She replaced the stone, and continued her path onward for some paces, when she stopped before a deep irregular fissure in the earth. Here, as she bent—strange, rumbling, hoarse, and distant sounds might be heard, while ever and anon, with a loud and grating noise which, to use a homely but faithful simile, seemed to resemble the grinding of steel upon wheels, volumes of streaming and dark smoke issued forth, and rushed spirally along the cavern.
'The Shades are noisier than their wont,' said the hag, shaking her grey locks; and, looking into the cavity, she beheld, far down, glimpses of a long streak of light, intensely but darkly red. 'Strange!' she said, shrinking back; 'it is only within the last two days that dull, deep light hath been visible—what can it portend?'
The fox, who had attended the steps of his fell mistress, uttered a dismal howl, and ran cowering back to the inner cave; a cold shuddering seized the hag herself at the cry of the animal, which, causeless as it seemed, the superstitions of the time considered deeply ominous. She muttered her placatory charm, and tottered back into her cavern, where, amidst her herbs and incantations, she prepared to execute the orders of the Egyptian.
'He called me dotard,' said she, as the smoke curled from the hissing cauldron: 'when the jaws drop, and the grinders fall, and the heart scarce beats, it is a pitiable thing to dote; but when,' she added, with a savage and exulting grin, 'the young, and the beautiful, and the strong, are suddenly smitten into idiocy—ah, that is terrible! Burn, flame—simmer herb—swelter toad—I cursed him, and he shall be cursed!'
On that night, and at the same hour which witnessed the dark and unholy interview between Arbaces and the Saga, Apaecides was baptized.
PROGRESS OF EVENTS. THE PLOT THICKENS. THE WEB IS WOVEN, BUT THE NET CHANGES HANDS.
'AND you have the courage then, Julia, to seek the Witch of Vesuvius this evening; in company, too, with that fearful man?'
'Why, Nydia?' replied Julia, timidly; 'dost thou really think there is anything to dread? These old hags, with their enchanted mirrors, their trembling sieves, and their moon-gathered herbs, are, I imagine, but crafty impostors, who have learned, perhaps, nothing but the very charm for which I apply to their skill, and which is drawn but from the knowledge of the field's herbs and simples. Wherefore should I dread?'
'Dost thou not fear thy companion?'
'What, Arbaces? By Dian, I never saw lover more courteous than that same magician! And were he not so dark, he would be even handsome.'
Blind as she was, Nydia had the penetration to perceive that Julia's mind was not one that the gallantries of Arbaces were likely to terrify. She therefore dissuaded her no more: but nursed in her excited heart the wild and increasing desire to know if sorcery had indeed a spell to fascinate love to love.
'Let me go with thee, noble Julia,' said she at length; 'my presence is no protection, but I should like to be beside thee to the last.'
'Thine offer pleases me much,' replied the daughter of Diomed. 'Yet how canst thou contrive it? we may not return until late, they will miss thee.'
'Ione is indulgent,' replied Nydia. 'If thou wilt permit me to sleep beneath thy roof, I will say that thou, an early patroness and friend, hast invited me to pass the day with thee, and sing thee my Thessalian songs; her courtesy will readily grant to thee so light a boon.'
'Nay, ask for thyself!' said the haughty Julia. 'I stoop to request no favor from the Neapolitan!'
'Well, be it so. I will take my leave now; make my request, which I know will be readily granted, and return shortly.'
'Do so; and thy bed shall be prepared in my own chamber.' With that, Nydia left the fair Pompeian.
On her way back to Ione she was met by the chariot of Glaucus, on whose fiery and curveting steeds was riveted the gaze of the crowded street.
He kindly stopped for a moment to speak to the flower-girl.
'Blooming as thine own roses, my gentle Nydia! and how is thy fair mistress?—recovered, I trust, from the effects of the storm?'
'I have not seen her this morning,' answered Nydia, 'but...'
'But what? draw back—the horses are too near thee.'
'But think you Ione will permit me to pass the day with Julia, the daughter of Diomed?—She wishes it, and was kind to me when I had few friends.'
'The gods bless thy grateful heart! I will answer for Ione's permission.'
'Then I may stay over the night, and return to-morrow?' said Nydia, shrinking from the praise she so little merited.
'As thou and fair Julia please. Commend me to her; and hark ye, Nydia, when thou hearest her speak, note the contrast of her voice with that of the silver-toned Ione. Vale!'
His spirits entirely recovered from the effect of the past night, his locks waving in the wind, his joyous and elastic heart bounding with every spring of his Parthian steeds, a very prototype of his country's god, full of youth and of love—Glaucus was borne rapidly to his mistress.
Enjoy while ye may the present—who can read the future?
As the evening darkened, Julia, reclined within her litter, which was capacious enough also to admit her blind companion, took her way to the rural baths indicated by Arbaces. To her natural levity of disposition, her enterprise brought less of terror than of pleasurable excitement; above all, she glowed at the thought of her coming triumph over the hated Neapolitan.
A small but gay group was collected round the door of the villa, as her litter passed by it to the private entrance of the baths appropriated to the women.
'Methinks, by this dim light,' said one of the bystanders, 'I recognize the slaves of Diomed.'
'True, Clodius,' said Sallust: 'it is probably the litter of his daughter Julia. She is rich, my friend; why dost thou not proffer thy suit to her?'
'Why, I had once hoped that Glaucus would have married her. She does not disguise her attachment; and then, as he gambles freely and with ill-success...'
'The sesterces would have passed to thee, wise Clodius. A wife is a good thing—when it belongs to another man!'
'But,' continued Clodius, 'as Glaucus is, I understand, to wed the Neapolitan, I think I must even try my chance with the dejected maid. After all, the lamp of Hymen will be gilt, and the vessel will reconcile one to the odor of the flame. I shall only protest, my Sallust, against Diomed's making thee trustee to his daughter's fortune.'
'Ha! ha! let us within, my comissator; the wine and the garlands wait us.'
Dismissing her slaves to that part of the house set apart for their entertainment, Julia entered the baths with Nydia, and declining the offers of the attendants, passed by a private door into the garden behind.
'She comes by appointment, be sure,' said one of the slaves.
'What is that to thee?' said a superintendent, sourly; 'she pays for the baths, and does not waste the saffron. Such appointments are the best part of the trade. Hark! do you not hear the widow Fulvia clapping her hands? Run, fool—run!'
Julia and Nydia, avoiding the more public part of the garden, arrived at the place specified by the Egyptian. In a small circular plot of grass the stars gleamed upon the statue of Silenus—the merry god reclined upon a fragment of rock—the lynx of Bacchus at his feet—and over his mouth he held, with extended arm, a bunch of grapes, which he seemingly laughed to welcome ere he devoured.
'I see not the magician,' said Julia, looking round: when, as she spoke, the Egyptian slowly emerged from the neighboring foliage, and the light fell palely over his sweeping robes.
'Salve, sweet maiden!—But ha! whom hast thou here? we must have no companions!'
'It is but the blind flower-girl, wise magician,' replied Julia: 'herself a Thessalian.'
'Oh! Nydia!' said the Egyptian. 'I know her well.'
Nydia drew back and shuddered.
'Thou hast been at my house, methinks!' said he, approaching his voice to Nydia's ear; 'thou knowest the oath!—Silence and secrecy, now as then, or beware!'
'Yet,' he added, musingly to himself, 'why confide more than is necessary, even in the blind—Julia, canst thou trust thyself alone with me? Believe me, the magician is less formidable than he seems.'
As he spoke, he gently drew Julia aside.
'The witch loves not many visitors at once,' said he: 'leave Nydia here till your return; she can be of no assistance to us: and, for protection—your own beauty suffices—your own beauty and your own rank; yes, Julia, I know thy name and birth. Come, trust thyself with me, fair rival of the youngest of the Naiads!'
The vain Julia was not, as we have seen, easily affrighted; she was moved by the flattery of Arbaces, and she readily consented to suffer Nydia to await her return; nor did Nydia press her presence. At the sound of the Egyptian's voice all her terror of him returned: she felt a sentiment of pleasure at learning she was not to travel in his companionship.
She returned to the Bath-house, and in one of the private chambers waited their return. Many and bitter were the thoughts of this wild girl as she sat there in her eternal darkness. She thought of her own desolate fate, far from her native land, far from the bland cares that once assuaged the April sorrows of childhood—deprived of the light of day, with none but strangers to guide her steps, accursed by the one soft feeling of her heart, loving and without hope, save the dim and unholy ray which shot across her mind, as her Thessalian fancies questioned of the force of spells and the gifts of magic.
Nature had sown in the heart of this poor girl the seeds of virtue never destined to ripen. The lessons of adversity are not always salutary—sometimes they soften and amend, but as often they indurate and pervert. If we consider ourselves more harshly treated by fate than those around us, and do not acknowledge in our own deeds the justice of the severity, we become too apt to deem the world our enemy, to case ourselves in defiance, to wrestle against our softer self, and to indulge the darker passions which are so easily fermented by the sense of injustice. Sold early into slavery, sentenced to a sordid taskmaster, exchanging her situation, only yet more to embitter her lot—the kindlier feelings, naturally profuse in the breast of Nydia, were nipped and blighted. Her sense of right and wrong was confused by a passion to which she had so madly surrendered herself; and the same intense and tragic emotions which we read of in the women of the classic age—a Myrrha, a Medea—and which hurried and swept away the whole soul when once delivered to love—ruled, and rioted in, her breast.
Time passed: a light step entered the chamber where Nydia yet indulged her gloomy meditations.
'Oh, thanked be the immortal gods!' said Julia, 'I have returned, I have left that terrible cavern! Come, Nydia! let us away forthwith!'
It was not till they were seated in the litter that Julia again spoke.
'Oh!' said she, tremblingly, 'such a scene! such fearful incantations! and the dead face of the hag!—But, let us talk not of it. I have obtained the potion—she pledges its effect. My rival shall be suddenly indifferent to his eye, and I, I alone, the idol of Glaucus!'
'Glaucus!' exclaimed Nydia.
'Ay! I told thee, girl, at first, that it was not the Athenian whom I loved: but I see now that I may trust thee wholly—it is the beautiful Greek!'
What then were Nydia's emotions! she had connived, she had assisted, in tearing Glaucus from Ione; but only to transfer, by all the power of magic, his affections yet more hopelessly to another. Her heart swelled almost to suffocation—she gasped for breath—in the darkness of the vehicle, Julia did not perceive the agitation of her companion; she went on rapidly dilating on the promised effect of her acquisition, and on her approaching triumph over Ione, every now and then abruptly digressing to the horror of the scene she had quitted—the unmoved mien of Arbaces, and his authority over the dreadful Saga.
Meanwhile Nydia recovered her self-possession: a thought flashed across her: she slept in the chamber of Julia—she might possess herself of the potion.
They arrived at the house of Diomed, and descended to Julia's apartment, where the night's repast awaited them.
'Drink, Nydia, thou must be cold, the air was chill to-night; as for me, my veins are yet ice.'
And Julia unhesitatingly quaffed deep draughts of the spiced wine.
'Thou hast the potion,' said Nydia; 'let me hold it in my hands. How small the phial is! of what color is the draught?'
'Clear as crystal,' replied Julia, as she retook the philtre; 'thou couldst not tell it from this water. The witch assures me it is tasteless. Small though the phial, it suffices for a life's fidelity: it is to be poured into any liquid; and Glaucus will only know what he has quaffed by the effect.'
'Exactly like this water in appearance?'
'Yes, sparkling and colorless as this. How bright it seems! it is as the very essence of moonlit dews. Bright thing! how thou shinest on my hopes through thy crystal vase!'
'And how is it sealed?'
'But by one little stopper—I withdraw it now—the draught gives no odor. Strange, that that which speaks to neither sense should thus command all!'
'Is the effect instantaneous?'
'Usually—but sometimes it remains dormant for a few hours.'
'Oh, how sweet is this perfume!' said Nydia, suddenly, as she took up a small bottle on the table, and bent over its fragrant contents.
'Thinkest thou so? the bottle is set with gems of some value. Thou wouldst not have the bracelet yestermorn—wilt thou take the bottle?'
'It ought to be such perfumes as these that should remind one who cannot see of the generous Julia. If the bottle be not too costly...'
'Oh! I have a thousand costlier ones: take it, child!'
Nydia bowed her gratitude, and placed the bottle in her vest.
'And the draught would be equally efficacious, whoever administers it?'
'If the most hideous hag beneath the sun bestowed it, such is its asserted virtue that Glaucus would deem her beautiful, and none but her!'
Julia, warmed by wine, and the reaction of her spirits, was now all animation and delight; she laughed loud, and talked on a hundred matters—nor was it till the night had advanced far towards morning that she summoned her slaves and undressed.
When they were dismissed, she said to Nydia, 'I will not suffer this holy draught to quit my presence till the hour comes for its use. Lie under my pillow, bright spirit, and give me happy dreams!'
So saying, she placed the potion under her pillow. Nydia's heart beat violently.
'Why dost thou drink that unmixed water, Nydia? Take the wine by its side.'
'I am fevered,' replied the blind girl, 'and the water cools me. I will place this bottle by my bedside, it refreshes in these summer nights, when the dews of sleep fall not on our lips. Fair Julia, I must leave thee very early—so Ione bids—perhaps before thou art awake; accept, therefore, now my congratulations.'
'Thanks: when next we meet you may find Glaucus at my feet.'
They had retired to their couches, and Julia, worn out by the excitement of the day, soon slept. But anxious and burning thoughts rolled over the mind of the wakeful Thessalian. She listened to the calm breathing of Julia; and her ear, accustomed to the finest distinctions of sound, speedily assured her of the deep slumber of her companion.
'Now befriend me, Venus!' said she, softly.
She rose gently, and poured the perfume from the gift of Julia upon the marble floor—she rinsed it several times carefully with the water that was beside her, and then easily finding the bed of Julia (for night to her was as day), she pressed her trembling hand under the pillow and seized the potion. Julia stirred not, her breath regularly fanned the burning cheek of the blind girl. Nydia, then, opening the phial, poured its contents into the bottle, which easily contained them; and then refilling the former reservoir of the potion with that limpid water which Julia had assured her it so resembled, she once more placed the phial in its former place. She then stole again to her couch, and waited—with what thoughts!—the dawning day.
The sun had risen—Julia slept still—Nydia noiselessly dressed herself, placed her treasure carefully in her vest, took up her staff, and hastened to quit the house.
The porter, Medon, saluted her kindly as she descended the steps that led to the street: she heard him not; her mind was confused and lost in the whirl of tumultuous thoughts, each thought a passion. She felt the pure morning air upon her cheek, but it cooled not her scorching veins.
'Glaucus,' she murmured, 'all the love-charms of the wildest magic could not make thee love me as I love thee. Ione!—ah; away hesitation! away remorse! Glaucus, my fate is in thy smile; and thine! hope! O joy! O transport, thy fate is in these hands!'
BOOK THE FOURTH
REFLECTIONS ON THE ZEAL OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS. TWO MEN COME TO A PERILOUS RESOLVE. WALLS HAVE EARS, PARTICULARLY SACRED WALLS.
WHOEVER regards the early history of Christianity, will perceive how necessary to its triumph was that fierce spirit of zeal, which, fearing no danger, accepting no compromise, inspired its champions and sustained its martyrs. In a dominant Church the genius of intolerance betrays its cause—in a weak and persecuted Church, the same genius mainly supports. It was necessary to scorn, to loathe, to abhor the creeds of other men, in order to conquer the temptations which they presented—it was necessary rigidly to believe not only that the Gospel was the true faith, but the sole true faith that saved, in order to nerve the disciple to the austerity of its doctrine, and to encourage him to the sacred and perilous chivalry of converting the Polytheist and the Heathen. The sectarian sternness which confined virtue and heaven to a chosen few, which saw demons in other gods, and the penalties of hell in other religions—made the believer naturally anxious to convert all to whom he felt the ties of human affection; and the circle thus traced by benevolence to man was yet more widened by a desire for the glory of God. It was for the honour of the Christian faith that the Christian boldly forced its tenets upon the scepticism of some, the repugnance of others, the sage contempt of the philosopher, the pious shudder of the people—his very intolerance supplied him with his fittest instruments of success; and the soft Heathen began at last to imagine there must indeed be something holy in a zeal wholly foreign to his experience, which stopped at no obstacle, dreaded no danger, and even at the torture, or on the scaffold, referred a dispute far other than the calm differences of speculative philosophy to the tribunal of an Eternal Judge. It was thus that the same fervor which made the Churchman of the middle age a bigot without mercy, made the Christian of the early days a hero without fear.
Of these more fiery, daring, and earnest natures, not the least ardent was Olinthus. No sooner had Apaecides been received by the rites of baptism into the bosom of the Church, than the Nazarene hastened to make him conscious of the impossibility to retain the office and robes of priesthood. He could not, it was evident, profess to worship God, and continue even outwardly to honour the idolatrous altars of the Fiend.
Nor was this all, the sanguine and impetuous mind of Olinthus beheld in the power of Apaecides the means of divulging to the deluded people the juggling mysteries of the oracular Isis. He thought Heaven had sent this instrument of his design in order to disabuse the eyes of the crowd, and prepare the way, perchance, for the conversion of a whole city. He did not hesitate then to appeal to all the new-kindled enthusiasm of Apaecides, to arouse his courage, and to stimulate his zeal. They met, according to previous agreement, the evening after the baptism of Apaecides, in the grove of Cybele, which we have before described.
'At the next solemn consultation of the oracle,' said Olinthus, as he proceeded in the warmth of his address, 'advance yourself to the railing, proclaim aloud to the people the deception they endure, invite them to enter, to be themselves the witness of the gross but artful mechanism of imposture thou hast described to me. Fear not—the Lord, who protected Daniel, shall protect thee; we, the community of Christians, will be amongst the crowd; we will urge on the shrinking: and in the first flush of the popular indignation and shame, I myself, upon those very altars, will plant the palm-branch typical of the Gospel—and to my tongue shall descend the rushing Spirit of the living God.'
Heated and excited as he was, this suggestion was not unpleasing to Apaecides. He was rejoiced at so early an opportunity of distinguishing his faith in his new sect, and to his holier feelings were added those of a vindictive loathing at the imposition he had himself suffered, and a desire to avenge it. In that sanguine and elastic overbound of obstacles (the rashness necessary to all who undertake venturous and lofty actions), neither Olinthus nor the proselyte perceived the impediments to the success of their scheme, which might be found in the reverent superstition of the people themselves, who would probably be loth, before the sacred altars of the great Egyptian goddess, to believe even the testimony of her priest against her power.
Apaecides then assented to this proposal with a readiness which delighted Olinthus. They parted with the understanding that Olinthus should confer with the more important of his Christian brethren on his great enterprise, should receive their advice and the assurances of their support on the eventful day. It so chanced that one of the festivals of Isis was to be held on the second day after this conference. The festival proffered a ready occasion for the design. They appointed to meet once more on the next evening at the same spot; and in that meeting were finally to be settled the order and details of the disclosure for the following day.
It happened that the latter part of this conference had been held near the sacellum, or small chapel, which I have described in the early part of this work; and so soon as the forms of the Christian and the priest had disappeared from the grove, a dark and ungainly figure emerged from behind the chapel.
'I have tracked you with some effect, my brother flamen,' soliloquised the eavesdropper; 'you, the priest of Isis, have not for mere idle discussion conferred with this gloomy Christian. Alas! that I could not hear all your precious plot: enough! I find, at least, that you meditate revealing the sacred mysteries, and that to-morrow you meet again at this place to plan the how and the when. May Osiris sharpen my ears then, to detect the whole of your unheard-of audacity! When I have learned more, I must confer at once with Arbaces. We will frustrate you, my friends, deep as you think yourselves. At present, my breast is a locked treasury of your secret.'
Thus muttering, Calenus, for it was he, wrapped his robe round him, and strode thoughtfully homeward.
A CLASSIC HOST, COOK, AND KITCHEN. APAECIDES SEEKS IONE. THEIR CONVERSATION.
IT was then the day for Diomed's banquet to the most select of his friends. The graceful Glaucus, the beautiful Ione, the official Pansa, the high-born Clodius, the immortal Fulvius, the exquisite Lepidus, the epicurean Sallust, were not the only honourers of his festival. He expected, also, an invalid senator from Rome (a man of considerable repute and favor at court), and a great warrior from Herculaneum, who had fought with Titus against the Jews, and having enriched himself prodigiously in the wars, was always told by his friends that his country was eternally indebted to his disinterested exertions! The party, however, extended to a yet greater number: for although, critically speaking, it was, at one time, thought inelegant among the Romans to entertain less than three or more than nine at their banquets, yet this rule was easily disregarded by the ostentatious. And we are told, indeed, in history, that one of the most splendid of these entertainers usually feasted a select party of three hundred. Diomed, however, more modest, contented himself with doubling the number of the Muses. His party consisted of eighteen, no unfashionable number in the present day.
It was the morning of Diomed's banquet; and Diomed himself, though he greatly affected the gentleman and the scholar, retained enough of his mercantile experience to know that a master's eye makes a ready servant. Accordingly, with his tunic ungirdled on his portly stomach, his easy slippers on his feet, a small wand in his hand, wherewith he now directed the gaze, and now corrected the back, of some duller menial, he went from chamber to chamber of his costly villa.
He did not disdain even a visit to that sacred apartment in which the priests of the festival prepare their offerings. On entering the kitchen, his ears were agreeably stunned by the noise of dishes and pans, of oaths and commands. Small as this indispensable chamber seems to have been in all the houses of Pompeii, it was, nevertheless, usually fitted up with all that amazing variety of stoves and shapes, stew-pans and saucepans, cutters and moulds, without which a cook of spirit, no matter whether he be an ancient or a modern, declares it utterly impossible that he can give you anything to eat. And as fuel was then, as now, dear and scarce in those regions, great seems to have been the dexterity exercised in preparing as many things as possible with as little fire. An admirable contrivance of this nature may be still seen in the Neapolitan Museum, viz., a portable kitchen, about the size of a folio volume, containing stoves for four dishes, and an apparatus for heating water or other beverages.
Across the small kitchen flitted many forms which the quick eye of the master did not recognize.
'Oh! oh!' grumbled he to himself, 'that cursed Congrio hath invited a whole legion of cooks to assist him. They won't serve for nothing, and this is another item in the total of my day's expenses. By Bacchus! thrice lucky shall I be if the slaves do not help themselves to some of the drinking vessels: ready, alas, are their hands, capacious are their tunics. Me miserum!'
The cooks, however, worked on, seemingly heedless of the apparition of Diomed.
'Ho, Euclio, your egg-pan! What, is this the largest? it only holds thirty-three eggs: in the houses I usually serve, the smallest egg-pan holds fifty, if need be!'
'The unconscionable rogue!' thought Diomed; 'he talks of eggs as if they were a sesterce a hundred!'
'By Mercury!' cried a pert little culinary disciple, scarce in his novitiate; 'whoever saw such antique sweetmeat shapes as these?—It is impossible to do credit to one's art with such rude materials. Why, Sallust's commonest sweetmeat shape represents the whole siege of Troy; Hector and Paris, and Helen... with little Astyanax and the Wooden Horse into the bargain!'
'Silence, fool!' said Congrio, the cook of the house, who seemed to leave the chief part of the battle to his allies. 'My master, Diomed, is not one of those expensive good-for-noughts, who must have the last fashion, cost what it will!'
'Thou liest, base slave!' cried Diomed, in a great passion—and thou costest me already enough to have ruined Lucullus himself! Come out of thy den, I want to talk to thee.'
The slave, with a sly wink at his confederates, obeyed the command.
'Man of three letters,' said Diomed, with his face of solemn anger, 'how didst thou dare to invite all those rascals into my house?—I see thief written in every line of their faces.'
'Yet, I assure you, master, that they are men of most respectable character—the best cooks of the place; it is a great favor to get them. But for my sake...'
'Thy sake, unhappy Congrio!' interrupted Diomed; and by what purloined moneys of mine, by what reserved filchings from marketing, by what goodly meats converted into grease, and sold in the suburbs, by what false charges for bronzes marred, and earthenware broken—hast thou been enabled to make them serve thee for thy sake?'
'Nay, master, do not impeach my honesty! May the gods desert me if...'
'Swear not!' again interrupted the choleric Diomed, 'for then the gods will smite thee for a perjurer, and I shall lose my cook on the eve of dinner. But, enough of this at present: keep a sharp eye on thy ill-favored assistants, and tell me no tales to-morrow of vases broken, and cups miraculously vanished, or thy whole back shall be one pain. And hark thee! thou knowest thou hast made me pay for those Phrygian attagens enough, by Hercules, to have feasted a sober man for a year together—see that they be not one iota over-roasted. The last time, O Congrio, that I gave a banquet to my friends, when thy vanity did so boldly undertake the becoming appearance of a Melian crane—thou knowest it came up like a stone from AEtna—as if all the fires of Phlegethon had been scorching out its juices. Be modest this time, Congrio—wary and modest. Modesty is the nurse of great actions; and in all other things, as in this, if thou wilt not spare thy master's purse, at least consult thy master's glory.'
'There shall not be such a coena seen at Pompeii since the days of Hercules.'
'Softly, softly—thy cursed boasting again! But I say, Congrio, yon homunculus—yon pigmy assailant of my cranes—yon pert-tongued neophyte of the kitchen, was there aught but insolence on his tongue when he maligned the comeliness of my sweetmeat shapes? I would not be out of the fashion, Congrio.'
'It is but the custom of us cooks,' replied Congrio, gravely, to undervalue our tools, in order to increase the effect of our art. The sweetmeat shape is a fair shape, and a lovely; but I would recommend my master, at the first occasion, to purchase some new ones of a...'
'That will suffice,' exclaimed Diomed, who seemed resolved never to allow his slave to finish his sentences. 'Now, resume thy charge—shine——eclipse thyself. Let men envy Diomed his cook—let the slaves of Pompeii style thee Congrio the great! Go! yet stay—thou hast not spent all the moneys I gave thee for the marketing?' '"All!" alas! the nightingales' tongues and the Roman tomacula, and the oysters from Britain, and sundry other things, too numerous now to recite, are yet left unpaid for. But what matter? every one trusts the Archimagirus of Diomed the wealthy!'
'Oh, unconscionable prodigal!—what waste!—what profusion!—I am ruined! But go, hasten—inspect!—taste!—perform!—surpass thyself! Let the Roman senator not despise the poor Pompeian. Away, slave—and remember, the Phrygian attagens.'
The chief disappeared within his natural domain, and Diomed rolled back his portly presence to the more courtly chambers. All was to his liking—the flowers were fresh, the fountains played briskly, the mosaic pavements were as smooth as mirrors.
'Where is my daughter Julia?' he asked.
'At the bath.'
'Ah! that reminds me!—time wanes!—and I must bathe also.'
Our story returns to Apaecides. On awaking that day from the broken and feverish sleep which had followed his adoption of a faith so strikingly and sternly at variance with that in which his youth had been nurtured, the young priest could scarcely imagine that he was not yet in a dream; he had crossed the fatal river—the past was henceforth to have no sympathy with the future; the two worlds were distinct and separate—that which had been, from that which was to be. To what a bold and adventurous enterprise he had pledged his life!—to unveil the mysteries in which he had participated—to desecrate the altars he had served—to denounce the goddess whose ministering robe he wore! Slowly he became sensible of the hatred and the horror he should provoke amongst the pious, even if successful; if frustrated in his daring attempt, what penalties might he not incur for an offence hitherto unheard of—for which no specific law, derived from experience, was prepared; and which, for that very reason, precedents, dragged from the sharpest armoury of obsolete and inapplicable legislation, would probably be distorted to meet! His friends—the sister of his youth—could he expect justice, though he might receive compassion, from them? This brave and heroic act would by their heathen eyes be regarded, perhaps, as a heinous apostasy—at the best as a pitiable madness.
He dared, he renounced, everything in this world, in the hope of securing that eternity in the next, which had so suddenly been revealed to him. While these thoughts on the one hand invaded his breast, on the other hand his pride, his courage, and his virtue, mingled with reminiscences of revenge for deceit, of indignant disgust at fraud, conspired to raise and to support him.
The conflict was sharp and keen; but his new feelings triumphed over his old: and a mighty argument in favor of wrestling with the sanctities of old opinions and hereditary forms might be found in the conquest over both, achieved by that humble priest. Had the early Christians been more controlled by 'the solemn plausibilities of custom'—less of democrats in the pure and lofty acceptation of that perverted word—Christianity would have perished in its cradle!
As each priest in succession slept several nights together in the chambers of the temple, the term imposed on Apaecides was not yet completed; and when he had risen from his couch, attired himself, as usual, in his robes, and left his narrow chamber, he found himself before the altars of the temple.
In the exhaustion of his late emotions he had slept far into the morning, and the vertical sun already poured its fervid beams over the sacred place.
'Salve, Apaecides!' said a voice, whose natural asperity was smoothed by long artifice into an almost displeasing softness of tone. 'Thou art late abroad; has the goddess revealed herself to thee in visions?'
'Could she reveal her true self to the people, Calenus, how incenseless would be these altars!'
'That,' replied Calenus, 'may possibly be true; but the deity is wise enough to hold commune with none but priests.'
'A time may come when she will be unveiled without her own acquiescence.'
'It is not likely: she has triumphed for countless ages. And that which has so long stood the test of time rarely succumbs to the lust of novelty. But hark ye, young brother! these sayings are indiscreet.'
'It is not for thee to silence them,' replied Apaecides, haughtily.
'So hot!—yet I will not quarrel with thee. Why, my Apaecides, has not the Egyptian convinced thee of the necessity of our dwelling together in unity? Has he not convinced thee of the wisdom of deluding the people and enjoying ourselves? If not, oh, brother! he is not that great magician he is esteemed.'
'Thou, then, hast shared his lessons?' said Apaecides, with a hollow smile.
'Ay! but I stood less in need of them than thou. Nature had already gifted me with the love of pleasure, and the desire of gain and power. Long is the way that leads the voluptuary to the severities of life; but it is only one step from pleasant sin to sheltering hypocrisy. Beware the vengeance of the goddess, if the shortness of that step be disclosed!'
'Beware, thou, the hour when the tomb shall be rent and the rottenness exposed,' returned Apaecides, solemnly. 'Vale!'
With these words he left the flamen to his meditations. When he got a few paces from the temple, he turned to look back. Calenus had already disappeared in the entry room of the priests, for it now approached the hour of that repast which, called prandium by the ancients, answers in point of date to the breakfast of the moderns. The white and graceful fane gleamed brightly in the sun. Upon the altars before it rose the incense and bloomed the garlands. The priest gazed long and wistfully upon the scene—it was the last time that it was ever beheld by him!
He then turned and pursued his way slowly towards the house of Ione; for before possibly the last tie that united them was cut in twain—before the uncertain peril of the next day was incurred, he was anxious to see his last surviving relative, his fondest as his earliest friend.
He arrived at her house, and found her in the garden with Nydia.
'This is kind, Apaecides,' said Ione, joyfully; 'and how eagerly have I wished to see thee!—what thanks do I not owe thee? How churlish hast thou been to answer none of my letters—to abstain from coming hither to receive the expressions of my gratitude! Oh! thou hast assisted to preserve thy sister from dishonour! What, what can she say to thank thee, now thou art come at last?'
'My sweet Ione, thou owest me no gratitude, for thy cause was mine. Let us avoid that subject, let us recur not to that impious man—how hateful to both of us! I may have a speedy opportunity to teach the world the nature of his pretended wisdom and hypocritical severity. But let us sit down, my sister; I am wearied with the heat of the sun; let us sit in yonder shade, and, for a little while longer, be to each other what we have been.'
Beneath a wide plane-tree, with the cistus and the arbutus clustering round them, the living fountain before, the greensward beneath their feet; the gay cicada, once so dear to Athens, rising merrily ever and anon amidst the grass; the butterfly, beautiful emblem of the soul, dedicated to Psyche, and which has continued to furnish illustrations to the Christian bard, rich in the glowing colors caught from Sicilian skies, hovering about the sunny flowers, itself like a winged flower—in this spot, and this scene, the brother and the sister sat together for the last time on earth. You may tread now on the same place; but the garden is no more, the columns are shattered, the fountain has ceased to play. Let the traveler search amongst the ruins of Pompeii for the house of Ione. Its remains are yet visible; but I will not betray them to the gaze of commonplace tourists. He who is more sensitive than the herd will discover them easily: when he has done so, let him keep the secret.
They sat down, and Nydia, glad to be alone, retired to the farther end of the garden.
'Ione, my sister,' said the young convert, 'place your hand upon my brow; let me feel your cool touch. Speak to me, too, for your gentle voice is like a breeze that hath freshness as well as music. Speak to me, but forbear to bless me! Utter not one word of those forms of speech which our childhood was taught to consider sacred!'
'Alas! and what then shall I say? Our language of affection is so woven with that of worship, that the words grow chilled and trite if I banish from them allusion to our gods.'
'Our gods!' murmured Apaecides, with a shudder: 'thou slightest my request already.'
'Shall I speak then to thee only of Isis?'
'The Evil Spirit! No, rather be dumb for ever, unless at least thou canst—but away, away this talk! Not now will we dispute and cavil; not now will we judge harshly of each other. Thou, regarding me as an apostate! and I all sorrow and shame for thee as an idolater. No, my sister, let us avoid such topics and such thoughts. In thy sweet presence a calm falls over my spirit. For a little while I forget. As I thus lay my temples on thy bosom, as I thus feel thy gentle arm embrace me, I think that we are children once more, and that the heaven smiles equally upon both. For oh! if hereafter I escape, no matter what peril; and it be permitted me to address thee on one sacred and awful subject; should I find thine ear closed and thy heart hardened, what hope for myself could countervail the despair for thee? In thee, my sister, I behold a likeness made beautiful, made noble, of myself. Shall the mirror live for ever, and the form itself be broken as the potter's clay? Ah, no—no—thou wilt listen to me yet! Dost thou remember how we went into the fields by Baiae, hand in hand together, to pluck the flowers of spring? Even so, hand in hand, shall we enter the Eternal Garden, and crown ourselves with imperishable asphodel!'
Wondering and bewildered by words she could not comprehend, but excited even to tears by the plaintiveness of their tone, Ione listened to these outpourings of a full and oppressed heart. In truth, Apaecides himself was softened much beyond his ordinary mood, which to outward seeming was usually either sullen or impetuous. For the noblest desires are of a jealous nature—they engross, they absorb the soul, and often leave the splenetic humors stagnant and unheeded at the surface. Unheeding the petty things around us, we are deemed morose; impatient at earthly interruption to the diviner dreams, we are thought irritable and churlish. For as there is no chimera vainer than the hope that one human heart shall find sympathy in another, so none ever interpret us with justice; and none, no, not our nearest and our dearest ties, forbear with us in mercy! When we are dead and repentance comes too late, both friend and foe may wonder to think how little there was in us to forgive!
'I will talk to thee then of our early years,' said Ione. 'Shall yon blind girl sing to thee of the days of childhood? Her voice is sweet and musical, and she hath a song on that theme which contains none of those allusions it pains thee to hear.'
'Dost thou remember the words, my sister?' asked Apaecides.
'Methinks yes; for the tune, which is simple, fixed them on my memory.'
'Sing to me then thyself. My ear is not in unison with unfamiliar voices; and thine, Ione, full of household associations, has ever been to me more sweet than all the hireling melodies of Lycia or of Crete. Sing to me!'
Ione beckoned to a slave that stood in the portico, and sending for her lute, sang, when it arrived, to a tender and simple air, the following verses:—
REGRETS FOR CHILDHOOD
It is not that our earlier Heaven Escapes its April showers, Or that to childhood's heart is given No snake amidst the flowers. Ah! twined with grief Each brightest leaf, That's wreath'd us by the Hours! Young though we be, the Past may sting, The present feed its sorrow; But hope shines bright on every thing That waits us with the morrow. Like sun-lit glades, The dimmest shades Some rosy beam can borrow.
It is not that our later years Of cares are woven wholly, But smiles less swiftly chase the tears, And wounds are healed more slowly. And Memory's vow To lost ones now, Makes joys too bright, unholy. And ever fled the Iris bow That smiled when clouds were o'er us. If storms should burst, uncheered we go, A drearier waste before us— And with the toys Of childish joys, We've broke the staff that bore us!
Wisely and delicately had Ione chosen that song, sad though its burthen seemed; for when we are deeply mournful, discordant above all others is the voice of mirth: the fittest spell is that borrowed from melancholy itself, for dark thoughts can be softened down when they cannot be brightened; and so they lose the precise and rigid outline of their truth, and their colors melt into the ideal. As the leech applies in remedy to the internal sore some outward irritation, which, by a gentler wound, draws away the venom of that which is more deadly, thus, in the rankling festers of the mind, our art is to divert to a milder sadness on the surface the pain that gnaweth at the core. And so with Apaecides, yielding to the influence of the silver voice that reminded him of the past, and told but of half the sorrow born to the present, he forgot his more immediate and fiery sources of anxious thought. He spent hours in making Ione alternately sing to, and converse with him; and when he rose to leave her, it was with a calmed and lulled mind.
'Ione,' said he, as he pressed her hand, 'should you hear my name blackened and maligned, will you credit the aspersion?'
'Never, my brother, never!'
'Dost thou not imagine, according to thy belief, that the evil-doer is punished hereafter, and the good rewarded?'
'Can you doubt it?'
'Dost thou think, then, that he who is truly good should sacrifice every selfish interest in his zeal for virtue?'
'He who doth so is the equal of the gods.'
'And thou believest that, according to the purity and courage with which he thus acts, shall be his portion of bliss beyond the grave?'
'So we are taught to hope.'
'Kiss me, my sister. One question more. Thou art to be wedded to Glaucus: perchance that marriage may separate us more hopelessly—but not of this speak I now—thou art to be married to Glaucus—dost thou love him? Nay, my sister, answer me by words.'
'Yes!' murmured Ione, blushing.
'Dost thou feel that, for his sake, thou couldst renounce pride, brave dishonour, and incur death? I have heard that when women really love, it is to that excess.'
'My brother, all this could I do for Glaucus, and feel that it were not a sacrifice. There is no sacrifice to those who love, in what is borne for the one we love.'
'Enough! shall woman feel thus for man, and man feel less devotion to his God?'
He spoke no more. His whole countenance seemed instinct and inspired with a divine life: his chest swelled proudly; his eyes glowed: on his forehead was writ the majesty of a man who can dare to be noble! He turned to meet the eyes of Ione—earnest, wistful, fearful—he kissed her fondly, strained her warmly to his breast, and in a moment more he had left the house.
Long did Ione remain in the same place, mute and thoughtful. The maidens again and again came to warn her of the deepening noon, and her engagement to Diomed's banquet. At length she woke from her reverie, and prepared, not with the pride of beauty, but listless and melancholy, for the festival: one thought alone reconciled her to the promised visit—she should meet Glaucus—she could confide to him her alarm and uneasiness for her brother.
A FASHIONABLE PARTY AND A DINNER A LA MODE IN POMPEII.
MEANWHILE Sallust and Glaucus were slowly strolling towards the house of Diomed. Despite the habits of his life, Sallust was not devoid of many estimable qualities. He would have been an active friend, a useful citizen—in short, an excellent man, if he had not taken it into his head to be a philosopher. Brought up in the schools in which Roman plagiarism worshipped the echo of Grecian wisdom, he had imbued himself with those doctrines by which the later Epicureans corrupted the simple maxims of their great master. He gave himself altogether up to pleasure, and imagined there was no sage like a boon companion. Still, however, he had a considerable degree of learning, wit, and good nature; and the hearty frankness of his very vices seemed like virtue itself beside the utter corruption of Clodius and the prostrate effeminacy of Lepidus; and therefore Glaucus liked him the best of his companions; and he, in turn, appreciating the nobler qualities of the Athenian, loved him almost as much as a cold muraena, or a bowl of the best Falernian.
'This is a vulgar old fellow, this Diomed,' said Sallust: 'but he has some good qualities—in his cellar!'
'And some charming ones—in his daughter.'
'True, Glaucus: but you are not much moved by them, methinks. I fancy Clodius is desirous to be your successor.'
'He is welcome. At the banquet of Julia's beauty, no guest, be sure, is considered a musca.'
'You are severe: but she has, indeed, something of the Corinthian about her—they will be well matched, after all! What good-natured fellows we are to associate with that gambling good-for-nought.'
'Pleasure unites strange varieties,' answered Glaucus. 'He amuses me...'
'And flatters—but then he pays himself well! He powders his praise with gold-dust.'
'You often hint that he plays unfairly—think you so really?'
'My dear Glaucus, a Roman noble has his dignity to keep up—dignity is very expensive—Clodius must cheat like a scoundrel, in order to live like a gentleman.'
'Ha ha!—well, of late I have renounced the dice. Ah! Sallust, when I am wedded to Ione, I trust I may yet redeem a youth of follies. We are both born for better things than those in which we sympathize now—born to render our worship in nobler temples than the stye of Epicurus.'
'Alas!' returned Sallust, in rather a melancholy tone, 'what do we know more than this—life is short—beyond the grave all is dark? There is no wisdom like that which says "enjoy".'
'By Bacchus! I doubt sometimes if we do enjoy the utmost of which life is capable.'
'I am a moderate man,' returned Sallust, 'and do not ask "the utmost". We are like malefactors, and intoxicate ourselves with wine and myrrh, as we stand on the brink of death; but, if we did not do so, the abyss would look very disagreeable. I own that I was inclined to be gloomy until I took so heartily to drinking—that is a new life, my Glaucus.'
'Yes! but it brings us next morning to a new death.'
'Why, the next morning is unpleasant, I own; but, then, if it were not so, one would never be inclined to read. I study betimes—because, by the gods! I am generally unfit for anything else till noon.'
'Pshaw! the fate of Pentheus to him who denies Bacchus.'
'Well, Sallust, with all your faults, you are the best profligate I ever met: and verily, if I were in danger of life, you are the only man in all Italy who would stretch out a finger to save me.'
'Perhaps I should not, if it were in the middle of supper. But, in truth, we Italians are fearfully selfish.'
'So are all men who are not free,' said Glaucus, with a sigh. 'Freedom alone makes men sacrifice to each other.'
'Freedom, then, must be a very fatiguing thing to an Epicurean,' answered Sallust. 'But here we are at our host's.'
As Diomed's villa is one of the most considerable in point of size of any yet discovered at Pompeii, and is, moreover, built much according to the specific instructions for a suburban villa laid down by the Roman architect, it may not be uninteresting briefly to describe the plan of the apartments through which our visitors passed.
They entered, then, by the same small vestibule at which we have before been presented to the aged Medon, and passed at once into a colonnade, technically termed the peristyle; for the main difference between the suburban villa and the town mansion consisted in placing, in the first, the said colonnade in exactly the same place as that which in the town mansion was occupied by the atrium. In the centre of the peristyle was an open court, which contained the impluvium.
From this peristyle descended a staircase to the offices; another narrow passage on the opposite side communicated with a garden; various small apartments surrounded the colonnade, appropriated probably to country visitors. Another door to the left on entering communicated with a small triangular portico, which belonged to the baths; and behind was the wardrobe, in which were kept the vests of the holiday suits of the slaves, and, perhaps, of the master. Seventeen centuries afterwards were found those relics of ancient finery calcined and crumbling: kept longer, alas! than their thrifty lord foresaw.
Return we to the peristyle, and endeavor now to present to the reader a coup d'oeil of the whole suite of apartments, which immediately stretched before the steps of the visitors.
Let him then first imagine the columns of the portico, hung with festoons of flowers; the columns themselves in the lower part painted red, and the walls around glowing with various frescoes; then, looking beyond a curtain, three parts drawn aside, the eye caught the tablinum or saloon (which was closed at will by glazed doors, now slid back into the walls). On either side of this tablinum were small rooms, one of which was a kind of cabinet of gems; and these apartments, as well as the tablinum, communicated with a long gallery, which opened at either end upon terraces; and between the terraces, and communicating with the central part of the gallery, was a hall, in which the banquet was that day prepared. All these apartments, though almost on a level with the street, were one story above the garden; and the terraces communicating with the gallery were continued into corridors, raised above the pillars which, to the right and left, skirted the garden below.
Beneath, and on a level with the garden, ran the apartments we have already described as chiefly appropriated to Julia.
In the gallery, then, just mentioned, Diomed received his guests.
The merchant affected greatly the man of letters, and, therefore, he also affected a passion for everything Greek; he paid particular attention to Glaucus.
'You will see, my friend,' said he, with a wave of his hand, 'that I am a little classical here—a little Cecropian—eh? The hall in which we shall sup is borrowed from the Greeks. It is an OEcus Cyzicene. Noble Sallust, they have not, I am told, this sort of apartment in Rome.'
'Oh!' replied Sallust, with a half smile; 'you Pompeians combine all that is most eligible in Greece and in Rome; may you, Diomed, combine the viands as well as the architecture!'
'You shall see—you shall see, my Sallust,' replied the merchant. 'We have a taste at Pompeii, and we have also money.'
'They are two excellent things,' replied Sallust. 'But, behold, the lady Julia!'
The main difference, as I have before remarked, in the manner of life observed among the Athenians and Romans, was, that with the first, the modest women rarely or never took part in entertainments; with the latter, they were the common ornaments of the banquet; but when they were present at the feast, it usually terminated at an early hour.
Magnificently robed in white, interwoven with pearls and threads of gold, the handsome Julia entered the apartment.
Scarcely had she received the salutation of the two guests, ere Pansa and his wife, Lepidus, Clodius, and the Roman senator, entered almost simultaneously; then came the widow Fulvia; then the poet Fulvius, like to the widow in name if in nothing else; the warrior from Herculaneum, accompanied by his umbra, next stalked in; afterwards, the less eminent of the guests. Ione yet tarried.
It was the mode among the courteous ancients to flatter whenever it was in their power: accordingly it was a sign of ill-breeding to seat themselves immediately on entering the house of their host. After performing the salutation, which was usually accomplished by the same cordial shake of the right hand which we ourselves retain, and sometimes, by the yet more familiar embrace, they spent several minutes in surveying the apartment, and admiring the bronzes, the pictures, or the furniture, with which it was adorned—a mode very impolite according to our refined English notions, which place good breeding in indifference. We would not for the world express much admiration of another man's house, for fear it should be thought we had never seen anything so fine before!
'A beautiful statue this of Bacchus!' said the Roman senator.
'A mere trifle!' replied Diomed.
'What charming paintings!' said Fulvia.
'Mere trifles!' answered the owner.
'Exquisite candelabra!' cried the warrior.
'Exquisite!' echoed his umbra.
'Trifles! trifles!' reiterated the merchant.
Meanwhile, Glaucus found himself by one of the windows of the gallery, which communicated with the terraces, and the fair Julia by his side.
'Is it an Athenian virtue, Glaucus,' said the merchant's daughter, 'to shun those whom we once sought?'
'Yet methinks, it is one of the qualities of Glaucus.'
'Glaucus never shuns a friend!' replied the Greek, with some emphasis on the last word.
'May Julia rank among the number of his friends?'
'It would be an honour to the emperor to find a friend in one so lovely.'
'You evade my question,' returned the enamoured Julia. 'But tell me, is it true that you admire the Neapolitan Ione?'
'Does not beauty constrain our admiration?'
'Ah! subtle Greek, still do you fly the meaning of my words. But say, shall Julia be indeed your friend?'
'If she will so favor me, blessed be the gods! The day in which I am thus honored shall be ever marked in white.'
'Yet, even while you speak, your eye is resting—your color comes and goes—you move away involuntarily—you are impatient to join Ione!'
For at that moment Ione had entered, and Glaucus had indeed betrayed the emotion noticed by the jealous beauty.
'Can admiration to one woman make me unworthy the friendship of another? Sanction not so, O Julia the libels of the poets on your sex!'
'Well, you are right—or I will learn to think so. Glaucus, yet one moment! You are to wed Ione; is it not so?'
'If the Fates permit, such is my blessed hope.'
'Accept, then, from me, in token of our new friendship, a present for your bride. Nay, it is the custom of friends, you know, always to present to bride and bridegroom some such little marks of their esteem and favoring wishes.'
'Julia! I cannot refuse any token of friendship from one like you. I will accept the gift as an omen from Fortune herself.'
'Then, after the feast, when the guests retire, you will descend with me to my apartment, and receive it from my hands. Remember!' said Julia, as she joined the wife of Pansa, and left Glaucus to seek Ione.
The widow Fulvia and the spouse of the aedile were engaged in high and grave discussion.
'O Fulvia! I assure you that the last account from Rome declares that the frizzling mode of dressing the hair is growing antiquated; they only now wear it built up in a tower, like Julia's, or arranged as a helmet—the Galerian fashion, like mine, you see: it has a fine effect, I think. I assure you, Vespius (Vespius was the name of the Herculaneum hero) admires it greatly.'
'And nobody wears the hair like yon Neapolitan, in the Greek way.'
'What, parted in front, with the knot behind? Oh, no; how ridiculous it is! it reminds one of the statue of Diana! Yet this Ione is handsome, eh?'
'So the men say; but then she is rich: she is to marry the Athenian—I wish her joy. He will not be long faithful, I suspect; those foreigners are very faithless.'
'Oh, Julia!' said Fulvia, as the merchant's daughter joined them; 'have you seen the tiger yet?'
'Why, all the ladies have been to see him. He is so handsome!'
'I hope we shall find some criminal or other for him and the lion,' replied Julia. 'Your husband (turning to Pansa's wife) is not so active as he should be in this matter.'
'Why, really, the laws are too mild,' replied the dame of the helmet. 'There are so few offences to which the punishment of the arena can be awarded; and then, too, the gladiators are growing effeminate! The stoutest bestiarii declare they are willing enough to fight a boar or a bull; but as for a lion or a tiger, they think the game too much in earnest.'
'They are worthy of a mitre,' replied Julia, in disdain.
'Oh! have you seen the new house of Fulvius, the dear poet?' said Pansa's wife.
'No: is it handsome?'
'Very!—such good taste. But they say, my dear, that he has such improper pictures! He won't show them to the women: how ill-bred!'
'Those poets are always odd,' said the widow. 'But he is an interesting man; what pretty verses he writes! We improve very much in poetry: it is impossible to read the old stuff now.'
'I declare I am of your opinion, returned the lady of the helmet. 'There is so much more force and energy in the modern school.'
The warrior sauntered up to the ladies.
'It reconciles me to peace,' said he, 'when I see such faces.'
'Oh! you heroes are ever flatterers,' returned Fulvia, hastening to appropriate the compliment specially to herself.
'By this chain, which I received from the emperor's own hand,' replied the warrior, playing with a short chain which hung round the neck like a collar, instead of descending to the breast, according to the fashion of the peaceful—'By this chain, you wrong me! I am a blunt man—a soldier should be so.'
'How do you find the ladies of Pompeii generally?' said Julia.
'By Venus, most beautiful! They favor me a little, it is true, and that inclines my eyes to double their charms.'
'We love a warrior,' said the wife of Pansa.
'I see it: by Hercules! it is even disagreeable to be too celebrated in these cities. At Herculaneum they climb the roof of my atrium to catch a glimpse of me through the compluvium; the admiration of one's citizens is pleasant at first, but burthensome afterwards.'
'True, true, O Vespius!' cried the poet, joining the group: 'I find it so myself.'
'You!' said the stately warrior, scanning the small form of the poet with ineffable disdain. 'In what legion have you served?'
'You may see my spoils, my exuviae, in the forum itself,' returned the poet, with a significant glance at the women. 'I have been among the tent-companions, the contubernales, of the great Mantuan himself.'
'I know no general from Mantua, said the warrior, gravely. 'What campaign have you served?'
'That of Helicon.'
'I never heard of it.'
'Nay, Vespius, he does but joke,' said Julia, laughing.
'Joke! By Mars, am I a man to be joked!'
'Yes; Mars himself was in love with the mother of jokes,' said the poet, a little alarmed. 'Know, then, O Vespius! that I am the poet Fulvius. It is I who make warriors immortal!'
'The gods forbid!' whispered Sallust to Julia. 'If Vespius were made immortal, what a specimen of tiresome braggadocio would be transmitted to posterity!'
The soldier looked puzzled; when, to the infinite relief of himself and his companions, the signal for the feast was given.
As we have already witnessed at the house of Glaucus the ordinary routine of a Pompeian entertainment, the reader is spared any second detail of the courses, and the manner in which they were introduced.
Diomed, who was rather ceremonious, had appointed a nomenclator, or appointer of places to each guest.
The reader understands that the festive board was composed of three tables; one at the centre, and one at each wing. It was only at the outer side of these tables that the guests reclined; the inner space was left untenanted, for the greater convenience of the waiters or ministri. The extreme corner of one of the wings was appropriated to Julia as the lady of the feast; that next her, to Diomed. At one corner of the centre table was placed the aedile; at the opposite corner, the Roman senator—these were the posts of honour. The other guests were arranged, so that the young (gentleman or lady) should sit next each other, and the more advanced in years be similarly matched. An agreeable provision enough, but one which must often have offended those who wished to be thought still young.
The chair of Ione was next to the couch of Glaucus. The seats were veneered with tortoiseshell, and covered with quilts stuffed with feathers, and ornamented with costly embroideries. The modern ornaments of epergne or plateau were supplied by images of the gods, wrought in bronze, ivory, and silver. The sacred salt-cellar and the familiar Lares were not forgotten. Over the table and the seats a rich canopy was suspended from the ceiling. At each corner of the table were lofty candelabra—for though it was early noon, the room was darkened—while from tripods, placed in different parts of the room, distilled the odor of myrrh and frankincense; and upon the abacus, or sideboard, large vases and various ornaments of silver were ranged, much with the same ostentation (but with more than the same taste) that we find displayed at a modern feast.
The custom of grace was invariably supplied by that of libations to the gods; and Vesta, as queen of the household gods, usually received first that graceful homage.
This ceremony being performed, the slaves showered flowers upon the couches and the floor, and crowned each guest with rosy garlands, intricately woven with ribands, tied by the rind of the linden-tree, and each intermingled with the ivy and the amethyst—supposed preventives against the effect of wine; the wreaths of the women only were exempted from these leaves, for it was not the fashion for them to drink wine in public. It was then that the president Diomed thought it advisable to institute a basileus, or director of the feast—an important office, sometimes chosen by lot; sometimes, as now, by the master of the entertainment.
Diomed was not a little puzzled as to his election. The invalid senator was too grave and too infirm for the proper fulfilment of his duty; the aedile Pansa was adequate enough to the task: but then, to choose the next in official rank to the senator, was an affront to the senator himself. While deliberating between the merits of the others, he caught the mirthful glance of Sallust, and, by a sudden inspiration, named the jovial epicure to the rank of director, or arbiter bibendi.
Sallust received the appointment with becoming humility.
'I shall be a merciful king,' said he, 'to those who drink deep; to a recusant, Minos himself shall be less inexorable. Beware!'
The slaves handed round basins of perfumed water, by which lavation the feast commenced: and now the table groaned under the initiatory course.
The conversation, at first desultory and scattered, allowed Ione and Glaucus to carry on those sweet whispers, which are worth all the eloquence in the world. Julia watched them with flashing eyes.
'How soon shall her place be mine!' thought she.
But Clodius, who sat in the centre table, so as to observe well the countenance of Julia, guessed her pique, and resolved to profit by it. He addressed her across the table in set phrases of gallantry; and as he was of high birth and of a showy person, the vain Julia was not so much in love as to be insensible to his attentions.
The slaves, in the interim, were constantly kept upon the alert by the vigilant Sallust, who chased one cup by another with a celerity which seemed as if he were resolved upon exhausting those capacious cellars which the reader may yet see beneath the house of Diomed. The worthy merchant began to repent his choice, as amphora after amphora was pierced and emptied. The slaves, all under the age of manhood (the youngest being about ten years old—it was they who filled the wine—the eldest, some five years older, mingled it with water), seemed to share in the zeal of Sallust; and the face of Diomed began to glow as he watched the provoking complacency with which they seconded the exertions of the king of the feast.
'Pardon me, O senator!' said Sallust; 'I see you flinch; your purple hem cannot save you—drink!'
'By the gods,' said the senator, coughing, 'my lungs are already on fire; you proceed with so miraculous a swiftness, that Phaeton himself was nothing to you. I am infirm, O pleasant Sallust: you must exonerate me.'
'Not I, by Vesta! I am an impartial monarch—drink.'
The poor senator, compelled by the laws of the table, was forced to comply. Alas! every cup was bringing him nearer and nearer to the Stygian pool.
'Gently! gently! my king,' groaned Diomed; 'we already begin to...'
'Treason!' interrupted Sallust; 'no stern Brutus here!—no interference with royalty!'
'But our female guests...'
'Love a toper! Did not Ariadne dote upon Bacchus?'
The feast proceeded; the guests grew more talkative and noisy; the dessert or last course was already on the table; and the slaves bore round water with myrrh and hyssop for the finishing lavation. At the same time, a small circular table that had been placed in the space opposite the guests suddenly, and as by magic, seemed to open in the centre, and cast up a fragrant shower, sprinkling the table and the guests; while as it ceased the awning above them was drawn aside, and the guests perceived that a rope had been stretched across the ceiling, and that one of those nimble dancers for which Pompeii was so celebrated, and whose descendants add so charming a grace to the festivities of Astley's or Vauxhall, was now treading his airy measures right over their heads.
This apparition, removed but by a cord from one's pericranium, and indulging the most vehement leaps, apparently with the intention of alighting upon that cerebral region, would probably be regarded with some terror by a party in May Fair; but our Pompeian revellers seemed to behold the spectacle with delighted curiosity, and applauded in proportion as the dancer appeared with the most difficulty to miss falling upon the head of whatever guest he particularly selected to dance above. He paid the senator, indeed, the peculiar compliment of literally falling from the rope, and catching it again with his hand, just as the whole party imagined the skull of the Roman was as much fractured as ever that of the poet whom the eagle took for a tortoise. At length, to the great relief of at least Ione, who had not much accustomed herself to this entertainment, the dancer suddenly paused as a strain of music was heard from without. He danced again still more wildly; the air changed, the dancer paused again; no, it could not dissolve the charm which was supposed to possess him! He represented one who by a strange disorder is compelled to dance, and whom only a certain air of music can cure. At length the musician seemed to hit on the right tune; the dancer gave one leap, swung himself down from the rope, alighted on the floor, and vanished.
One art now yielded to another; and the musicians who were stationed without on the terrace struck up a soft and mellow air, to which were sung the following words, made almost indistinct by the barrier between and the exceeding lowness of the minstrelsy:—
FESTIVE MUSIC SHOULD BE LOW
Hark! through these flowers our music sends its greeting To your loved halls, where Psilas shuns the day; When the young god his Cretan nymph was meeting He taught Pan's rustic pipe this gliding lay: Soft as the dews of wine Shed in this banquet hour, The rich libation of Sound's stream divine, O reverent harp, to Aphrodite pour!
Wild rings the trump o'er ranks to glory marching; Music's sublimer bursts for war are meet; But sweet lips murmuring under wreaths o'er-arching, Find the low whispers like their own most sweet. Steal, my lull'd music, steal Like womans's half-heard tone, So that whoe'er shall hear, shall think to feel In thee the voice of lips that love his own.
At the end of that song Ione's cheek blushed more deeply than before, and Glaucus had contrived, under cover of the table, to steal her hand.
'It is a pretty song,' said Fulvius, patronizingly.
'Ah! if you would oblige us!' murmured the wife of Pansa.
'Do you wish Fulvius to sing?' asked the king of the feast, who had just called on the assembly to drink the health of the Roman senator, a cup to each letter of his name.
'Can you ask?' said the matron, with a complimentary glance at the poet.
Sallust snapped his fingers, and whispering the slave who came to learn his orders, the latter disappeared, and returned in a few moments with a small harp in one hand, and a branch of myrtle in the other. The slave approached the poet, and with a low reverence presented to him the harp.
'Alas! I cannot play,' said the poet.
'Then you must sing to the myrtle. It is a Greek fashion: Diomed loves the Greeks—I love the Greeks—you love the Greeks—we all love the Greeks—and between you and me this is not the only thing we have stolen from them. However, I introduce this custom—I, the king: sing, subject, sing!' The poet, with a bashful smile, took the myrtle in his hands, and after a short prelude sang as follows, in a pleasant and well-tuned voice:—
THE CORONATION OF THE LOVES
The merry Loves one holiday Were all at gambols madly; But Loves too long can seldom play Without behaving sadly. They laugh'd, they toy'd, they romp'd about, And then for change they all fell out. Fie, fie! how can they quarrel so? My Lesbia—ah, for shame, love Methinks 'tis scarce an hour ago When we did just the same, love.
The Loves, 'tis thought, were free till then, They had no king or laws, dear; But gods, like men, should subject be, Say all the ancient saws, dear. And so our crew resolved, for quiet, To choose a king to curb their riot. A kiss: ah! what a grievous thing For both, methinks, 'twould be, child, If I should take some prudish king, And cease to be so free, child!
Among their toys a Casque they found, It was the helm of Ares; With horrent plumes the crest was crown'd, It frightened all the Lares. So fine a king was never known— They placed the helmet on the throne. My girl, since Valor wins the world, They chose a mighty master; But thy sweet flag of smiles unfurled Would win the world much faster!
The Casque soon found the Loves too wild A troop for him to school them; For warriors know how one such child Has aye contrived to fool them. They plagued him so, that in despair He took a wife the plague to share. If kings themselves thus find the strife Of earth, unshared, severe, girl; Why just to halve the ills of life, Come, take your partner here, girl.
Within that room the Bird of Love The whole affair had eyed then; The monarch hail'd the royal dove, And placed her by his side then: What mirth amidst the Loves was seen! 'Long live,' they cried, 'our King and Queen.' Ah! Lesbia, would that thrones were mine, And crowns to deck that brow, love! And yet I know that heart of thine For me is throne enow, love!
The urchins hoped to tease the mate As they had teased the hero; But when the Dove in judgment sate They found her worse than Nero! Each look a frown, each word a law; The little subjects shook with awe. In thee I find the same deceit— Too late, alas! a learner! For where a mien more gently sweet? And where a tyrant sterner?
This song, which greatly suited the gay and lively fancy of the Pompeians, was received with considerable applause, and the widow insisted on crowning her namesake with the very branch of myrtle to which he had sung. It was easily twisted into a garland, and the immortal Fulvius was crowned amidst the clapping of hands and shouts of Io triumphe! The song and the harp now circulated round the party, a new myrtle branch being handed about, stopping at each person who could be prevailed upon to sing.
The sun began now to decline, though the revellers, who had worn away several hours, perceived it not in their darkened chamber; and the senator, who was tired, and the warrior, who had to return to Herculaneum, rising to depart, gave the signal for the general dispersion. 'Tarry yet a moment, my friends,' said Diomed; 'if you will go so soon, you must at least take a share in our concluding game.'
So saying, he motioned to one of the ministri, and whispering him, the slave went out, and presently returned with a small bowl containing various tablets carefully sealed, and, apparently, exactly similar. Each guest was to purchase one of these at the nominal price of the lowest piece of silver: and the sport of this lottery (which was the favorite diversion of Augustus, who introduced it) consisted in the inequality, and sometimes the incongruity, of the prizes, the nature and amount of which were specified within the tablets. For instance, the poet, with a wry face, drew one of his own poems (no physician ever less willingly swallowed his own draught); the warrior drew a case of bodkins, which gave rise to certain novel witticisms relative to Hercules and the distaff; the widow Fulvia obtained a large drinking-cup; Julia, a gentleman's buckle; and Lepidus, a lady's patch-box. The most appropriate lot was drawn by the gambler Clodius, who reddened with anger on being presented to a set of cogged dice. A certain damp was thrown upon the gaiety which these various lots created by an accident that was considered ominous; Glaucus drew the most valuable of all the prizes, a small marble statue of Fortune, of Grecian workmanship: on handing it to him the slave suffered it to drop, and it broke in pieces.
A shiver went round the assembly, and each voice cried spontaneously on the gods to avert the omen.
Glaucus alone, though perhaps as superstitious as the rest, affected to be unmoved.
'Sweet Neapolitan,' whispered he tenderly to Ione, who had turned pale as the broken marble itself, 'I accept the omen. It signifies that in obtaining thee, Fortune can give no more—she breaks her image when she blesses me with thine.'
In order to divert the impression which this incident had occasioned in an assembly which, considering the civilization of the guests, would seem miraculously superstitious, if at the present day in a country party we did not often see a lady grow hypochondriacal on leaving a room last of thirteen, Sallust now crowning his cup with flowers, gave the health of their host. This was followed by a similar compliment to the emperor; and then, with a parting cup to Mercury to send them pleasant slumbers, they concluded the entertainment by a last libation, and broke up the party. Carriages and litters were little used in Pompeii, partly owing to the extreme narrowness of the streets, partly to the convenient smallness of the city. Most of the guests replacing their sandals, which they had put off in the banquet-room, and induing their cloaks, left the house on foot attended by their slaves.
Meanwhile, having seen Ione depart, Glaucus turning to the staircase which led down to the rooms of Julia, was conducted by a slave to an apartment in which he found the merchant's daughter already seated.
'Glaucus!' said she, looking down, 'I see that you really love Ione—she is indeed beautiful.'
'Julia is charming enough to be generous,' replied the Greek. 'Yes, I love Ione; amidst all the youth who court you, may you have one worshipper as sincere.'
'I pray the gods to grant it! See, Glaucus, these pearls are the present I destine to your bride: may Juno give her health to wear them!'
So saying, she placed a case in his hand, containing a row of pearls of some size and price. It was so much the custom for persons about to be married to receive these gifts, that Glaucus could have little scruple in accepting the necklace, though the gallant and proud Athenian inly resolved to requite the gift by one of thrice its value. Julia then stopping short his thanks, poured forth some wine into a small bowl.
'You have drunk many toasts with my father,' said she smiling—'one now with me. Health and fortune to your bride!'
She touched the cup with her lips and then presented it to Glaucus. The customary etiquette required that Glaucus should drain the whole contents; he accordingly did so. Julia, unknowing the deceit which Nydia had practised upon her, watched him with sparkling eyes; although the witch had told her that the effect might not be immediate, she yet sanguinely trusted to an expeditious operation in favor of her charms. She was disappointed when she found Glaucus coldly replace the cup, and converse with her in the same unmoved but gentle tone as before. And though she detained him as long as she decorously could do, no change took place in his manner. 'But to-morrow,' thought she, exultingly recovering her disappointment—'to-morrow, alas for Glaucus!'
Alas for him, indeed!
THE STORY HALTS FOR A MOMENT AT AN EPISODE.
RESTLESS and anxious, Apaecides consumed the day in wandering through the most sequestered walks in the vicinity of the city. The sun was slowly setting as he paused beside a lonely part of the Sarnus, ere yet it wound amidst the evidences of luxury and power. Only through openings in the woods and vines were caught glimpses of the white and gleaming city, in which was heard in the distance no din, no sound, nor 'busiest hum of men'. Amidst the green banks crept the lizard and the grasshopper, and here and there in the brake some solitary bird burst into sudden song, as suddenly stifled. There was deep calm around, but not the calm of night; the air still breathed of the freshness and life of day; the grass still moved to the stir of the insect horde; and on the opposite bank the graceful and white capella passed browsing through the herbage, and paused at the wave to drink.
As Apaecides stood musingly gazing upon the waters, he heard beside him the low bark of a dog.
'Be still, poor friend,' said a voice at hand; 'the stranger's step harms not thy master.' The convert recognized the voice, and, turning, he beheld the old mysterious man whom he had seen in the congregation of the Nazarenes.
The old man was sitting upon a fragment of stone covered with ancient mosses; beside him were his staff and scrip; at his feet lay a small shaggy dog, the companion in how many a pilgrimage perilous and strange.
The face of the old man was as balm to the excited spirit of the neophyte: he approached, and craving his blessing, sat down beside him.
'Thou art provided as for a journey, father,' said he: 'wilt thou leave us yet?'
'My son,' replied the old man, 'the days in store for me on earth are few and scanty; I employ them as becomes me travelling from place to place, comforting those whom God has gathered together in His name, and proclaiming the glory of His Son, as testified to His servant.'
'Thou hast looked, they tell me, on the face of Christ?'
'And the face revived me from the dead. Know, young proselyte to the true faith, that I am he of whom thou readest in the scroll of the Apostle. In the far Judea, and in the city of Nain, there dwelt a widow, humble of spirit and sad of heart; for of all the ties of life one son alone was spared to her. And she loved him with a melancholy love, for he was the likeness of the lost. And the son died. The reed on which she leaned was broken, the oil was dried up in the widow's cruse. They bore the dead upon his bier; and near the gate of the city, where the crowd were gathered, there came a silence over the sounds of woe, for the Son of God was passing by. The mother, who followed the bier, wept—not noisily, but all who looked upon her saw that her heart was crushed. And the Lord pitied her, and he touched the bier, and said, "I SAY UNTO THEE, ARISE," And the dead man woke and looked upon the face of the Lord. Oh, that calm and solemn brow, that unutterable smile, that careworn and sorrowful face, lighted up with a God's benignity—it chased away the shadows of the grave! I rose, I spoke, I was living, and in my mother's arms—yes, I am the dead revived! The people shouted, the funeral horns rung forth merrily: there was a cry, "God has visited His people!" I heard them not—I felt—I saw—nothing but the face of the Redeemer!'
The old man paused, deeply moved; and the youth felt his blood creep, and his hair stir. He was in the presence of one who had known the Mystery of Death!
'Till that time,' renewed the widow's son, 'I had been as other men: thoughtless, not abandoned; taking no heed, but of the things of love and life; nay, I had inclined to the gloomy faith of the earthly Sadducee! But, raised from the dead, from awful and desert dreams that these lips never dare reveal—recalled upon earth, to testify the powers of Heaven—once more mortal, the witness of immortality; I drew a new being from the grave. O faded—O lost Jerusalem!—Him from whom came my life, I beheld adjudged to the agonized and parching death! Far in the mighty crowd I saw the light rest and glimmer over the cross; I heard the hooting mob, I cried aloud, I raved, I threatened—none heeded me—I was lost in the whirl and the roar of thousands! But even then, in my agony and His own, methought the glazing eye of the Son of Man sought me out—His lip smiled, as when it conquered death—it hushed me, and I became calm. He who had defied the grave for another—what was the grave to him? The sun shone aslant the pale and powerful features, and then died away! Darkness fell over the earth; how long it endured, I know not. A loud cry came through the gloom—a sharp and bitter cry!—and all was silent.
'But who shall tell the terrors of the night?' I walked along the city—the earth reeled to and fro, and the houses trembled to their base—theliving had deserted the streets, but not the Dead: through the gloom I saw them glide—the dim and ghastly shapes, in the cerements of the grave—with horror, and woe, and warning on their unmoving lips and lightless eyes!—they swept by me, as I passed—they glared upon me—I had been their brother; and they bowed their heads in recognition; they had risen to tell the living that the dead can rise!'
Again the old man paused, and, when he resumed, it was in a calmer tone.
'From that night I resigned all earthly thought but that of serving HIM. A preacher and a pilgrim, I have traversed the remotest corners of the earth, proclaiming His Divinity, and bringing new converts to His fold. I come as the wind, and as the wind depart; sowing, as the wind sows, the seeds that enrich the world.
'Son, on earth we shall meet no more. Forget not this hour,—what are the pleasures and the pomps of life? As the lamp shines, so life glitters for an hour; but the soul's light is the star that burns for ever, in the heart of inimitable space.'
It was then that their conversation fell upon the general and sublime doctrines of immortality; it soothed and elevated the young mind of the convert, which yet clung to many of the damps and shadows of that cell of faith which he had so lately left—it was the air of heaven breathing on the prisoner released at last. There was a strong and marked distinction between the Christianity of the old man and that of Olinthus; that of the first was more soft, more gentle, more divine. The heroism of Olinthus had something in it fierce and intolerant—it was necessary to the part he was destined to play—it had in it more of the courage of the martyr than the charity of the saint. It aroused, it excited, it nerved, rather than subdued and softened. But the whole heart of that divine old man was bathed in love; the smile of the Deity had burned away from it the leaven of earthlier and coarser passions, and left to the energy of the hero all the meekness of the child.
'And now,' said he, rising at length, as the sun's last ray died in the west; 'now, in the cool of twilight, I pursue my way towards the Imperial Rome. There yet dwell some holy men, who like me have beheld the face of Christ; and them would I see before I die.'
'But the night is chill for thine age, my father, and the way is long, and the robber haunts it; rest thee till to-morrow.'
'Kind son, what is there in this scrip to tempt the robber? And the Night and the Solitude!—these make the ladder round which angels cluster, and beneath which my spirit can dream of God. Oh! none can know what the pilgrim feels as he walks on his holy course; nursing no fear, and dreading no danger—for God is with him! He hears the winds murmur glad tidings; the woods sleep in the shadow of Almighty wings—the stars are the Scriptures of Heaven, the tokens of love, and the witnesses of immortality. Night is the Pilgrim's day.' With these words the old man pressed Apaecides to his breast, and taking up his staff and scrip, the dog bounded cheerily before him, and with slow steps and downcast eyes he went his way.
The convert stood watching his bended form, till the trees shut the last glimpse from his view; and then, as the stars broke forth, he woke from the musings with a start, reminded of his appointment with Olinthus.
THE PHILTRE. ITS EFFECT.
WHEN Glaucus arrived at his own home, he found Nydia seated under the portico of his garden. In fact, she had sought his house in the mere chance that he might return at an early hour: anxious, fearful, anticipative, she resolved upon seizing the earliest opportunity of availing herself of the love-charm, while at the same time she half hoped the opportunity might be deferred.
It was then, in that fearful burning mood, her heart beating, her cheek flushing, that Nydia awaited the possibility of Glaucus's return before the night. He crossed the portico just as the first stars began to rise, and the heaven above had assumed its most purple robe.
'Ho, my child, wait you for me?'
'Nay, I have been tending the flowers, and did but linger a little while to rest myself.'
'It has been warm,' said Glaucus, placing himself also on one of the seats beneath the colonnade.
'Wilt thou summon Davus? The wine I have drunk heats me, and I long for some cooling drink.'
Here at once, suddenly and unexpectedly, the very opportunity that Nydia awaited presented itself; of himself, at his own free choice, he afforded to her that occasion. She breathed quick—'I will prepare for you myself,' said she, 'the summer draught that Ione loves—of honey and weak wine cooled in snow.'
'Thanks,' said the unconscious Glaucus. 'If Ione love it, enough; it would be grateful were it poison.'
Nydia frowned, and then smiled; she withdrew for a few moments, and returned with the cup containing the beverage. Glaucus took it from her hand. What would not Nydia have given then for one hour's prerogative of sight, to have watched her hopes ripening to effect—to have seen the first dawn of the imagined love—to have worshipped with more than Persian adoration the rising of that sun which her credulous soul believed was to break upon her dreary night! Far different, as she stood then and there, were the thoughts, the emotions of the blind girl, from those of the vain Pompeian under a similar suspense. In the last, what poor and frivolous passions had made up the daring whole! What petty pique, what small revenge, what expectation of a paltry triumph, had swelled the attributes of that sentiment she dignified with the name of love! but in the wild heart of the Thessalian all was pure, uncontrolled, unmodified passion—erring, unwomanly, frenzied, but debased by no elements of a more sordid feeling. Filled with love as with life itself, how could she resist the occasion of winning love in return!
She leaned for support against the wall, and her face, before so flushed, was now white as snow, and with her delicate hands clasped convulsively together, her lips apart, her eyes on the ground, she waited the next words Glaucus should utter.
Glaucus had raised the cup to his lips, he had already drained about a fourth of its contents, when his eye suddenly glancing upon the face of Nydia, he was so forcibly struck by its alteration, by its intense, and painful, and strange expression, that he paused abruptly, and still holding the cup near his lips, exclaimed:
'Why, Nydia! Nydia! I say, art thou ill or in pain? Nay, thy face speaks for thee. What ails my poor child?' As he spoke, he put down the cup and rose from his seat to approach her, when a sudden pang shot coldly to his heart, and was followed by a wild, confused, dizzy sensation at the brain. The floor seemed to glide from under him—his feet seemed to move on air—a mighty and unearthly gladness rushed upon his spirit—he felt too buoyant for the earth—he longed for wings, nay, it seemed in the buoyancy of his new existence, as if he possessed them. He burst involuntarily into a loud and thrilling laugh. He clapped his hands—he bounded aloft—he was as a Pythoness inspired; suddenly as it came this preternatural transport passed, though only partially, away. He now felt his blood rushing loudly and rapidly through his veins; it seemed to swell, to exult, to leap along, as a stream that has burst its bounds, and hurries to the ocean. It throbbed in his ear with a mighty sound, he felt it mount to his brow, he felt the veins in the temples stretch and swell as if they could no longer contain the violent and increasing tide—then a kind of darkness fell over his eyes—darkness, but not entire; for through the dim shade he saw the opposite walls glow out, and the figures painted thereon seemed, ghost-like, to creep and glide. What was most strange, he did not feel himself ill—he did not sink or quail beneath the dread frenzy that was gathering over him. The novelty of the feelings seemed bright and vivid—he felt as if a younger health had been infused into his frame. He was gliding on to madness—and he knew it not!