He spent the forenoon with his beautiful Neapolitan, repaired thence to the baths, supped (if, as we have said before, we can justly so translate the three o'clock coena of the Romans) alone, and abroad, for Pompeii had its restaurateurs—and returning home to change his dress ere he again repaired to the house of Ione, he passed the peristyle, but with the absorbed reverie and absent eyes of a man in love, and did not note the form of the poor blind girl, bending exactly in the same place where he had left her. But though he saw her not, her ear recognized at once the sound of his step. She had been counting the moments to his return. He had scarcely entered his favorite chamber, which opened on the peristyle, and seated himself musingly on his couch, when he felt his robe timorously touched, and, turning, he beheld Nydia kneeling before him, and holding up to him a handful of flowers—a gentle and appropriate peace-offering—her eyes, darkly upheld to his own, streamed with tears.
'I have offended thee,' said she, sobbing, 'and for the first time. I would die rather than cause thee a moment's pain—say that thou wilt forgive me. See! I have taken up the chain; I have put it on: I will never part from it—it is thy gift.'
'My dear Nydia,' returned Glaucus, and raising her, he kissed her forehead, 'think of it no more! But why, my child, wert thou so suddenly angry? I could not divine the cause?'
'Do not ask!' said she, coloring violently. 'I am a thing full of faults and humors; you know I am but a child—you say so often: is it from a child that you can expect a reason for every folly?'
'But, prettiest, you will soon be a child no more; and if you would have us treat you as a woman, you must learn to govern these singular impulses and gales of passion. Think not I chide: no, it is for your happiness only I speak.'
'It is true,' said Nydia, 'I must learn to govern myself I must bide, I must suppress, my heart. This is a woman's task and duty; methinks her virtue is hypocrisy.'
'Self-control is not deceit, my Nydia,' returned the Athenian; and that is the virtue necessary alike to man and to woman; it is the true senatorial toga, the badge of the dignity it covers!'
'Self-control! self-control! Well, well, what you say is right! When I listen to you, Glaucus, my wildest thoughts grow calm and sweet, and a delicious serenity falls over me. Advise, ah! guide me ever, my preserver!'
'Thy affectionate heart will be thy best guide, Nydia, when thou hast learned to regulate its feelings.'
'Ah! that will be never,' sighed Nydia, wiping away her tears.
'Say not so: the first effort is the only difficult one.'
'I have made many first efforts,' answered Nydia, innocently. 'But you, my Mentor, do you find it so easy to control yourself? Can you conceal, can you even regulate, your love for Ione?'
'Love! dear Nydia: ah! that is quite another matter,' answered the young preceptor.
'I thought so!' returned Nydia, with a melancholy smile. 'Glaucus, wilt thou take my poor flowers? Do with them as thou wilt—thou canst give them to Ione,' added she, with a little hesitation.
'Nay, Nydia,' answered Glaucus, kindly, divining something of jealousy in her language, though he imagined it only the jealousy of a vain and susceptible child; 'I will not give thy pretty flowers to any one. Sit here and weave them into a garland; I will wear it this night: it is not the first those delicate fingers have woven for me.'
The poor girl delightedly sat down beside Glaucus. She drew from her girdle a ball of the many-colored threads, or rather slender ribands, used in the weaving of garlands, and which (for it was her professional occupation) she carried constantly with her, and began quickly and gracefully to commence her task. Upon her young cheeks the tears were already dried, a faint but happy smile played round her lips—childlike, indeed, she was sensible only of the joy of the present hour: she was reconciled to Glaucus: he had forgiven her—she was beside him—he played caressingly with her silken hair—his breath fanned her cheek—Ione, the cruel Ione, was not by—none other demanded, divided, his care. Yes, she was happy and forgetful; it was one of the few moments in her brief and troubled life that it was sweet to treasure, to recall. As the butterfly, allured by the winter sun, basks for a little in the sudden light, ere yet the wind awakes and the frost comes on, which shall blast it before the eve—she rested beneath a beam, which, by contrast with the wonted skies, was not chilling; and the instinct which should have warned her of its briefness, bade her only gladden in its smile.
'Thou hast beautiful locks,' said Glaucus. 'They were once, I ween well, a mother's delight.'
Nydia sighed; it would seem that she had not been born a slave; but she ever shunned the mention of her parentage, and, whether obscure or noble, certain it is that her birth was never known by her benefactors, nor by any one in those distant shores, even to the last. The child of sorrow and of mystery, she came and went as some bird that enters our chamber for a moment; we see it flutter for a while before us, we know not whence it flew or to what region it escapes.
Nydia sighed, and after a short pause, without answering the remark, said: 'But do I weave too many roses in my wreath, Glaucus? They tell me it is thy favorite flower.'
'And ever favored, my Nydia, be it by those who have the soul of poetry: it is the flower of love, of festival; it is also the flower we dedicate to silence and to death; it blooms on our brows in life, while life be worth the having; it is scattered above our sepulchre when we are no more.'
'Ah! would,' said Nydia, 'instead of this perishable wreath, that I could take thy web from the hand of the Fates, and insert the roses there!'
'Pretty one! thy wish is worthy of a voice so attuned to song; it is uttered in the spirit of song; and, whatever my doom, I thank thee.'
'Whatever thy doom! is it not already destined to all things bright and fair? My wish was vain. The Fates will be as tender to thee as I should.'
'It might not be so, Nydia, were it not for love! While youth lasts, I may forget my country for a while. But what Athenian, in his graver manhood, can think of Athens as she was, and be contented that he is happy, while she is fallen?—fallen, and for ever?'
'And why for ever?'
'As ashes cannot be rekindled—as love once dead can never revive, so freedom departed from a people is never regained. But talk we not of these matters unsuited to thee.'
'To me, oh! thou errest. I, too, have my sighs for Greece; my cradle was rocked at the foot of Olympus; the gods have left the mountain, but their traces may be seen—seen in the hearts of their worshippers, seen in the beauty of their clime: they tell me it is beautiful, and I have felt its airs, to which even these are harsh—its sun, to which these skies are chill. Oh! talk to me of Greece! Poor fool that I am, I can comprehend thee! and methinks, had I yet lingered on those shores, had I been a Grecian maid whose happy fate it was to love and to be loved, I myself could have armed my lover for another Marathon, a new Plataea. Yes, the hand that now weaves the roses should have woven thee the olive crown!'
'If such a day could come!' said Glaucus, catching the enthusiasm of the blind Thessalian, and half rising.—'But no! the sun has set, and the night only bids us be forgetful—and in forgetfulness be gay—weave still the roses!'
But it was with a melancholy tone of forced gaiety that the Athenian uttered the last words: and sinking into a gloomy reverie, he was only wakened from it, a few minutes afterwards, by the voice of Nydia, as she sang in a low tone the following words, which he had once taught her:—
THE APOLOGY FOR PLEASURE
Who will assume the bays That the hero wore? Wreaths on the Tomb of Days Gone evermore! Who shall disturb the brave, Or one leaf on their holy grave? The laurel is vowed to them, Leave the bay on its sacred stem! But this, the rose, the fading rose, Alike for slave and freeman grows.
If Memory sit beside the dead With tombs her only treasure; If Hope is lost and Freedom fled, The more excuse for Pleasure. Come, weave the wreath, the roses weave, The rose at least is ours: To feeble hearts our fathers leave, In pitying scorn, the flowers!
On the summit, worn and hoary, Of Phyle's solemn hill, The tramp of the brave is still! And still in the saddening Mart, The pulse of that mighty heart, Whose very blood was glory! Glaucopis forsakes her own, The angry gods forget us; But yet, the blue streams along, Walk the feet of the silver Song; And the night-bird wakes the moon; And the bees in the blushing noon Haunt the heart of the old Hymettus. We are fallen, but not forlorn, If something is left to cherish; As Love was the earliest born, So Love is the last to perish.
Wreathe then the roses, wreathe The BEAUTIFUL still is ours, While the stream shall flow and the sky shall glow, The BEAUTIFUL still is ours! Whatever is fair, or soft, or bright, In the lap of day or the arms of night, Whispers our soul of Greece—of Greece, And hushes our care with a voice of peace. Wreathe then the roses, wreathe! They tell me of earlier hours; And I hear the heart of my Country breathe From the lips of the Stranger's flowers.
NYDIA ENCOUNTERS JULIA. INTERVIEW OF THE HEATHEN SISTER AND CONVERTED BROTHER. AN ATHENIAN'S NOTION OF CHRISTIANITY.
'WHAT happiness to Ione! what bliss to be ever by the side of Glaucus, to hear his voice!—And she too can see him!'
Such was the soliloquy of the blind girl, as she walked alone and at twilight to the house of her new mistress, whither Glaucus had already preceded her. Suddenly she was interrupted in her fond thoughts by a female voice.
'Blind flower-girl, whither goest thou? There is no pannier under thine arm; hast thou sold all thy flowers?'
The person thus accosting Nydia was a lady of a handsome but a bold and unmaidenly countenance: it was Julia, the daughter of Diomed. Her veil was half raised as she spoke; she was accompanied by Diomed himself, and by a slave carrying a lantern before them—the merchant and his daughter were returning home from a supper at one of their neighbors'.
'Dost thou not remember my voice?' continued Julia. 'I am the daughter of Diomed the wealthy.'
'Ah! forgive me; yes, I recall the tones of your voice. No, noble Julia, I have no flowers to sell.'
'I heard that thou wert purchased by the beautiful Greek Glaucus; is that true, pretty slave?' asked Julia.
'I serve the Neapolitan, Ione,' replied Nydia, evasively.
'Ah! and it is true, then...'
'Come, come!' interrupted Diomed, with his cloak up to his mouth, 'the night grows cold; I cannot stay here while you prate to that blind girl: come, let her follow you home, if you wish to speak to her.'
'Do, child,' said Julia, with the air of one not accustomed to be refused; 'I have much to ask of thee: come.'
'I cannot this night, it grows late,' answered Nydia. 'I must be at home; I am not free, noble Julia.'
'What, the meek Ione will chide thee?—Ay, I doubt not she is a second Thalestris. But come, then, to-morrow: do—remember I have been thy friend of old.'
'I will obey thy wishes,' answered Nydia; and Diomed again impatiently summoned his daughter: she was obliged to proceed, with the main question she had desired to put to Nydia unasked.
Meanwhile we return to Ione. The interval of time that had elapsed that day between the first and second visit of Glaucus had not been too gaily spent: she had received a visit from her brother. Since the night he had assisted in saving her from the Egyptian, she had not before seen him.
Occupied with his own thoughts—thoughts of so serious and intense a nature—the young priest had thought little of his sister; in truth, men, perhaps of that fervent order of mind which is ever aspiring above earth, are but little prone to the earthlier affections; and it had been long since Apaecides had sought those soft and friendly interchanges of thought, those sweet confidences, which in his earlier youth had bound him to Ione, and which are so natural to that endearing connection which existed between them.
Ione, however, had not ceased to regret his estrangement: she attributed it, at present, to the engrossing duties of his severe fraternity. And often, amidst all her bright hopes, and her new attachment to her betrothed—often, when she thought of her brother's brow prematurely furrowed, his unsmiling lip, and bended frame, she sighed to think that the service of the gods could throw so deep a shadow over that earth which the gods created.
But this day when he visited her there was a strange calmness on his features, a more quiet and self-possessed expression in his sunken eyes, than she had marked for years. This apparent improvement was but momentary—it was a false calm, which the least breeze could ruffle.
'May the gods bless thee, my brother!' said she, embracing him.
'The gods! Speak not thus vaguely; perchance there is but one God!'
'What if the sublime faith of the Nazarene be true? What if God be a monarch—One—Invisible—Alone? What if these numerous, countless deities, whose altars fill the earth, be but evil demons, seeking to wean us from the true creed? This may be the case, Ione!'
'Alas! can we believe it? or if we believed, would it not be a melancholy faith answered the Neapolitan. 'What! all this beautiful world made only human!—mountain disenchanted of its Oread—the waters of their Nymph—that beautiful prodigality of faith, which makes everything divine, consecrating the meanest flowers, bearing celestial whispers in the faintest breeze—wouldst thou deny this, and make the earth mere dust and clay? No, Apaecides: all that is brightest in our hearts is that very credulity which peoples the universe with gods.'
Ione answered as a believer in the poesy of the old mythology would answer. We may judge by that reply how obstinate and hard the contest which Christianity had to endure among the heathens. The Graceful Superstition was never silent; every, the most household, action of their lives was entwined with it—it was a portion of life itself, as the flowers are a part of the thyrsus. At every incident they recurred to a god, every cup of wine was prefaced by a libation; the very garlands on their thresholds were dedicated to some divinity; their ancestors themselves, made holy, presided as Lares over their hearth and hall. So abundant was belief with them, that in their own climes, at this hour, idolatry has never thoroughly been outrooted: it changes but its objects of worship; it appeals to innumerable saints where once it resorted to divinities; and it pours its crowds, in listening reverence, to oracles at the shrines of St. Januarius or St. Stephen, instead of to those of Isis or Apollo.
But these superstitions were not to the early Christians the object of contempt so much as of horror. They did not believe, with the quiet scepticism of the heathen philosopher, that the gods were inventions of the priests; nor even, with the vulgar, that, according to the dim light of history, they had been mortals like themselves. They imagined the heathen divinities to be evil spirits—they transplanted to Italy and to Greece the gloomy demons of India and the East; and in Jupiter or in Mars they shuddered at the representative of Moloch or of Satan.
Apaecides had not yet adopted formally the Christian faith, but he was already on the brink of it. He already participated the doctrines of Olinthus—he already imagined that the lively imaginations of the heathen were the suggestions of the arch-enemy of mankind. The innocent and natural answer of Ione made him shudder. He hastened to reply vehemently, and yet so confusedly, that Ione feared for his reason more than she dreaded his violence.
'Ah, my brother!' said she, 'these hard duties of thine have shattered thy very sense. Come to me, Apaecides, my brother, my own brother; give me thy hand, let me wipe the dew from thy brow—chide me not now, I understand thee not; think only that Ione could not offend thee!'
'Ione,' said Apaecides, drawing her towards him, and regarding her tenderly, 'can I think that this beautiful form, this kind heart, may be destined to an eternity of torment?'
'Dii meliora! the gods forbid!' said Ione, in the customary form of words by which her contemporaries thought an omen might be averted.
The words, and still more the superstition they implied, wounded the ear of Apaecides. He rose, muttering to himself, turned from the chamber, then, stopping, half way, gazed wistfully on Ione, and extended his arms.
Ione flew to them in joy; he kissed her earnestly, and then he said:
'Farewell, my sister! when we next meet, thou mayst be to me as nothing; take thou, then, this embrace—full yet of all the tender reminiscences of childhood, when faith and hope, creeds, customs, interests, objects, were the same to us. Now, the tie is to be broken!'
With these strange words he left the house.
The great and severest trial of the primitive Christians was indeed this; their conversion separated them from their dearest bonds. They could not associate with beings whose commonest actions, whose commonest forms of speech, were impregnated with idolatry. They shuddered at the blessing of love, to their ears it was uttered in a demon's name. This, their misfortune, was their strength; if it divided them from the rest of the world, it was to unite them proportionally to each other. They were men of iron who wrought forth the Word of God, and verily the bonds that bound them were of iron also!
Glaucus found Ione in tears; he had already assumed the sweet privilege to console. He drew from her a recital of her interview with her brother; but in her confused account of language, itself so confused to one not prepared for it, he was equally at a loss with Ione to conceive the intentions or the meaning of Apaecides.
'Hast thou ever heard much,' asked she, 'of this new sect of the Nazarenes, of which my brother spoke?'
'I have often heard enough of the votaries,' returned Glaucus, 'but of their exact tenets know I naught, save that in their doctrine there seemeth something preternaturally chilling and morose. They live apart from their kind; they affect to be shocked even at our simple uses of garlands; they have no sympathies with the cheerful amusements of life; they utter awful threats of the coming destruction of the world; they appear, in one word, to have brought their unsmiling and gloomy creed out of the cave of Trophonius. Yet,' continued Glaucus, after a slight pause, 'they have not wanted men of great power and genius, nor converts, even among the Areopagites of Athens. Well do I remember to have heard my father speak of one strange guest at Athens, many years ago; methinks his name was PAUL. My father was amongst a mighty crowd that gathered on one of our immemorial hills to hear this sage of the East expound: through the wide throng there rang not a single murmur!—the jest and the roar, with which our native orators are received, were hushed for him—and when on the loftiest summit of that hill, raised above the breathless crowd below, stood this mysterious visitor, his mien and his countenance awed every heart, even before a sound left his lips. He was a man, I have heard my father say, of no tall stature, but of noble and impressive mien; his robes were dark and ample; the declining sun, for it was evening, shone aslant upon his form as it rose aloft, motionless, and commanding; his countenance was much worn and marked, as of one who had braved alike misfortune and the sternest vicissitude of many climes; but his eyes were bright with an almost unearthly fire; and when he raised his arm to speak, it was with the majesty of a man into whom the Spirit of a God hath rushed!
'"Men of Athens!" he is reported to have said, "I find amongst ye an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Ye worship in ignorance the same Deity I serve. To you unknown till now, to you be it now revealed."
'Then declared that solemn man how this great Maker of all things, who had appointed unto man his several tribes and his various homes—the Lord of earth and the universal heaven, dwelt not in temples made with hands; that His presence, His spirit, were in the air we breathed—our life and our being were with Him. "Think you," he cried, "that the Invisible is like your statues of gold and marble? Think you that He needeth sacrifice from you: He who made heaven and earth?" Then spoke he of fearful and coming times, of the end of the world, of a second rising of the dead, whereof an assurance had been given to man in the resurrection of the mighty Being whose religion he came to preach.
'When he thus spoke, the long-pent murmur went forth, and the philosophers that were mingled with the people, muttered their sage contempt; there might you have seen the chilling frown of the Stoic, and the Cynic's sneer; and the Epicurean, who believeth not even in our own Elysium, muttered a pleasant jest, and swept laughing through the crowd: but the deep heart of the people was touched and thrilled; and they trembled, though they knew not why, for verily the stranger had the voice and majesty of a man to whom "The Unknown God" had committed the preaching of His faith.'
Ione listened with wrapt attention, and the serious and earnest manner of the narrator betrayed the impression that he himself had received from one who had been amongst the audience that on the hill of the heathen Mars had heard the first tidings of the word of Christ!
THE PORTER. THE GIRL. AND THE GLADIATOR.
THE door of Diomed's house stood open, and Medon, the old slave, sat at the bottom of the steps by which you ascended to the mansion. That luxurious mansion of the rich merchant of Pompeii is still to be seen just without the gates of the city, at the commencement of the Street of Tombs; it was a gay neighborhood, despite the dead. On the opposite side, but at some yards nearer the gate, was a spacious hostelry, at which those brought by business or by pleasure to Pompeii often stopped to refresh themselves. In the space before the entrance of the inn now stood wagons, and carts, and chariots, some just arrived, some just quitting, in all the bustle of an animated and popular resort of public entertainment. Before the door, some farmers, seated on a bench by a small circular table, were talking over their morning cups, on the affairs of their calling. On the side of the door itself was painted gaily and freshly the eternal sign of the chequers. By the roof of the inn stretched a terrace, on which some females, wives of the farmers above mentioned, were, some seated, some leaning over the railing, and conversing with their friends below. In a deep recess, at a little distance, was a covered seat, in which some two or three poorer travellers were resting themselves, and shaking the dust from their garments. On the other side stretched a wide space, originally the burial-ground of a more ancient race than the present denizens of Pompeii, and now converted into the Ustrinum, or place for the burning of the dead. Above this rose the terraces of a gay villa, half hid by trees. The tombs themselves, with their graceful and varied shapes, the flowers and the foliage that surrounded them, made no melancholy feature in the prospect. Hard by the gate of the city, in a small niche, stood the still form of the well-disciplined Roman sentry, the sun shining brightly on his polished crest, and the lance on which he leaned. The gate itself was divided into three arches, the centre one for vehicles, the others for the foot-passengers; and on either side rose the massive walls which girt the city, composed, patched, repaired at a thousand different epochs, according as war, time, or the earthquake had shattered that vain protection. At frequent intervals rose square towers, whose summits broke in picturesque rudeness the regular line of the wall, and contrasted well with the modern buildings gleaming whitely by.
The curving road, which in that direction leads from Pompeii to Herculaneum, wound out of sight amidst hanging vines, above which frowned the sullen majesty of Vesuvius.
'Hast thou heard the news, old Medon?' said a young woman, with a pitcher in her hand, as she paused by Diomed's door to gossip a moment with the slave, ere she repaired to the neighboring inn to fill the vessel, and coquet with the travellers.
'The news! what news?' said the slave, raising his eyes moodily from the ground.
'Why, there passed through the gate this morning, no doubt ere thou wert well awake, such a visitor to Pompeii!'
'Ay,' said the slave, indifferently.
'Yes, a present from the noble Pomponianus.'
'A present! I thought thou saidst a visitor?'
'It is both visitor and present. Know, O dull and stupid! that it is a most beautiful young tiger, for our approaching games in the amphitheatre. Hear you that, Medon? Oh, what pleasure! I declare I shall not sleep a wink till I see it; they say it has such a roar!'
'Poor fool!' said Medon, sadly and cynically.
'Fool me no fool, old churl! It is a pretty thing, a tiger, especially if we could but find somebody for him to eat. We have now a lion and a tiger; only consider that, Medon! and for want of two good criminals perhaps we shall be forced to see them eat each other. By-the-by, your son is a gladiator, a handsome man and a strong, can you not persuade him to fight the tiger? Do now, you would oblige me mightily; nay, you would be a benefactor to the whole town.'
'Vah! vah!' said the slave, with great asperity; 'think of thine own danger ere thou thus pratest of my poor boy's death.'
'My own danger!' said the girl, frightened and looking hastily around—'Avert the omen! let thy words fall on thine own head!' And the girl, as she spoke, touched a talisman suspended round her neck. '"Thine own danger!" what danger threatens me?'
'Had the earthquake but a few nights since no warning?' said Medon. 'Has it not a voice? Did it not say to us all, "Prepare for death; the end of all things is at hand?"'
'Bah, stuff!' said the young woman, settling the folds of her tunic. 'Now thou talkest as they say the Nazarenes talked—methinks thou art one of them. Well, I can prate with thee, grey croaker, no more: thou growest worse and worse—Vale! O Hercules, send us a man for the lion—and another for the tiger!'
Ho! ho! for the merry, merry show, With a forest of faces in every row! Lo, the swordsmen, bold as the son of Alcmena, Sweep, side by side, o'er the hushed arena; Talk while you may—you will hold your breath When they meet in the grasp of the glowing death. Tramp, tramp, how gaily they go! Ho! ho! for the merry, merry show!
Chanting in a silver and clear voice this feminine ditty, and holding up her tunic from the dusty road, the young woman stepped lightly across to the crowded hostelry.
'My poor son!' said the slave, half aloud, 'is it for things like this thou art to be butchered? Oh! faith of Christ, I could worship thee in all sincerity, were it but for the horror which thou inspirest for these bloody lists.'
The old man's head sank dejectedly on his breast. He remained silent and absorbed, but every now and then with the corner of his sleeve he wiped his eyes. His heart was with his son; he did not see the figure that now approached from the gate with a quick step, and a somewhat fierce and reckless gait and carriage. He did not lift his eyes till the figure paused opposite the place where he sat, and with a soft voice addressed him by the name of:
'My boy! my Lydon! is it indeed thou?' said the old man, joyfully. 'Ah, thou wert present to my thoughts.'
'I am glad to hear it, my father,' said the gladiator, respectfully touching the knees and beard of the slave; 'and soon may I be always present with thee, not in thought only.'
'Yes, my son—but not in this world,' replied the slave, mournfully.
'Talk not thus, O my sire! look cheerfully, for I feel so—I am sure that I shall win the day; and then, the gold I gain buys thy freedom. Oh! my father, it was but a few days since that I was taunted, by one, too, whom I would gladly have undeceived, for he is more generous than the rest of his equals. He is not Roman—he is of Athens—by him I was taunted with the lust of gain—when I demanded what sum was the prize of victory. Alas! he little knew the soul of Lydon!'
'My boy! my boy!' said the old slave, as, slowly ascending the steps, he conducted his son to his own little chamber, communicating with the entrance hall (which in this villa was the peristyle, not the atrium)—you may see it now; it is the third door to the right on entering. (The first door conducts to the staircase; the second is but a false recess, in which there stood a statue of bronze.) 'Generous, affectionate, pious as are thy motives,' said Medon, when they were thus secured from observation, 'thy deed itself is guilt: thou art to risk thy blood for thy father's freedom—that might be forgiven; but the prize of victory is the blood of another. Oh, that is a deadly sin; no object can purify it. Forbear! forbear! rather would I be a slave for ever than purchase liberty on such terms!'
'Hush, my father!' replied Lydon, somewhat impatiently; 'thou hast picked up in this new creed of thine, of which I pray thee not to speak to me, for the gods that gave me strength denied me wisdom, and I understand not one word of what thou often preachest to me—thou hast picked up, I say, in this new creed, some singular fantasies of right and wrong. Pardon me if I offend thee: but reflect! Against whom shall I contend? Oh! couldst thou know those wretches with whom, for thy sake, I assort, thou wouldst think I purified earth by removing one of them. Beasts, whose very lips drop blood; things, all savage, unprincipled in their very courage: ferocious, heartless, senseless; no tie of life can bind them: they know not fear, it is true—but neither know they gratitude, nor charity, nor love; they are made but for their own career, to slaughter without pity, to die without dread! Can thy gods, whosoever they be, look with wrath on a conflict with such as these, and in such a cause? Oh, My father, wherever the powers above gaze down on earth, they behold no duty so sacred, so sanctifying, as the sacrifice offered to an aged parent by the piety of a grateful son!'
The poor old slave, himself deprived of the lights of knowledge, and only late a convert to the Christian faith, knew not with what arguments to enlighten an ignorance at once so dark, and yet so beautiful in its error. His first impulse was to throw himself on his son's breast—his next to start away to wring his hands; and in the attempt to reprove, his broken voice lost itself in weeping.
'And if,' resumed Lydon—'if thy Deity (methinks thou wilt own but one?) be indeed that benevolent and pitying Power which thou assertest Him to be, He will know also that thy very faith in Him first confirmed me in that determination thou blamest.'
'How! what mean you?' said the slave.
'Why, thou knowest that I, sold in my childhood as a slave, was set free at Rome by the will of my master, whom I had been fortunate enough to please. I hastened to Pompeii to see thee—I found thee already aged and infirm, under the yoke of a capricious and pampered lord—thou hadst lately adopted this new faith, and its adoption made thy slavery doubly painful to thee; it took away all the softening charm of custom, which reconciles us so often to the worst. Didst thou not complain to me that thou wert compelled to offices that were not odious to thee as a slave, but guilty as a Nazarene? Didst thou not tell me that thy soul shook with remorse when thou wert compelled to place even a crumb of cake before the Lares that watch over yon impluvium? that thy soul was torn by a perpetual struggle? Didst thou not tell me that even by pouring wine before the threshold, and calling on the name of some Grecian deity, thou didst fear thou wert incurring penalties worse than those of Tantalus, an eternity of tortures more terrible than those of the Tartarian fields? Didst thou not tell me this? I wondered, I could not comprehend; nor, by Hercules! can I now: but I was thy son, and my sole task was to compassionate and relieve. Could I hear thy groans, could I witness thy mysterious horrors, thy constant anguish, and remain inactive? No! by the immortal gods! the thought struck me like light from Olympus! I had no money, but I had strength and youth—these were thy gifts—I could sell these in my turn for thee! I learned the amount of thy ransom—I learned that the usual prize of a victorious gladiator would doubly pay it. I became a gladiator—I linked myself with those accursed men, scorning, loathing, while I joined—I acquired their skill—blessed be the lesson!—it shall teach me to free my father!'
'Oh, that thou couldst hear Olinthus!' sighed the old man, more and more affected by the virtue of his son, but not less strongly convinced of the criminality of his purpose.
'I will hear the whole world talk if thou wilt,' answered the gladiator, gaily; 'but not till thou art a slave no more. Beneath thy own roof, my father, thou shalt puzzle this dull brain all day long, ay, and all night too, if it give thee pleasure. Oh, such a spot as I have chalked out for thee!—it is one of the nine hundred and ninety-nine shops of old Julia Felix, in the sunny part of the city, where thou mayst bask before the door in the day—and I will sell the oil and the wine for thee, my father—and then, please Venus (or if it does not please her, since thou lovest not her name, it is all one to Lydon)—then, I say, perhaps thou mayst have a daughter, too, to tend thy grey hairs, and hear shrill voices at thy knee, that shall call thee "Lydon's father!" Ah! we shall be so happy—the prize can purchase all. Cheer thee! cheer up, my sire!—And now I must away—day wears—the lanista waits me. Come! thy blessing!'
As Lydon thus spoke, he had already quitted the dark chamber of his father; and speaking eagerly, though in a whispered tone, they now stood at the same place in which we introduced the porter at his post.
'O bless thee! bless thee, my brave boy!' said Medon, fervently; 'and may the great Power that reads all hearts see the nobleness of thine, and forgive its error!'
The tall shape of the gladiator passed swiftly down the path; the eyes of the slave followed its light but stately steps, till the last glimpse was gone; and then, sinking once more on his seat, his eyes again fastened themselves on the ground. His form, mute and unmoving, as a thing of stone. His heart!—who, in our happier age, can even imagine its struggles—its commotion?
'May I enter?' said a sweet voice. 'Is thy mistress Julia within?'
The slave mechanically motioned to the visitor to enter, but she who addressed him could not see the gesture—she repeated her question timidly, but in a louder voice.
'Have I not told thee!' said the slave, peevishly: 'enter.'
'Thanks,' said the speaker, plaintively; and the slave, roused by the tone, looked up, and recognized the blind flower-girl. Sorrow can sympathize with affliction—he raised himself, and guided her steps to the head of the adjacent staircase (by which you descended to Julia's apartment), where, summoning a female slave, he consigned to her the charge of the blind girl.
THE DRESSING-ROOM OF A POMPEIAN BEAUTY. IMPORTANT CONVERSATION BETWEEN JULIA AND NYDIA.
THE elegant Julia sat in her chamber, with her slaves around her—like the cubiculum which adjoined it, the room was small, but much larger than the usual apartments appropriated to sleep, which were so diminutive, that few who have not seen the bed-chambers, even in the gayest mansions, can form any notion of the petty pigeon-holes in which the citizens of Pompeii evidently thought it desirable to pass the night. But, in fact, 'bed' with the ancients was not that grave, serious, and important part of domestic mysteries which it is with us. The couch itself was more like a very narrow and small sofa, light enough to be transported easily, and by the occupant himself, from place to place; and it was, no doubt, constantly shifted from chamber to chamber, according to the caprice of the inmate, or the changes of the season; for that side of the house which was crowded in one month, might, perhaps, be carefully avoided in the next. There was also among the Italians of that period a singular and fastidious apprehension of too much daylight; their darkened chambers, which first appear to us the result of a negligent architecture, were the effect of the most elaborate study. In their porticoes and gardens they courted the sun whenever it so pleased their luxurious tastes. In the interior of their houses they sought rather the coolness and the shade.
Julia's apartment at that season was in the lower part of the house, immediately beneath the state rooms above, and looking upon the garden, with which it was on a level. The wide door, which was glazed, alone admitted the morning rays: yet her eye, accustomed to a certain darkness, was sufficiently acute to perceive exactly what colors were the most becoming—what shade of the delicate rouge gave the brightest beam to her dark glance, and the most youthful freshness to her cheek.
On the table, before which she sat, was a small and circular mirror of the most polished steel: round which, in precise order, were ranged the cosmetics and the unguents—the perfumes and the paints—the jewels and combs—the ribands and the gold pins, which were destined to add to the natural attractions of beauty the assistance of art and the capricious allurements of fashion. Through the dimness of the room glowed brightly the vivid and various colourings of the wall, in all the dazzling frescoes of Pompeian taste. Before the dressing-table, and under the feet of Julia, was spread a carpet, woven from the looms of the East. Near at hand, on another table, was a silver basin and ewer; an extinguished lamp, of most exquisite workmanship, in which the artist had represented a Cupid reposing under the spreading branches of a myrtle-tree; and a small roll of papyrus, containing the softest elegies of Tibullus. Before the door, which communicated with the cubiculum, hung a curtain richly broidered with gold flowers. Such was the dressing-room of a beauty eighteen centuries ago.
The fair Julia leaned indolently back on her seat, while the ornatrix (i.e. hairdresser) slowly piled, one above the other, a mass of small curls, dexterously weaving the false with the true, and carrying the whole fabric to a height that seemed to place the head rather at the centre than the summit of the human form.
Her tunic, of a deep amber, which well set off her dark hair and somewhat embrowned complexion, swept in ample folds to her feet, which were cased in slippers, fastened round the slender ankle by white thongs; while a profusion of pearls were embroidered in the slipper itself, which was of purple, and turned slightly upward, as do the Turkish slippers at this day. An old slave, skilled by long experience in all the arcana of the toilet, stood beside the hairdresser, with the broad and studded girdle of her mistress over her arm, and giving, from time to time (mingled with judicious flattery to the lady herself), instructions to the mason of the ascending pile.
'Put that pin rather more to the right—lower—stupid one! Do you not observe how even those beautiful eyebrows are?—One would think you were dressing Corinna, whose face is all of one side. Now put in the flowers—what, fool!—not that dull pink—you are not suiting colors to the dim cheek of Chloris: it must be the brightest flowers that can alone suit the cheek of the young Julia.'
'Gently!' said the lady, stamping her small foot violently: 'you pull my hair as if you were plucking up a weed!'
'Dull thing!' continued the directress of the ceremony. 'Do you not know how delicate is your mistress?—you are not dressing the coarse horsehair of the widow Fulvia. Now, then, the riband—that's right. Fair Julia, look in the mirror; saw you ever anything so lovely as yourself?'
When, after innumerable comments, difficulties, and delays, the intricate tower was at length completed, the next preparation was that of giving to the eyes the soft languish, produced by a dark powder applied to the lids and brows; a small patch cut in the form of a crescent, skillfully placed by the rosy lips, attracted attention to their dimples, and to the teeth, to which already every art had been applied in order to heighten the dazzle of their natural whiteness.
To another slave, hitherto idle, was now consigned the charge of arranging the jewels—the ear-rings of pearl (two to each ear)—the massive bracelets of gold—the chain formed of rings of the same metal, to which a talisman cut in crystals was attached—the graceful buckle on the left shoulder, in which was set an exquisite cameo of Psyche—the girdle of purple riband, richly wrought with threads of gold, and clasped by interlacing serpents—and lastly, the various rings, fitted to every joint of the white and slender fingers. The toilet was now arranged according to the last mode of Rome. The fair Julia regarded herself with a last gaze of complacent vanity, and reclining again upon her seat, she bade the youngest of her slaves, in a listless tone, read to her the enamoured couplets of Tibullus. This lecture was still proceeding, when a female slave admitted Nydia into the presence of the lady of the place.
'Salve, Julia!' said the flower-girl, arresting her steps within a few paces from the spot where Julia sat, and crossing her arms upon her breast. 'I have obeyed your commands.'
'You have done well, flower-girl,' answered the lady. 'Approach—you may take a seat.'
One of the slaves placed a stool by Julia, and Nydia seated herself.
Julia looked hard at the Thessalian for some moments in rather an embarrassed silence. She then motioned her attendants to withdraw, and to close the door. When they were alone, she said, looking mechanically from Nydia, and forgetful that she was with one who could not observe her countenance:
'You serve the Neapolitan, Ione?'
'I am with her at present,' answered Nydia.
'Is she as handsome as they say?'
'I know not,' replied Nydia. 'How can I judge?'
'Ah! I should have remembered. But thou hast ears, if not eyes. Do thy fellow-slaves tell thee she is handsome? Slaves talking with one another forget to flatter even their mistress.'
'They tell me that she is beautiful.'
'Hem!—say they that she is tall?'
'Why, so am I. Dark haired?'
'I have heard so.'
'So am I. And doth Glaucus visit her much?'
'Daily' returned Nydia, with a half-suppressed sigh.
'Daily, indeed! Does he find her handsome?'
'I should think so, since they are so soon to be wedded.'
'Wedded!' cried Julia, turning pale even through the false roses on her cheek, and starting from her couch. Nydia did not, of course, perceive the emotion she had caused. Julia remained a long time silent; but her heaving breast and flashing eyes would have betrayed, to one who could have seen, the wound her vanity had sustained.
'They tell me thou art a Thessalian,' said she, at last breaking silence.
'Thessaly is the land of magic and of witches, of talismans and of love-philtres,' said Julia.
'It has ever been celebrated for its sorcerers,' returned Nydia, timidly.
'Knowest thou, then, blind Thessalian, of any love-charms?'
'I!' said the flower-girl, coloring; 'I! how should I? No, assuredly not!'
'The worse for thee; I could have given thee gold enough to have purchased thy freedom hadst thou been more wise.'
'But what,' asked Nydia, 'can induce the beautiful and wealthy Julia to ask that question of her servant? Has she not money, and youth, and loveliness? Are they not love-charms enough to dispense with magic?'
'To all but one person in the world,' answered Julia, haughtily: 'but methinks thy blindness is infectious; and... But no matter.'
'And that one person?' said Nydia, eagerly.
'Is not Glaucus,' replied Julia, with the customary deceit of her sex. 'Glaucus—no!'
Nydia drew her breath more freely, and after a short pause Julia recommenced.
'But talking of Glaucus, and his attachment to this Neapolitan, reminded me of the influence of love-spells, which, for ought I know or care, she may have exercised upon him. Blind girl, I love, and—shall Julia live to say it?—am loved not in return! This humbles—nay, not humbles—but it stings my pride. I would see this ingrate at my feet—not in order that I might raise, but that I might spurn him. When they told me thou wert Thessalian, I imagined thy young mind might have learned the dark secrets of thy clime.'
'Alas! no, murmured Nydia: 'would it had!'
'Thanks, at least, for that kindly wish,' said Julia, unconscious of what was passing in the breast of the flower-girl.
'But tell me—thou hearest the gossip of slaves, always prone to these dim beliefs; always ready to apply to sorcery for their own low loves—hast thou ever heard of any Eastern magician in this city, who possesses the art of which thou art ignorant? No vain chiromancer, no juggler of the market-place, but some more potent and mighty magician of India or of Egypt?'
'Of Egypt?—yes!' said Nydia, shuddering. 'What Pompeian has not heard of Arbaces?'
'Arbaces! true,' replied Julia, grasping at the recollection. 'They say he is a man above all the petty and false impostures of dull pretenders—that he is versed in the learning of the stars, and the secrets of the ancient Nox; why not in the mysteries of love?'
'If there be one magician living whose art is above that of others, it is that dread man,' answered Nydia; and she felt her talisman while she spoke.
'He is too wealthy to divine for money?' continued Julia, sneeringly. 'Can I not visit him?'
'It is an evil mansion for the young and the beautiful,' replied Nydia. 'I have heard, too, that he languishes in...'
'An evil mansion!' said Julia, catching only the first sentence. 'Why so?'
'The orgies of his midnight leisure are impure and polluted—at least, so says rumor.'
'By Ceres, by Pan, and by Cybele! thou dost but provoke my curiosity, instead of exciting my fears,' returned the wayward and pampered Pompeian. 'I will seek and question him of his lore. If to these orgies love be admitted—why the more likely that he knows its secrets!'
Nydia did not answer.
'I will seek him this very day,' resumed Julia; 'nay, why not this very hour?'
'At daylight, and in his present state, thou hast assuredly the less to fear,' answered Nydia, yielding to her own sudden and secret wish to learn if the dark Egyptian were indeed possessed of those spells to rivet and attract love, of which the Thessalian had so often heard.
'And who dare insult the rich daughter of Diomed?' said Julia, haughtily. 'I will go.'
'May I visit thee afterwards to learn the result?' asked Nydia, anxiously.
'Kiss me for thy interest in Julia's honour,' answered the lady. 'Yes, assuredly. This eve we sup abroad—come hither at the same hour to-morrow, and thou shalt know all: I may have to employ thee too; but enough for the present. Stay, take this bracelet for the new thought thou hast inspired me with; remember, if thou servest Julia, she is grateful and she is generous.'
'I cannot take thy present,' said Nydia, putting aside the bracelet; 'but young as I am, I can sympathize unbought with those who love—and love in vain.'
'Sayest thou so!' returned Julia. 'Thou speakest like a free woman—and thou shalt yet be free—farewell!'
JULIA SEEKS ARBACES. THE RESULT OF THAT INTERVIEW.
ARBACES was seated in a chamber which opened on a kind of balcony or portico that fronted his garden. His cheek was pale and worn with the sufferings he had endured, but his iron frame had already recovered from the severest effects of that accident which had frustrated his fell designs in the moment of victory. The air that came fragrantly to his brow revived his languid senses, and the blood circulated more freely than it had done for days through his shrunken veins.
'So, then,' thought he, 'the storm of fate has broken and blown over—the evil which my lore predicted, threatening life itself, has chanced—and yet I live! It came as the stars foretold; and now the long, bright, and prosperous career which was to succeed that evil, if I survived it, smiles beyond: I have passed—I have subdued the latest danger of my destiny. Now I have but to lay out the gardens of my future fate—unterrified and secure. First, then, of all my pleasures, even before that of love, shall come revenge! This boy Greek—who has crossed my passion—thwarted my designs—baffled me even when the blade was about to drink his accursed blood—shall not a second time escape me! But for the method of my vengeance? Of that let me ponder well! Oh! Ate, if thou art indeed a goddess, fill me with thy direst Inspiration!' The Egyptian sank into an intent reverie, which did not seem to present to him any clear or satisfactory suggestions. He changed his position restlessly, as he revolved scheme after scheme, which no sooner occurred than it was dismissed: several times he struck his breast and groaned aloud, with the desire of vengeance, and a sense of his impotence to accomplish it. While thus absorbed, a boy slave timidly entered the chamber.
A female, evidently of rank from her dress, and that of the single slave who attended her, waited below and sought an audience with Arbaces.
'A female!' his heart beat quick. 'Is she young?'
'Her face is concealed by her veil; but her form is slight, yet round, as that of youth.'
'Admit her,' said the Egyptian: for a moment his vain heart dreamed the stranger might be Ione.
The first glance of the visitor now entering the apartment sufficed to undeceive so erring a fancy. True, she was about the same height as Ione, and perhaps the same age—true, she was finely and richly formed—but where was that undulating and ineffable grace which accompanied every motion of the peerless Neapolitan—the chaste and decorous garb, so simple even in the care of its arrangement—the dignified yet bashful step—the majesty of womanhood and its modesty?
'Pardon me that I rise with pain,' said Arbaces, gazing on the stranger: 'I am still suffering from recent illness.'
'Do not disturb thyself, O great Egyptian!' returned Julia, seeking to disguise the fear she already experienced beneath the ready resort of flattery; 'and forgive an unfortunate female, who seeks consolation from thy wisdom.'
'Draw near, fair stranger,' said Arbaces; 'and speak without apprehension or reserve.'
Julia placed herself on a seat beside the Egyptian, and wonderingly gazed around an apartment whose elaborate and costly luxuries shamed even the ornate enrichment of her father's mansion; fearfully, too, she regarded the hieroglyphical inscriptions on the walls—the faces of the mysterious images, which at every corner gazed upon her—the tripod at a little distance—and, above all, the grave and remarkable countenance of Arbaces himself: a long white robe like a veil half covered his raven locks, and flowed to his feet: his face was made even more impressive by its present paleness; and his dark and penetrating eyes seemed to pierce the shelter of her veil, and explore the secrets of her vain and unfeminine soul.
'And what,' said his low, deep voice, 'brings thee, O maiden! to the house of the Eastern stranger?'
'His fame,' replied Julia.
'In what?' said he, with a strange and slight smile.
'Canst thou ask, O wise Arbaces? Is not thy knowledge the very gossip theme of Pompeii?'
'Some little lore have I indeed, treasured up,' replied Arbaces: 'but in what can such serious and sterile secrets benefit the ear of beauty?'
'Alas!' said Julia, a little cheered by the accustomed accents of adulation; 'does not sorrow fly to wisdom for relief, and they who love unrequitedly, are not they the chosen victims of grief?'
'Ha!' said Arbaces, 'can unrequited love be the lot of so fair a form, whose modelled proportions are visible even beneath the folds of thy graceful robe? Deign, O maiden! to lift thy veil, that I may see at least if the face correspond in loveliness with the form.'
Not unwilling, perhaps, to exhibit her charms, and thinking they were likely to interest the magician in her fate, Julia, after some slight hesitation, raised her veil, and revealed a beauty which, but for art, had been indeed attractive to the fixed gaze of the Egyptian.
'Thou comest to me for advice in unhappy love,' said he; 'well, turn that face on the ungrateful one: what other love-charm can I give thee?'
'Oh, cease these courtesies!' said Julia; 'it is a love-charm, indeed, that I would ask from thy skill!'
'Fair stranger!' replied Arbaces, somewhat scornfully, 'love-spells are not among the secrets I have wasted the midnight oil to attain.'
'Is it indeed so? Then pardon me, great Arbaces, and farewell!'
'Stay,' said Arbaces, who, despite his passion for Ione, was not unmoved by the beauty of his visitor; and had he been in the flush of a more assured health, might have attempted to console the fair Julia by other means than those of supernatural wisdom.
'Stay; although I confess that I have left the witchery of philtres and potions to those whose trade is in such knowledge, yet am I myself not so dull to beauty but that in earlier youth I may have employed them in my own behalf. I may give thee advice, at least, if thou wilt be candid with me. Tell me then, first, art thou unmarried, as thy dress betokens?'
'Yes,' said Julia.
'And, being unblest with fortune, wouldst thou allure some wealthy suitor?'
'I am richer than he who disdains me.'
'Strange and more strange! And thou lovest him who loves not thee?'
'I know not if I love him,' answered Julia, haughtily; 'but I know that I would see myself triumph over a rival—I would see him who rejected me my suitor—I would see her whom he has preferred in her turn despised.'
'A natural ambition and a womanly,' said the Egyptian, in a tone too grave for irony. 'Yet more, fair maiden; wilt thou confide to me the name of thy lover? Can he be Pompeian, and despise wealth, even if blind to beauty?'
'He is of Athens,' answered Julia, looking down.
'Ha!' cried the Egyptian, impetuously, as the blood rushed to his cheek; 'there is but one Athenian, young and noble, in Pompeii. Can it be Glaucus of whom thou speakest!'
'Ah! betray me not—so indeed they call him.'
The Egyptian sank back, gazing vacantly on the averted face of the merchant's daughter, and muttering inly to himself: this conference, with which he had hitherto only trifled, amusing himself with the credulity and vanity of his visitor—might it not minister to his revenge?'
'I see thou canst assist me not,' said Julia, offended by his continued silence; 'guard at least my secret. Once more, farewell!'
'Maiden,' said the Egyptian, in an earnest and serious tone, 'thy suit hath touched me—I will minister to thy will. Listen to me; I have not myself dabbled in these lesser mysteries, but I know one who hath. At the base of Vesuvius, less than a league from the city, there dwells a powerful witch; beneath the rank dews of the new moon, she has gathered the herbs which possess the virtue to chain Love in eternal fetters. Her art can bring thy lover to thy feet. Seek her, and mention to her the name of Arbaces: she fears that name, and will give thee her most potent philtres.'
'Alas!' answered Julia, I know not the road to the home of her whom thou speakest of: the way, short though it be, is long to traverse for a girl who leaves, unknown, the house of her father. The country is entangled with wild vines, and dangerous with precipitous caverns. I dare not trust to mere strangers to guide me; the reputation of women of my rank is easily tarnished—and though I care not who knows that I love Glaucus, I would not have it imagined that I obtained his love by a spell.'
'Were I but three days advanced in health,' said the Egyptian, rising and walking (as if to try his strength) across the chamber, but with irregular and feeble steps, 'I myself would accompany thee. Well, thou must wait.'
'But Glaucus is soon to wed that hated Neapolitan.'
'Yes; in the early part of next month.'
'So soon! Art thou well advised of this?'
'From the lips of her own slave.'
'It shall not be!' said the Egyptian, impetuously. 'Fear nothing, Glaucus shall be thine. Yet how, when thou obtainest it, canst thou administer to him this potion?'
'My father has invited him, and, I believe, the Neapolitan also, to a banquet, on the day following to-morrow: I shall then have the opportunity to administer it.'
'So be it!' said the Egyptian, with eyes flashing such fierce joy, that Julia's gaze sank trembling beneath them. 'To-morrow eve, then, order thy litter—thou hast one at thy command?'
'Surely—yes,' returned the purse-proud Julia.
'Order thy litter—at two miles' distance from the city is a house of entertainment, frequented by the wealthier Pompeians, from the excellence of its baths, and the beauty of its gardens. There canst thou pretend only to shape thy course—there, ill or dying, I will meet thee by the statue of Silenus, in the copse that skirts the garden; and I myself will guide thee to the witch. Let us wait till, with the evening star, the goats of the herdsmen are gone to rest; when the dark twilight conceals us, and none shall cross our steps. Go home and fear not. By Hades, swears Arbaces, the sorcerer of Egypt, that Ione shall never wed with Glaucus.'
'And that Glaucus shall be mine,' added Julia, filling up the incompleted sentence.
'Thou hast said it!' replied Arbaces; and Julia, half frightened at this unhallowed appointment, but urged on by jealousy and the pique of rivalship, even more than love, resolved to fulfill it.
Left alone, Arbaces burst forth:
'Bright stars that never lie, ye already begin the execution of your promises—success in love, and victory over foes, for the rest of my smooth existence. In the very hour when my mind could devise no clue to the goal of vengeance, have ye sent this fair fool for my guide?' He paused in deep thought. 'Yes,' said he again, but in a calmer voice; 'I could not myself have given to her the poison, that shall be indeed a philtre!—his death might be thus tracked to my door. But the witch—ay, there is the fit, the natural agent of my designs!'
He summoned one of his slaves, bade him hasten to track the steps of Julia, and acquaint himself with her name and condition. This done, he stepped forth into the portico. The skies were serene and clear; but he, deeply read in the signs of their various change, beheld in one mass of cloud, far on the horizon, which the wind began slowly to agitate, that a storm was brooding above.
'It is like my vengeance,' said he, as he gazed; 'the sky is clear, but the cloud moves on.'
STORM IN THE SOUTH. THE WITCH'S CAVERN.
IT was when the heats of noon died gradually away from the earth, that Glaucus and Ione went forth to enjoy the cooled and grateful air. At that time, various carriages were in use among the Romans; the one most used by the richer citizens, when they required no companion in their excursion, was the biga, already described in the early portion of this work; that appropriated to the matrons, was termed carpentum, which had commonly two wheels; the ancients used also a sort of litter, a vast sedan-chair, more commodiously arranged than the modern, inasmuch as the occupant thereof could lie down at ease, instead of being perpendicularly and stiffly jostled up and down. There was another carriage, used both for travelling and for excursions in the country; it was commodious, containing three or four persons with ease, having a covering which could be raised at pleasure; and, in short, answering very much the purpose of (though very different in shape from) the modern britska. It was a vehicle of this description that the lovers, accompanied by one female slave of Ione, now used in their excursion. About ten miles from the city, there was at that day an old ruin, the remains of a temple, evidently Grecian; and as for Glaucus and Ione everything Grecian possessed an interest, they had agreed to visit these ruins: it was thither they were now bound.
Their road lay among vines and olive-groves; till, winding more and more towards the higher ground of Vesuvius, the path grew rugged; the mules moved slowly, and with labor; and at every opening in the wood they beheld those grey and horrent caverns indenting the parched rock, which Strabo has described; but which the various revolutions of time and the volcano have removed from the present aspect of the mountain. The sun, sloping towards his descent, cast long and deep shadows over the mountain; here and there they still heard the rustic reed of the shepherd amongst copses of the beechwood and wild oak. Sometimes they marked the form of the silk-haired and graceful capella, with its wreathing horn and bright grey eye—which, still beneath Ausonian skies, recalls the eclogues of Maro, browsing half-way up the hills; and the grapes, already purple with the smiles of the deepening summer, glowed out from the arched festoons, which hung pendent from tree to tree. Above them, light clouds floated in the serene heavens, sweeping so slowly athwart the firmament that they scarcely seemed to stir; while, on their right, they caught, ever and anon, glimpses of the waveless sea, with some light bark skimming its surface; and the sunlight breaking over the deep in those countless and softest hues so peculiar to that delicious sea.
'How beautiful!' said Glaucus, in a half-whispered tone, 'is that expression by which we call Earth our Mother! With what a kindly equal love she pours her blessings upon her children! and even to those sterile spots to which Nature has denied beauty, she yet contrives to dispense her smiles: witness the arbutus and the vine, which she wreathes over the arid and burning soil of yon extinct volcano. Ah! in such an hour and scene as this, well might we imagine that the Faun should peep forth from those green festoons; or, that we might trace the steps of the Mountain Nymph through the thickest mazes of the glade. But the Nymphs ceased, beautiful Ione, when thou wert created!'
There is no tongue that flatters like a lover's; and yet, in the exaggeration of his feelings, flattery seems to him commonplace. Strange and prodigal exuberance, which soon exhausts itself by overflowing!
They arrived at the ruins; they examined them with that fondness with which we trace the hallowed and household vestiges of our own ancestry—they lingered there till Hesperus appeared in the rosy heavens; and then returning homeward in the twilight, they were more silent than they had been; for in the shadow and beneath the stars they felt more oppressively their mutual love.
It was at this time that the storm which the Egyptian had predicted began to creep visibly over them. At first, a low and distant thunder gave warning of the approaching conflict of the elements; and then rapidly rushed above the dark ranks of the serried clouds. The suddenness of storms in that climate is something almost preternatural, and might well suggest to early superstition the notion of a divine agency—a few large drops broke heavily among the boughs that half overhung their path, and then, swift and intolerably bright, the forked lightning darted across their very eyes, and was swallowed up by the increasing darkness.
'Swifter, good Carrucarius!' cried Glaucus to the driver; 'the tempest comes on apace.'
The slave urged on the mules—they went swift over the uneven and stony road—the clouds thickened, near and more near broke the thunder, and fast rushed the dashing rain.
'Dost thou fear?' whispered Glaucus, as he sought excuse in the storm to come nearer to Ione.
'Not with thee,' said she, softly.
At that instant, the carriage, fragile and ill-contrived (as, despite their graceful shapes, were, for practical uses, most of such inventions at that time), struck violently into a deep rut, over which lay a log of fallen wood; the driver, with a curse, stimulated his mules yet faster for the obstacle, the wheel was torn from the socket, and the carriage suddenly overset.
Glaucus, quickly extricating himself from the vehicle, hastened to assist Ione, who was fortunately unhurt; with some difficulty they raised the carruca (or carriage), and found that it ceased any longer even to afford them shelter; the springs that fastened the covering were snapped asunder, and the rain poured fast and fiercely into the interior.
In this dilemma, what was to be done? They were yet some distance from the city—no house, no aid, seemed near.
'There is,' said the slave, 'a smith about a mile off; I could seek him, and he might fasten at least the wheel to the carruca—but, Jupiter! how the rain beats; my mistress will be wet before I come back.'
'Run thither at least,' said Glaucus; 'we must find the best shelter we can till you return.'
The lane was overshadowed with trees, beneath the amplest of which Glaucus drew Ione. He endeavored, by stripping his own cloak, to shield her yet more from the rapid rain; but it descended with a fury that broke through all puny obstacles: and suddenly, while Glaucus was yet whispering courage to his beautiful charge, the lightning struck one of the trees immediately before them, and split with a mighty crash its huge trunk in twain. This awful incident apprised them of the danger they braved in their present shelter, and Glaucus looked anxiously round for some less perilous place of refuge. 'We are now,' said he, 'half-way up the ascent of Vesuvius; there ought to be some cavern, or hollow in the vine-clad rocks, could we but find it, in which the deserting Nymphs have left a shelter.' While thus saying he moved from the trees, and, looking wistfully towards the mountain, discovered through the advancing gloom a red and tremulous light at no considerable distance. 'That must come,' said he, 'from the hearth of some shepherd or vine-dresser—it will guide us to some hospitable retreat. Wilt thou stay here, while I—yet no—that would be to leave thee to danger.'
'I will go with you cheerfully,' said Ione. 'Open as the space seems, it is better than the treacherous shelter of these boughs.'
Half leading, half carrying Ione, Glaucus, accompanied by the trembling female slave, advanced towards the light, which yet burned red and steadfastly. At length the space was no longer open; wild vines entangled their steps, and hid from them, save by imperfect intervals, the guiding beam. But faster and fiercer came the rain, and the lightning assumed its most deadly and blasting form; they were still therefore, impelled onward, hoping, at last, if the light eluded them, to arrive at some cottage or some friendly cavern. The vines grew more and more intricate—the light was entirely snatched from them; but a narrow path, which they trod with labor and pain, guided only by the constant and long-lingering flashes of the storm, continued to lead them towards its direction. The rain ceased suddenly; precipitous and rough crags of scorched lava frowned before them, rendered more fearful by the lightning that illumined the dark and dangerous soil. Sometimes the blaze lingered over the iron-grey heaps of scoria, covered in part with ancient mosses or stunted trees, as if seeking in vain for some gentler product of earth, more worthy of its ire; and sometimes leaving the whole of that part of the scene in darkness, the lightning, broad and sheeted, hung redly over the ocean, tossing far below, until its waves seemed glowing into fire; and so intense was the blaze, that it brought vividly into view even the sharp outline of the more distant windings of the bay, from the eternal Misenum, with its lofty brow, to the beautiful Sorrentum and the giant hills behind.
Our lovers stopped in perplexity and doubt, when suddenly, as the darkness that gloomed between the fierce flashes of lightning once more wrapped them round, they saw near, but high, before them, the mysterious light. Another blaze, in which heaven and earth were reddened, made visible to them the whole expanse; no house was near, but just where they had beheld the light, they thought they saw in the recess of the cavern the outline of a human form. The darkness once more returned; the light, no longer paled beneath the fires of heaven, burned forth again: they resolved to ascend towards it; they had to wind their way among vast fragments of stone, here and there overhung with wild bushes; but they gained nearer and nearer to the light, and at length they stood opposite the mouth of a kind of cavern, apparently formed by huge splinters of rock that had fallen transversely athwart each other: and, looking into the gloom, each drew back involuntarily with a superstitious fear and chill.
A fire burned in the far recess of the cave; and over it was a small cauldron; on a tall and thin column of iron stood a rude lamp; over that part of the wall, at the base of which burned the fire, hung in many rows, as if to dry, a profusion of herbs and weeds. A fox, couched before the fire, gazed upon the strangers with its bright and red eye—its hair bristling—and a low growl stealing from between its teeth; in the centre of the cave was an earthen statue, which had three heads of a singular and fantastic cast: they were formed by the real skulls of a dog, a horse, and a boar; a low tripod stood before this wild representation of the popular Hecate.
But it was not these appendages and appliances of the cave that thrilled the blood of those who gazed fearfully therein—it was the face of its inmate. Before the fire, with the light shining full upon her features, sat a woman of considerable age. Perhaps in no country are there seen so many hags as in Italy—in no country does beauty so awfully change, in age, to hideousness the most appalling and revolting. But the old woman now before them was not one of these specimens of the extreme of human ugliness; on the contrary, her countenance betrayed the remains of a regular but high and aquiline order of feature: with stony eyes turned upon them—with a look that met and fascinated theirs—they beheld in that fearful countenance the very image of a corpse!—the same, the glazed and lustreless regard, the blue and shrunken lips, the drawn and hollow jaw—the dead, lank hair, of a pale grey—the livid, green, ghastly skin, which seemed all surely tinged and tainted by the grave!
'It is a dead thing,' said Glaucus.
'Nay—it stirs—it is a ghost or larva,' faltered Ione, as she clung to the Athenian's breast.
'Oh, away, away!' groaned the slave, 'it is the Witch of Vesuvius!'
'Who are ye?' said a hollow and ghostly voice. 'And what do ye here?'
The sound, terrible and deathlike as it was—suiting well the countenance of the speaker, and seeming rather the voice of some bodiless wanderer of the Styx than living mortal, would have made Ione shrink back into the pitiless fury of the storm, but Glaucus, though not without some misgiving, drew her into the cavern.
'We are storm-beaten wanderers from the neighboring city,' said he, 'and decoyed hither by yon light; we crave shelter and the comfort of your hearth.'
As he spoke, the fox rose from the ground, and advanced towards the strangers, showing, from end to end, its white teeth, and deepening in its menacing growl.
'Down, slave!' said the witch; and at the sound of her voice the beast dropped at once, covering its face with its brush, and keeping only its quick, vigilant eye fixed upon the invaders of its repose. 'Come to the fire if ye will!' said she, turning to Glaucus and his companions. 'I never welcome living thing—save the owl, the fox, the toad, and the viper—so I cannot welcome ye; but come to the fire without welcome—why stand upon form?'
The language in which the hag addressed them was a strange and barbarous Latin, interlarded with many words of some more rude, and ancient dialect. She did not stir from her seat, but gazed stonily upon them as Glaucus now released Ione of her outer wrapping garments, and making her place herself on a log of wood, which was the only other seat he perceived at hand—fanned with his breath the embers into a more glowing flame. The slave, encouraged by the boldness of her superiors, divested herself also of her long palla, and crept timorously to the opposite corner of the hearth.
'We disturb you, I fear,' said the silver voice of Ione, in conciliation.
The witch did not reply—she seemed like one who has awakened for a moment from the dead, and has then relapsed once more into the eternal slumber.
'Tell me,' said she, suddenly, and after a long pause, 'are ye brother and sister?'
'No,' said Ione, blushing.
'Are ye married?'
'Not so,' replied Glaucus.
'Ho, lovers!—ha!—ha!—ha!' and the witch laughed so loud and so long that the caverns rang again.
The heart of Ione stood still at that strange mirth. Glaucus muttered a rapid counterspell to the omen—and the slave turned as pale as the cheek of the witch herself.
'Why dost thou laugh, old crone?' said Glaucus, somewhat sternly, as he concluded his invocation.
'Did I laugh?' said the hag, absently.
'She is in her dotage,' whispered Glaucus: as he said this, he caught the eye of the hag fixed upon him with a malignant and vivid glare.
'Thou liest!' said she, abruptly.
'Thou art an uncourteous welcomer,' returned Glaucus.
'Hush! provoke her not, dear Glaucus!' whispered Ione.
'I will tell thee why I laughed when I discovered ye were lovers,' said the old woman. 'It was because it is a pleasure to the old and withered to look upon young hearts like yours—and to know the time will come when you will loathe each other—loathe—loathe—ha!—ha!—ha!'
It was now Ione's turn to pray against the unpleasing prophecy.
'The gods forbid!' said she. 'Yet, poor woman, thou knowest little of love, or thou wouldst know that it never changes.'
'Was I young once, think ye?' returned the hag, quickly; 'and am I old, and hideous, and deathly now? Such as is the form, so is the heart.' With these words she sank again into a stillness profound and fearful, as if the cessation of life itself.
'Hast thou dwelt here long?' said Glaucus, after a pause, feeling uncomfortably oppressed beneath a silence so appalling.
'It is but a drear abode.'
'Ha! thou mayst well say that—Hell is beneath us!' replied the hag, pointing her bony finger to the earth. 'And I will tell thee a secret—the dim things below are preparing wrath for ye above—you, the young, and the thoughtless, and the beautiful.'
'Thou utterest but evil words, ill becoming the hospitable,' said Glaucus; 'and in future I will brave the tempest rather than thy welcome.'
'Thou wilt do well. None should ever seek me—save the wretched!'
'And why the wretched?' asked the Athenian.
'I am the witch of the mountain,' replied the sorceress, with a ghastly grin; 'my trade is to give hope to the hopeless: for the crossed in love I have philtres; for the avaricious, promises of treasure; for the malicious, potions of revenge; for the happy and the good, I have only what life has—curses! Trouble me no more.
With this the grim tenant of the cave relapsed into a silence so obstinate and sullen, that Glaucus in vain endeavored to draw her into farther conversation. She did not evince, by any alteration of her locked and rigid features, that she even heard him. Fortunately, however, the storm, which was brief as violent, began now to relax; the rain grew less and less fierce; and at last, as the clouds parted, the moon burst forth in the purple opening of heaven, and streamed clear and full into that desolate abode. Never had she shone, perhaps, on a group more worthy of the painter's art. The young, the all-beautiful Ione, seated by that rude fire—her lover already forgetful of the presence of the hag, at her feet, gazing upward to her face, and whispering sweet words—the pale and affrighted slave at a little distance—and the ghastly hag resting her deadly eyes upon them; yet seemingly serene and fearless (for the companionship of love hath such power) were these beautiful beings, things of another sphere, in that dark and unholy cavern, with its gloomy quaintness of appurtenance. The fox regarded them from his corner with his keen and fiery eye: and as Glaucus now turned towards the witch, he perceived for the first time, just under her seat, the bright gaze and crested head of a large snake: whether it was that the vivid coloring of the Athenian's cloak, thrown over the shoulders of Ione, attracted the reptile's anger—its crest began to glow and rise, as if menacing and preparing itself to spring upon the Neapolitan—Glaucus caught quickly at one of the half-burned logs upon the hearth—and, as if enraged at the action, the snake came forth from its shelter, and with a loud hiss raised itself on end till its height nearly approached that of the Greek.
'Witch!' cried Glaucus, 'command thy creature, or thou wilt see it dead.'
'It has been despoiled of its venom!' said the witch, aroused at his threat; but ere the words had left her lip, the snake had sprung upon Glaucus; quick and watchful, the agile Greek leaped lightly aside, and struck so fell and dexterous a blow on the head of the snake, that it fell prostrate and writhing among the embers of the fire.
The hag sprung up, and stood confronting Glaucus with a face which would have befitted the fiercest of the Furies, so utterly dire and wrathful was its expression—yet even in horror and ghastliness preserving the outline and trace of beauty—and utterly free from that coarse grotesque at which the imaginations of the North have sought the source of terror. 'Thou hast,' said she, in a slow and steady voice—which belied the expression of her face, so much was it passionless and calm—'thou hast had shelter under my roof, and warmth at my hearth; thou hast returned evil for good; thou hast smitten and haply slain the thing that loved me and was mine: nay, more, the creature, above all others, consecrated to gods and deemed venerable by man,—now hear thy punishment. By the moon, who is the guardian of the sorceress—by Orcus, who is the treasurer of wrath—I curse thee! and thou art cursed! May thy love be blasted—may thy name be blackened—may the infernals mark thee—may thy heart wither and scorch—may thy last hour recall to thee the prophet voice of the Saga of Vesuvius! And thou,' she added, turning sharply towards Ione, and raising her right arm, when Glaucus burst impetuously on her speech:
'Hag!' cried he, 'forbear! Me thou hast cursed, and I commit myself to the gods—I defy and scorn thee! but breathe but one word against yon maiden, and I will convert the oath on thy foul lips to thy dying groan. Beware!'
'I have done,' replied the hag, laughing wildly; 'for in thy doom is she who loves thee accursed. And not the less, that I heard her lips breathe thy name, and know by what word to commend thee to the demons. Glaucus—thou art doomed!' So saying, the witch turned from the Athenian, and kneeling down beside her wounded favorite, which she dragged from the hearth, she turned to them her face no more.
'O Glaucus!' said Ione, greatly terrified, 'what have we done?—Let us hasten from this place; the storm has ceased. Good mistress, forgive him—recall thy words—he meant but to defend himself—accept this peace-offering to unsay the said': and Ione, stooping, placed her purse on the hag's lap.
'Away!' said she, bitterly—'away! The oath once woven the Fates only can untie. Away!'
'Come, dearest!' said Glaucus, impatiently. 'Thinkest thou that the gods above us or below hear the impotent ravings of dotage? Come!'
Long and loud rang the echoes of the cavern with the dread laugh of the Saga—she deigned no further reply.
The lovers breathed more freely when they gained the open air: yet the scene they had witnessed, the words and the laughter of the witch, still fearfully dwelt with Ione; and even Glaucus could not thoroughly shake off the impression they bequeathed. The storm had subsided—save, now and then, a low thunder muttered at the distance amidst the darker clouds, or a momentary flash of lightning affronted the sovereignty of the moon. With some difficulty they regained the road, where they found the vehicle already sufficiently repaired for their departure, and the carrucarius calling loudly upon Hercules to tell him where his charge had vanished.
Glaucus vainly endeavored to cheer the exhausted spirits of Ione; and scarce less vainly to recover the elastic tone of his own natural gaiety. They soon arrived before the gate of the city: as it opened to them, a litter borne by slaves impeded the way.
'It is too late for egress,' cried the sentinel to the inmate of the litter.
'Not so,' said a voice, which the lovers started to hear; it was a voice they well recognized. 'I am bound to the villa of Marcus Polybius. I shall return shortly. I am Arbaces the Egyptian.'
The scruples of him at the gate were removed, and the litter passed close beside the carriage that bore the lovers.
'Arbaces, at this hour!—scarce recovered too, methinks!—Whither and for what can he leave the city?' said Glaucus.
'Alas!' replied Ione, bursting into tears, 'my soul feels still more and more the omen of evil. Preserve us, O ye Gods! or at least,' she murmured inly, 'preserve my Glaucus!'
THE LORD OF THE BURNING BELT AND HIS MINION. FATE WRITES HER PROPHECY IN RED LETTERS, BUT WHO SHALL READ THEM?
ARBACES had tarried only till the cessation of the tempest allowed him, under cover of night, to seek the Saga of Vesuvius. Borne by those of his trustier slaves in whom in all more secret expeditions he was accustomed to confide, he lay extended along his litter, and resigning his sanguine heart to the contemplation of vengeance gratified and love possessed. The slaves in so short a journey moved very little slower than the ordinary pace of mules; and Arbaces soon arrived at the commencement of a narrow path, which the lovers had not been fortunate enough to discover; but which, skirting the thick vines, led at once to the habitation of the witch. Here he rested the litter; and bidding his slaves conceal themselves and the vehicle among the vines from the observation of any chance passenger, he mounted alone, with steps still feeble but supported by a long staff, the drear and sharp ascent.
Not a drop of rain fell from the tranquil heaven; but the moisture dripped mournfully from the laden boughs of the vine, and now and then collected in tiny pools in the crevices and hollows of the rocky way.
'Strange passions these for a philosopher,' thought Arbaces, 'that lead one like me just new from the bed of death, and lapped even in health amidst the roses of luxury, across such nocturnal paths as this; but Passion and Vengeance treading to their goal can make an Elysium of a Tartarus.' High, clear, and melancholy shone the moon above the road of that dark wayfarer, glossing herself in every pool that lay before him, and sleeping in shadow along the sloping mount. He saw before him the same light that had guided the steps of his intended victims, but, no longer contrasted by the blackened clouds, it shone less redly clear.
He paused, as at length he approached the mouth of the cavern, to recover breath; and then, with his wonted collected and stately mien, he crossed the unhallowed threshold.
The fox sprang up at the ingress of this newcomer, and by a long howl announced another visitor to his mistress.
The witch had resumed her seat, and her aspect of gravelike and grim repose. By her feet, upon a bed of dry weeds which half covered it, lay the wounded snake; but the quick eye of the Egyptian caught its scales glittering in the reflected light of the opposite fire, as it writhed—now contracting, now lengthening, its folds, in pain and unsated anger.
'Down, slave!' said the witch, as before, to the fox; and, as before, the animal dropped to the ground—mute, but vigilant.
'Rise, servant of Nox and Erebus!' said Arbaces, commandingly; 'a superior in thine art salutes thee! rise, and welcome him.'
At these words the hag turned her gaze upon the Egyptian's towering form and dark features. She looked long and fixedly upon him, as he stood before her in his Oriental robe, and folded arms, and steadfast and haughty brow. 'Who art thou,' she said at last, 'that callest thyself greater in art than the Saga of the Burning Fields, and the daughter of the perished Etrurian race?'
'I am he,' answered Arbaces, 'from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn.'
'There is but one such man in these places,' answered the witch, 'whom the men of the outer world, unknowing his loftier attributes and more secret fame, call Arbaces the Egyptian: to us of a higher nature and deeper knowledge, his rightful appellation is Hermes of the Burning Girdle.'
'Look again, returned Arbaces: 'I am he.'
As he spoke he drew aside his robe, and revealed a cincture seemingly of fire, that burned around his waist, clasped in the centre by a plate whereon was engraven some sign apparently vague and unintelligible but which was evidently not unknown to the Saga. She rose hastily, and threw herself at the feet of Arbaces. 'I have seen, then,' said she, in a voice of deep humility, 'the Lord of the Mighty Girdle—vouchsafe my homage.'
'Rise,' said the Egyptian; 'I have need of thee.'
So saying, he placed himself on the same log of wood on which Ione had rested before, and motioned to the witch to resume her seat.
'Thou sayest,' said he, as she obeyed, 'that thou art a daughter of the ancient Etrurian tribes; the mighty walls of whose rock-built cities yet frown above the robber race that hath seized upon their ancient reign. Partly came those tribes from Greece, partly were they exiles from a more burning and primeval soil. In either case art thou of Egyptian lineage, for the Grecian masters of the aboriginal helot were among the restless sons whom the Nile banished from her bosom. Equally, then, O Saga! thy descent is from ancestors that swore allegiance to mine own. By birth as by knowledge, art thou the subject of Arbaces. Hear me, then, and obey!'
The witch bowed her head.
'Whatever art we possess in sorcery,' continued Arbaces, 'we are sometimes driven to natural means to attain our object. The ring and the crystal, and the ashes and the herbs, do not give unerring divinations; neither do the higher mysteries of the moon yield even the possessor of the girdle a dispensation from the necessity of employing ever and anon human measures for a human object. Mark me, then: thou art deeply skilled, methinks, in the secrets of the more deadly herbs; thou knowest those which arrest life, which burn and scorch the soul from out her citadel, or freeze the channels of young blood into that ice which no sun can melt. Do I overrate thy skill? Speak, and truly!'
'Mighty Hermes, such lore is, indeed, mine own. Deign to look at these ghostly and corpse-like features; they have waned from the hues of life merely by watching over the rank herbs which simmer night and day in yon cauldron.'
The Egyptian moved his seat from so unblessed or so unhealthful a vicinity as the witch spoke.
'It is well,' said he; 'thou hast learned that maxim of all the deeper knowledge which saith, "Despise the body to make wise the mind." But to thy task. There cometh to thee by to-morrow's starlight a vain maiden, seeking of thine art a love-charm to fascinate from another the eyes that should utter but soft tales to her own: instead of thy philtres, give the maiden one of thy most powerful poisons. Let the lover breathe his vows to the Shades.'
The witch trembled from head to foot.
'Oh pardon! pardon! dread master,' said she, falteringly, 'but this I dare not. The law in these cities is sharp and vigilant; they will seize, they will slay me.'
'For what purpose, then, thy herbs and thy potions, vain Saga?' said Arbaces, sneeringly.
The witch hid her loathsome face with her hands.
'Oh! years ago,' said she, in a voice unlike her usual tones, so plaintive was it, and so soft, 'I was not the thing that I am now. I loved, I fancied myself beloved.'
'And what connection hath thy love, witch, with my commands?' said Arbaces, impetuously.
'Patience,' resumed the witch; 'patience, I implore. I loved! another and less fair than I—yes, by Nemesis! less fair—allured from me my chosen. I was of that dark Etrurian tribe to whom most of all were known the secrets of the gloomier magic. My mother was herself a saga: she shared the resentment of her child; from her hands I received the potion that was to restore me his love; and from her, also, the poison that was to destroy my rival. Oh, crush me, dread walls! my trembling hands mistook the phials, my lover fell indeed at my feet; but dead! dead! dead! Since then, what has been life to me I became suddenly old, I devoted myself to the sorceries of my race; still by an irresistible impulse I curse myself with an awful penance; still I seek the most noxious herbs; still I concoct the poisons; still I imagine that I am to give them to my hated rival; still I pour them into the phial; still I fancy that they shall blast her beauty to the dust; still I wake and see the quivering body, the foaming lips, the glazing eyes of my Aulus—murdered, and by me!'
The skeleton frame of the witch shook beneath strong convulsions.
Arbaces gazed upon her with a curious though contemptuous eye.
'And this foul thing has yet human emotions!' thought he; 'still she cowers over the ashes of the same fire that consumes Arbaces!—Such are we all! Mystic is the tie of those mortal passions that unite the greatest and the least.'
He did not reply till she had somewhat recovered herself, and now sat rocking to and fro in her seat, with glassy eyes fixed on the opposite flame, and large tears rolling down her livid cheeks.
'A grievous tale is thine, in truth,' said Arbaces. 'But these emotions are fit only for our youth—age should harden our hearts to all things but ourselves; as every year adds a scale to the shell-fish, so should each year wall and incrust the heart. Think of those frenzies no more! And now, listen to me again! By the revenge that was dear to thee, I command thee to obey me! it is for vengeance that I seek thee! This youth whom I would sweep from my path has crossed me, despite my spells:—this thing of purple and broidery, of smiles and glances, soulless and mindless, with no charm but that of beauty—accursed be it!—this insect—this Glaucus—I tell thee, by Orcus and by Nemesis, he must die.'
And working himself up at every word, the Egyptian, forgetful of his debility—of his strange companion—of everything but his own vindictive rage, strode, with large and rapid steps, the gloomy cavern.
'Glaucus! saidst thou, mighty master!' said the witch, abruptly; and her dim eye glared at the name with all that fierce resentment at the memory of small affronts so common amongst the solitary and the shunned.
'Ay, so he is called; but what matters the name? Let it not be heard as that of a living man three days from this date!'
'Hear me!' said the witch, breaking from a short reverie into which she was plunged after this last sentence of the Egyptian. 'Hear me! I am thy thing and thy slave! spare me! If I give to the maiden thou speakest of that which would destroy the life of Glaucus, I shall be surely detected—the dead ever find avengers. Nay, dread man! if thy visit to me be tracked, if thy hatred to Glaucus be known, thou mayest have need of thy archest magic to protect thyself!'
'Ha!' said Arbaces, stopping suddenly short; and as a proof of that blindness with which passion darkens the eyes even of the most acute, this was the first time when the risk that he himself ran by this method of vengeance had occurred to a mind ordinarily wary and circumspect.
'But,' continued the witch, 'if instead of that which shall arrest the heart, I give that which shall sear and blast the brain—which shall make him who quaffs it unfit for the uses and career of life—an abject, raving, benighted thing—smiting sense to drivelling youth to dotage—will not thy vengeance be equally sated—thy object equally attained?'
'Oh, witch! no longer the servant, but the sister—the equal of Arbaces—how much brighter is woman's wit, even in vengeance, than ours! how much more exquisite than death is such a doom!'
'And,' continued the hag, gloating over her fell scheme, 'in this is but little danger; for by ten thousand methods, which men forbear to seek, can our victim become mad. He may have been among the vines and seen a nymph—or the vine itself may have had the same effect—ha, ha! they never inquire too scrupulously into these matters in which the gods may be agents. And let the worst arrive—let it be known that it is a love-charm—why, madness is a common effect of philtres; and even the fair she that gave it finds indulgence in the excuse. Mighty Hermes, have I ministered to thee cunningly?'
'Thou shalt have twenty years' longer date for this,' returned Arbaces. 'I will write anew the epoch of thy fate on the face of the pale stars—thou shalt not serve in vain the Master of the Flaming Belt. And here, Saga, carve thee out, by these golden tools, a warmer cell in this dreary cavern—one service to me shall countervail a thousand divinations by sieve and shears to the gaping rustics.' So saying, he cast upon the floor a heavy purse, which clinked not unmusically to the ear of the hag, who loved the consciousness of possessing the means to purchase comforts she disdained. 'Farewell,' said Arbaces, 'fail not—outwatch the stars in concocting thy beverage—thou shalt lord it over thy sisters at the Walnut-tree,' when thou tellest them that thy patron and thy friend is Hermes the Egyptian. To-morrow night we meet again.'
He stayed not to hear the valediction or the thanks of the witch; with a quick step he passed into the moonlit air, and hastened down the mountain.
The witch, who followed his steps to the threshold, stood at the entrance of the cavern, gazing fixedly on his receding form; and as the sad moonlight streamed over her shadowy form and deathlike face, emerging from the dismal rocks, it seemed as if one gifted, indeed, by supernatural magic had escaped from the dreary Orcus; and, the foremost of its ghostly throng, stood at its black portals—vainly summoning his return, or vainly sighing to rejoin him. The hag, then slowly re-entering the cave, groaningly picked up the heavy purse, took the lamp from its stand, and, passing to the remotest depth of her cell, a black and abrupt passage, which was not visible, save at a near approach, closed round as it was with jutting and sharp crags, yawned before her: she went several yards along this gloomy path, which sloped gradually downwards, as if towards the bowels of the earth, and, lifting a stone, deposited her treasure in a hole beneath, which, as the lamp pierced its secrets, seemed already to contain coins of various value, wrung from the credulity or gratitude of her visitors.
'I love to look at you,' said she, apostrophising the moneys; 'for when I see you I feel that I am indeed of power. And I am to have twenty years' longer life to increase your store! O thou great Hermes!'