore, to the heathen, a doctrine neither new nor strange, that Christ had been sent from heaven, that an immortal had indued mortality, and tasted the bitterness of death. And the end for which He thus toiled and thus suffered—how far more glorious did it seem to Apaecides than that for which the deities of old had visited the nether world, and passed through the gates of death! Was it not worthy of a God to, descend to these dim valleys, in order to clear up the clouds gathered over the dark mount beyond—to satisfy the doubts of sages—to convert speculation into certainty—by example to point out the rules of life—by revelation to solve the enigma of the grave—and to prove that the soul did not yearn in vain when it dreamed of an immortality? In this last was the great argument of those lowly men destined to convert the earth. As nothing is more flattering to the pride and the hopes of man than the belief in a future state, so nothing could be more vague and confused than the notions of the heathen sages upon that mystic subject. Apaecides had already learned that the faith of the philosophers was not that of the herd; that if they secretly professed a creed in some diviner power, it was not the creed which they thought it wise to impart to the community. He had already learned, that even the priest ridiculed what he preached to the people—that the notions of the few and the many were never united. But, in this new faith, it seemed to him that philosopher, priest, and people, the expounders of the religion and its followers, were alike accordant: they did not speculate and debate upon immortality, they spoke of as a thing certain and assured; the magnificence of the promise dazzled him—its consolations soothed. For the Christian faith made its early converts among sinners! many of its fathers and its martyrs were those who had felt the bitterness of vice, and who were therefore no longer tempted by its false aspect from the paths of an austere and uncompromising virtue. All the assurances of this healing faith invited to repentance—they were peculiarly adapted to the bruised and sore of spirit! the very remorse which Apaecides felt for his late excesses, made him incline to one who found holiness in that remorse, and who whispered of the joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.
'Come,' said the Nazarene, as he perceived the effect he had produced, 'come to the humble hall in which we meet—a select and a chosen few; listen there to our prayers; note the sincerity of our repentant tears; mingle in our simple sacrifice—not of victims, nor of garlands, but offered by white-robed thoughts upon the altar of the heart. The flowers that we lay there are imperishable—they bloom over us when we are no more; nay, they accompany us beyond the grave, they spring up beneath our feet in heaven, they delight us with an eternal odor, for they are of the soul, they partake of its nature; these offerings are temptations overcome, and sins repented. Come, oh come! lose not another moment; prepare already for the great, the awful journey, from darkness to light, from sorrow to bliss, from corruption to immortality! This is the day of the Lord the Son, a day that we have set apart for our devotions. Though we meet usually at night, yet some amongst us are gathered together even now. What joy, what triumph, will be with us all, if we can bring one stray lamb into the sacred fold!'
There seemed to Apaecides, so naturally pure of heart, something ineffably generous and benign in that spirit of conversation which animated Olinthus—a spirit that found its own bliss in the happiness of others—that sought in its wide sociality to make companions for eternity. He was touched, softened, and subdued. He was not in that mood which can bear to be left alone; curiosity, too, mingled with his purer stimulants—he was anxious to see those rites of which so many dark and contradictory rumours were afloat. He paused a moment, looked over his garb, thought of Arbaces, shuddered with horror, lifted his eyes to the broad brow of the Nazarene, intent, anxious, watchful—but for his benefits, for his salvation! He drew his cloak round him, so as wholly to conceal his robes, and said, 'Lead on, I follow thee.'
Olinthus pressed his hand joyfully, and then descending to the river side, hailed one of the boats that plyed there constantly; they entered it; an awning overhead, while it sheltered them from the sun, screened also their persons from observation: they rapidly skimmed the wave. From one of the boats that passed them floated a soft music, and its prow was decorated with flowers—it was gliding towards the sea.
'So,' said Olinthus, sadly, 'unconscious and mirthful in their delusions, sail the votaries of luxury into the great ocean of storm and shipwreck! we pass them, silent and unnoticed, to gain the land.'
Apaecides, lifting his eyes, caught through the aperture in the awning a glimpse of the face of one of the inmates of that gay bark—it was the face of Ione. The lovers were embarked on the excursion at which we have been made present. The priest sighed, and once more sunk back upon his seat. They reached the shore where, in the suburbs, an alley of small and mean houses stretched towards the bank; they dismissed the boat, landed, and Olinthus, preceding the priest, threaded the labyrinth of lanes, and arrived at last at the closed door of a habitation somewhat larger than its neighbors. He knocked thrice—the door was opened and closed again, as Apaecides followed his guide across the threshold.
They passed a deserted atrium, and gained an inner chamber of moderate size, which, when the door was closed, received its only light from a small window cut over the door itself. But, halting at the threshold of this chamber, and knocking at the door, Olinthus said, 'Peace be with you!' A voice from within returned, 'Peace with whom?' 'The Faithful!' answered Olinthus, and the door opened; twelve or fourteen persons were sitting in a semicircle, silent, and seemingly absorbed in thought, and opposite to a crucifix rudely carved in wood.
They lifted up their eyes when Olinthus entered, without speaking; the Nazarene himself, before he accosted them, knelt suddenly down, and by his moving lips, and his eyes fixed steadfastly on the crucifix, Apaecides saw that he prayed inly. This rite performed, Olinthus turned to the congregation—'Men and brethren,' said he, 'start not to behold amongst you a priest of Isis; he hath sojourned with the blind, but the Spirit hath fallen on him—he desires to see, to hear, and to understand.'
'Let him,' said one of the assembly; and Apaecides beheld in the speaker a man still younger than himself, of a countenance equally worn and pallid, of an eye which equally spoke of the restless and fiery operations of a working mind.
'Let him,' repeated a second voice, and he who thus spoke was in the prime of manhood; his bronzed skin and Asiatic features bespoke him a son of Syria—he had been a robber in his youth.
'Let him,' said a third voice; and the priest, again turning to regard the speaker, saw an old man with a long grey beard, whom he recognized as a slave to the wealthy Diomed.
'Let him,' repeated simultaneously the rest—men who, with two exceptions, were evidently of the inferior ranks. In these exceptions, Apaecides noted an officer of the guard, and an Alexandrian merchant.
'We do not,' recommenced Olinthus—'we do not bind you to secrecy; we impose on you no oaths (as some of our weaker brethren would do) not to betray us. It is true, indeed, that there is no absolute law against us; but the multitude, more savage than their rulers, thirst for our lives. So, my friends, when Pilate would have hesitated, it was the people who shouted "Christ to the cross!" But we bind you not to our safety—no! Betray us to the crowd—impeach, calumniate, malign us if you will—we are above death, we should walk cheerfully to the den of the lion, or the rack of the torturer—we can trample down the darkness of the grave, and what is death to a criminal is eternity to the Christian.'
A low and applauding murmur ran through the assembly.
'Thou comest amongst us as an examiner, mayest thou remain a convert! Our religion? you behold it! Yon cross our sole image, yon scroll the mysteries of our Caere and Eleusis! Our morality? it is in our lives!—sinners we all have been; who now can accuse us of a crime? we have baptized ourselves from the past. Think not that this is of us, it is of God. Approach, Medon,' beckoning to the old slave who had spoken third for the admission of Apaecides, 'thou art the sole man amongst us who is not free. But in heaven, the last shall be first: so with us. Unfold your scroll, read and explain.'
Useless would it be for us to accompany the lecture of Medon, or the comments of the congregation. Familiar now are those doctrines, then strange and new. Eighteen centuries have left us little to expound upon the lore of Scripture or the life of Christ. To us, too, there would seem little congenial in the doubts that occurred to a heathen priest, and little learned in the answers they receive from men uneducated, rude, and simple, possessing only the knowledge that they were greater than they seemed.
There was one thing that greatly touched the Neapolitan: when the lecture was concluded, they heard a very gentle knock at the door; the password was given, and replied to; the door opened, and two young children, the eldest of whom might have told its seventh year, entered timidly; they were the children of the master of the house, that dark and hardy Syrian, whose youth had been spent in pillage and bloodshed. The eldest of the congregation (it was that old slave) opened to them his arms; they fled to the shelter—they crept to his breast—and his hard features smiled as he caressed them. And then these bold and fervent men, nursed in vicissitude, beaten by the rough winds of life—men of mailed and impervious fortitude, ready to affront a world, prepared for torment and armed for death—men, who presented all imaginable contrast to the weak nerves, the light hearts, the tender fragility of childhood, crowded round the infants, smoothing their rugged brows and composing their bearded lips to kindly and fostering smiles: and then the old man opened the scroll and he taught the infants to repeat after him that beautiful prayer which we still dedicate to the Lord, and still teach to our children; and then he told them, in simple phrase, of God's love to the young, and how not a sparrow falls but His eye sees it. This lovely custom of infant initiation was long cherished by the early Church, in memory of the words which said, 'Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not'; and was perhaps the origin of the superstitious calumny which ascribed to the Nazarenes the crime which the Nazarenes, when victorious, attributed to the Jew, viz. the decoying children to hideous rites, at which they were secretly immolated.
And the stern paternal penitent seemed to feel in the innocence of his children a return into early life—life ere yet it sinned: he followed the motion of their young lips with an earnest gaze; he smiled as they repeated, with hushed and reverent looks, the holy words: and when the lesson was done, and they ran, released, and gladly to his knee, he clasped them to his breast, kissed them again and again, and tears flowed fast down his cheek—tears, of which it would have been impossible to trace the source, so mingled they were with joy and sorrow, penitence and hope—remorse for himself and love for them!
Something, I say, there was in this scene which peculiarly affected Apaecides; and, in truth, it is difficult to conceive a ceremony more appropriate to the religion of benevolence, more appealing to the household and everyday affections, striking a more sensitive chord in the human breast.
It was at this time that an inner door opened gently, and a very old man entered the chamber, leaning on a staff. At his presence, the whole congregation rose; there was an expression of deep, affectionate respect upon every countenance; and Apaecides, gazing on his countenance, felt attracted towards him by an irresistible sympathy. No man ever looked upon that face without love; for there had dwelt the smile of the Deity, the incarnation of divinest love—and the glory of the smile had never passed away.
'My children, God be with you!' said the old man, stretching his arms; and as he spoke the infants ran to his knee. He sat down, and they nestled fondly to his bosom. It was beautiful to see that mingling of the extremes of life—the rivers gushing from their early source—the majestic stream gliding to the ocean of eternity! As the light of declining day seems to mingle earth and heaven, making the outline of each scarce visible, and blending the harsh mountain-tops with the sky, even so did the smile of that benign old age appear to hallow the aspect of those around, to blend together the strong distinctions of varying years, and to diffuse over infancy and manhood the light of that heaven into which it must so soon vanish and be lost.
'Father,' said Olinthus, 'thou on whose form the miracle of the Redeemer worked; thou who wert snatched from the grave to become the living witness of His mercy and His power; behold! a stranger in our meeting—a new lamb gathered to the fold!'
'Let me bless him,' said the old man: the throng gave way. Apaecides approached him as by an instinct: he fell on his knees before him—the old man laid his hand on the priest's head, and blessed him, but not aloud. As his lips moved, his eyes were upturned, and tears—those tears that good men only shed in the hope of happiness to another—flowed fast down his cheeks.
The children were on either side of the convert; his heart was theirs—he had become as one of them—to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
THE STREAM OF LOVE RUNS ON. WHITHER?
DAYS are like years in the love of the young, when no bar, no obstacle, is between their hearts—when the sun shines, and the course runs smooth—when their love is prosperous and confessed. Ione no longer concealed from Glaucus the attachment she felt for him, and their talk now was only of their love. Over the rapture of the present the hopes of the future glowed like the heaven above the gardens of spring. They went in their trustful thoughts far down the stream of time: they laid out the chart of their destiny to come; they suffered the light of to-day to suffuse the morrow. In the youth of their hearts it seemed as if care, and change, and death, were as things unknown. Perhaps they loved each other the more because the condition of the world left to Glaucus no aim and no wish but love; because the distractions common in free states to men's affections existed not for the Athenian; because his country wooed him not to the bustle of civil life; because ambition furnished no counterpoise to love: and, therefore, over their schemes and projects, love only reigned. In the iron age they imagined themselves of the golden, doomed only to live and to love.
To the superficial observer, who interests himself only in characters strongly marked and broadly colored, both the lovers may seem of too slight and commonplace a mould: in the delineation of characters purposely subdued, the reader sometimes imagines that there is a want of character; perhaps, indeed, I wrong the real nature of these two lovers by not painting more impressively their stronger individualities. But in dwelling so much on their bright and birdlike existence, I am influenced almost insensibly by the forethought of the changes that await them, and for which they were so ill prepared. It was this very softness and gaiety of life that contrasted most strongly the vicissitudes of their coming fate. For the oak without fruit or blossom, whose hard and rugged heart is fitted for the storm, there is less fear than for the delicate branches of the myrtle, and the laughing clusters of the vine.
They had now advanced far into August—the next month their marriage was fixed, and the threshold of Glaucus was already wreathed with garlands; and nightly, by the door of Ione, he poured forth the rich libations. He existed no longer for his gay companions; he was ever with Ione. In the mornings they beguiled the sun with music: in the evenings they forsook the crowded haunts of the gay for excursions on the water, or along the fertile and vine-clad plains that lay beneath the fatal mount of Vesuvius. The earth shook no more; the lively Pompeians forgot even that there had gone forth so terrible a warning of their approaching doom. Glaucus imagined that convulsion, in the vanity of his heathen religion, an especial interposition of the gods, less in behalf of his own safety than that of Ione. He offered up the sacrifices of gratitude at the temples of his faith; and even the altar of Isis was covered with his votive garlands—as to the prodigy of the animated marble, he blushed at the effect it had produced on him. He believed it, indeed, to have been wrought by the magic of man; but the result convinced him that it betokened not the anger of a goddess.
Of Arbaces, they heard only that he still lived; stretched on the bed of suffering, he recovered slowly from the effect of the shock he had sustained—he left the lovers unmolested—but it was only to brood over the hour and the method of revenge.
Alike in their mornings at the house of Ione, and in their evening excursions, Nydia was usually their constant, and often their sole companion. They did not guess the secret fires which consumed her—the abrupt freedom with which she mingled in their conversation—her capricious and often her peevish moods found ready indulgence in the recollection of the service they owed her, and their compassion for her affliction. They felt an interest in her, perhaps the greater and more affectionate from the very strangeness and waywardness of her nature, her singular alternations of passion and softness—the mixture of ignorance and genius—of delicacy and rudeness—of the quick humors of the child, and the proud calmness of the woman. Although she refused to accept of freedom, she was constantly suffered to be free; she went where she listed; no curb was put either on her words or actions; they felt for one so darkly fated, and so susceptible of every wound, the same pitying and compliant indulgence the mother feels for a spoiled and sickly child—dreading to impose authority, even where they imagined it for her benefit. She availed herself of this license by refusing the companionship of the slave whom they wished to attend her. With the slender staff by which she guided her steps, she went now, as in her former unprotected state, along the populous streets: it was almost miraculous to perceive how quickly and how dexterously she threaded every crowd, avoiding every danger, and could find her benighted way through the most intricate windings of the city. But her chief delight was still in visiting the few feet of ground which made the garden of Glaucus—in tending the flowers that at least repaid her love. Sometimes she entered the chamber where he sat, and sought a conversation, which she nearly always broke off abruptly—for conversation with Glaucus only tended to one subject—Ione; and that name from his lips inflicted agony upon her. Often she bitterly repented the service she had rendered to Ione: often she said inly, 'If she had fallen, Glaucus could have loved her no longer'; and then dark and fearful thoughts crept into her breast.
She had not experienced fully the trials that were in store for her, when she had been thus generous. She had never before been present when Glaucus and Ione were together; she had never heard that voice so kind to her, so much softer to another. The shock that crushed her heart with the tidings that Glaucus loved, had at first only saddened and benumbed—by degrees jealousy took a wilder and fiercer shape; it partook of hatred—it whispered revenge. As you see the wind only agitate the green leaf upon the bough, while the leaf which has lain withered and seared on the ground, bruised and trampled upon till the sap and life are gone, is suddenly whirled aloft—now here—now there—without stay and without rest; so the love which visits the happy and the hopeful hath but freshness on its wings! its violence is but sportive. But the heart that hath fallen from the green things of life, that is without hope, that hath no summer in its fibres, is torn and whirled by the same wind that but caresses its brethren—it hath no bough to cling to—it is dashed from path to path—till the winds fall, and it is crushed into the mire for ever.
The friendless childhood of Nydia had hardened prematurely her character; perhaps the heated scenes of profligacy through which she had passed, seemingly unscathed, had ripened her passions, though they had not sullied her purity. The orgies of Burbo might only have disgusted, the banquets of the Egyptian might only have terrified, at the moment; but the winds that pass unheeded over the soil leave seeds behind them. As darkness, too, favors the imagination, so, perhaps, her very blindness contributed to feed with wild and delirious visions the love of the unfortunate girl. The voice of Glaucus had been the first that had sounded musically to her ear; his kindness made a deep impression upon her mind; when he had left Pompeii in the former year, she had treasured up in her heart every word he had uttered; and when any one told her that this friend and patron of the poor flower-girl was the most brilliant and the most graceful of the young revellers of Pompeii, she had felt a pleasing pride in nursing his recollection. Even the task which she imposed upon herself, of tending his flowers, served to keep him in her mind; she associated him with all that was most charming to her impressions; and when she had refused to express what image she fancied Ione to resemble, it was partly, perhaps, that whatever was bright and soft in nature she had already combined with the thought of Glaucus. If any of my readers ever loved at an age which they would now smile to remember—an age in which fancy forestalled the reason, let them say whether that love, among all its strange and complicated delicacies, was not, above all other and later passions, susceptible of jealousy? I seek not here the cause: I know that it is commonly the fact.
When Glaucus returned to Pompeii, Nydia had told another year of life; that year, with its sorrows, its loneliness, its trials, had greatly developed her mind and heart; and when the Athenian drew her unconsciously to his breast, deeming her still in soul as in years a child—when he kissed her smooth cheek, and wound his arm round her trembling frame, Nydia felt suddenly, and as by revelation, that those feelings she had long and innocently cherished were of love. Doomed to be rescued from tyranny by Glaucus—doomed to take shelter under his roof—doomed to breathe, but for so brief a time, the same air—and doomed, in the first rush of a thousand happy, grateful, delicious sentiments of an overflowing heart, to hear that he loved another; to be commissioned to that other, the messenger, the minister; to feel all at once that utter nothingness which she was—which she ever must be, but which, till then, her young mind had not taught her—that utter nothingness to him who was all to her; what wonder that, in her wild and passionate soul, all the elements jarred discordant; that if love reigned over the whole, it was not the love which is born of the more sacred and soft emotions? Sometimes she dreaded only lest Glaucus should discover her secret; sometimes she felt indignant that it was not suspected: it was a sign of contempt—could he imagine that she presumed so far? Her feelings to Ione ebbed and flowed with every hour; now she loved her because he did; now she hated him for the same cause. There were moments when she could have murdered her unconscious mistress; moments when she could have laid down life for her. These fierce and tremulous alternations of passion were too severe to be borne long. Her health gave way, though she felt it not—her cheek paled—her step grew feebler—tears came to her eyes more often, and relieved her less.
One morning, when she repaired to her usual task in the garden of the Athenian, she found Glaucus under the columns of the peristyle, with a merchant of the town; he was selecting jewels for his destined bride. He had already fitted up her apartment; the jewels he bought that day were placed also within it—they were never fated to grace the fair form of Ione; they may be seen at this day among the disinterred treasures of Pompeii, in the chambers of the studio at Naples.
'Come hither, Nydia; put down thy vase, and come hither. Thou must take this chain from me—stay—there, I have put it on. There, Servilius, does it not become her?'
'Wonderfully!' answered the jeweller; for jewellers were well-bred and flattering men, even at that day. 'But when these ear-rings glitter in the ears of the noble Ione, then, by Bacchus! you will see whether my art adds anything to beauty.'
'Ione?' repeated Nydia, who had hitherto acknowledged by smiles and blushes the gift of Glaucus.
'Yes,' replied the Athenian, carelessly toying with the gems; 'I am choosing a present for Ione, but there are none worthy of her.'
He was startled as he spoke by an abrupt gesture of Nydia; she tore the chain violently from her neck, and dashed it on the ground.
'How is this? What, Nydia, dost thou not like the bauble? art thou offended?'
'You treat me ever as a slave and as a child,' replied the Thessalian, with ill-suppressed sobs, and she turned hastily away to the opposite corner of the garden.
Glaucus did not attempt to follow, or to soothe; he was offended; he continued to examine the jewels and to comment on their fashion—to object to this and to praise that, and finally to be talked by the merchant into buying all; the safest plan for a lover, and a plan that any one will do right to adopt, provided always that he can obtain an Ione!
When he had completed his purchase and dismissed the jeweller, he retired into his chamber, dressed, mounted his chariot, and went to Ione. He thought no more of the blind girl, or her offence; he had forgotten both the one and the other.