Nydia had not answered his first question—she had not been able to reply—his wild and fearful laugh had roused her from her passionate suspense: she could not see his fierce gesture—she could not mark his reeling and unsteady step as he paced unconsciously to and fro; but she heard the words, broken, incoherent, insane, that gushed from his lips. She became terrified and appalled—she hastened to him, feeling with her arms until she touched his knees, and then falling on the ground she embraced them, weeping with terror and excitement.
'Oh, speak to me! speak! you do not hate me?—speak, speak!'
'By the bright goddess, a beautiful land this Cyprus! Ho! how they fill us with wine instead of blood! now they open the veins of the Faun yonder, to show how the tide within bubbles and sparkles. Come hither, jolly old god! thou ridest on a goat, eh?—what long silky hair he has! He is worth all the coursers of Parthia. But a word with thee—this wine of thine is too strong for us mortals. Oh! beautiful! the boughs are at rest! the green waves of the forest have caught the Zephyr and drowned him! Not a breath stirs the leaves—and I view the Dreams sleeping with folded wings upon the motionless elm; and I look beyond, and I see a blue stream sparkle in the silent noon; a fountain—a fountain springing aloft! Ah! my fount, thou wilt not put out rays of my Grecian sun, though thou triest ever so hard with thy nimble and silver arms. And now, what form steals yonder through the boughs? she glides like a moonbeam!—she has a garland of oak-leaves on her head. In her hand is a vase upturned, from which she pours pink and tiny shells and sparkling water. Oh! look on yon face! Man never before saw its like. See! we are alone; only I and she in the wide forest. There is no smile upon her lips—she moves, grave and sweetly sad. Ha! fly, it is a nymph!—it is one of the wild Napaeae! Whoever sees her becomes mad-fly! see, she discovers me!'
'Oh! Glaucus! Glaucus! do you not know me? Rave not so wildly, or thou wilt kill me with a word!'
A new change seemed now to operate upon the jarring and disordered mind of the unfortunate Athenian. He put his hand upon Nydia's silken hair; he smoothed the locks—he looked wistfully upon her face, and then, as in the broken chain of thought one or two links were yet unsevered, it seemed that her countenance brought its associations of Ione; and with that remembrance his madness became yet more powerful, and it swayed and tinged by passion, as he burst forth:
'I swear by Venus, by Diana, and by Juno, that though I have now the world on my shoulders, as my countryman Hercules (ah, dull Rome! whoever was truly great was of Greece; why, you would be godless if it were not for us!)—I say, as my countryman Hercules had before me, I would let it fall into chaos for one smile from Ione. Ah, Beautiful,—Adored,' he added, in a voice inexpressibly fond and plaintive, 'thou lovest me not. Thou art unkind to me. The Egyptian hath belied me to thee—thou knowest not what hours I have spent beneath thy casement—thou knowest not how I have outwatched the stars, thinking thou, my sun, wouldst rise at last—and thou lovest me not, thou forsakest me! Oh! do not leave me now! I feel that my life will not be long; let me gaze on thee at least unto the last. I am of the bright land of thy fathers—I have trod the heights of Phyle—I have gathered the hyacinth and rose amidst the olive-groves of Ilyssus. Thou shouldst not desert me, for thy fathers were brothers to my own. And they say this land is lovely, and these climes serene, but I will bear thee with me—Ho! dark form, why risest thou like a cloud between me and mine? Death sits calmly dread upon thy brow—on thy lip is the smile that slays: thy name is Orcus, but on earth men call thee Arbaces. See, I know thee! fly, dim shadow, thy spells avail not!'
'Glaucus! Glaucus!' murmured Nydia, releasing her hold and falling, beneath the excitement of her dismay, remorse, and anguish, insensible on the floor.
'Who calls?' said he in a loud voice. 'Ione, it is she! they have borne her off—we will save her—where is my stilus? Ha, I have it! I come, Ione, to thy rescue! I come! I come!'
So saying, the Athenian with one bound passed the portico, he traversed the house, and rushed with swift but vacillating steps, and muttering audibly to himself, down the starlit streets. The direful potion burnt like fire in his veins, for its effect was made, perhaps, still more sudden from the wine he had drunk previously. Used to the excesses of nocturnal revellers, the citizens, with smiles and winks, gave way to his reeling steps; they naturally imagined him under the influence of the Bromian god, not vainly worshipped at Pompeii; but they who looked twice upon his face started in a nameless fear, and the smile withered from their lips. He passed the more populous streets; and, pursuing mechanically the way to Ione's house, he traversed a more deserted quarter, and entered now the lonely grove of Cybele, in which Apaecides had held his interview with Olinthus.
A REUNION OF DIFFERENT ACTORS. STREAMS THAT FLOWED APPARENTLY APART RUSH INTO ONE GULF.
IMPATIENT to learn whether the fell drug had yet been administered by Julia to his hated rival, and with what effect, Arbaces resolved, as the evening came on, to seek her house, and satisfy his suspense. It was customary, as I have before said, for men at that time to carry abroad with them the tablets and the stilus attached to their girdle; and with the girdle they were put off when at home. In fact, under the appearance of a literary instrument, the Romans carried about with them in that same stilus a very sharp and formidable weapon. It was with his stilus that Cassius stabbed Caesar in the senate-house. Taking, then, his girdle and his cloak, Arbaces left his house, supporting his steps, which were still somewhat feeble (though hope and vengeance had conspired greatly with his own medical science, which was profound, to restore his natural strength), by his long staff—Arbaces took his way to the villa of Diomed.
And beautiful is the moonlight of the south! In those climes the night so quickly glides into the day, that twilight scarcely makes a bridge between them. One moment of darker purple in the sky—of a thousand rose-hues in the water—of shade half victorious over light; and then burst forth at once the countless stars—the moon is up—night has resumed her reign!
Brightly then, and softly bright, fell the moonbeams over the antique grove consecrated to Cybele—the stately trees, whose date went beyond tradition, cast their long shadows over the soil, while through the openings in their boughs the stars shone, still and frequent. The whiteness of the small sacellum in the centre of the grove, amidst the dark foliage, had in it something abrupt and startling; it recalled at once the purpose to which the wood was consecrated—its holiness and solemnity.
With a swift and stealthy pace, Calenus, gliding under the shade of the trees, reached the chapel, and gently putting back the boughs that completely closed around its rear, settled himself in his concealment; a concealment so complete, what with the fane in front and the trees behind, that no unsuspicious passenger could possibly have detected him. Again, all was apparently solitary in the grove: afar off you heard faintly the voices of some noisy revellers or the music that played cheerily to the groups that then, as now in those climates, during the nights of summer, lingered in the streets, and enjoyed, in the fresh air and the liquid moonlight, a milder day.
From the height on which the grove was placed, you saw through the intervals of the trees the broad and purple sea, rippling in the distance, the white villas of Stabiae in the curving shore, and the dim Lectiarian hills mingling with the delicious sky. Presently the tall figure of Arbaces, in his way to the house of Diomed, entered the extreme end of the grove; and at the same instant Apaecides, also bound to his appointment with Olinthus, crossed the Egyptian's path.
'Hem! Apaecides,' said Arbaces, recognizing the priest at a glance; 'when last we met, you were my foe. I have wished since then to see you, for I would have you still my pupil and my friend.'
Apaecides started at the voice of the Egyptian; and halting abruptly, gazed upon him with a countenance full of contending, bitter, and scornful emotions.
'Villain and impostor!' said he at length; 'thou hast recovered then from the jaws of the grave! But think not again to weave around me thy guilty meshes. Retiarius, I am armed against thee!'
'Hush!' said Arbaces, in a very low voice—but his pride, which in that descendant of kings was great, betrayed the wound it received from the insulting epithets of the priest in the quiver of his lip and the flush of his tawny brow. 'Hush! more low! thou mayest be overheard, and if other ears than mine had drunk those sounds—why...'
'Dost thou threaten?—what if the whole city had heard me?'
'The manes of my ancestors would not have suffered me to forgive thee. But, hold, and hear me. Thou art enraged that I would have offered violence to thy sister. Nay, peace, peace, but one instant, I pray thee. Thou art right; it was the frenzy of passion and of jealousy—I have repented bitterly of my madness. Forgive me; I, who never implored pardon of living man, beseech thee now to forgive me. Nay, I will atone the insult—I ask thy sister in marriage—start not—consider—what is the alliance of yon holiday Greek compared to mine? Wealth unbounded—birth that in its far antiquity leaves your Greek and Roman names the things of yesterday—science—but that thou knowest! Give me thy sister, and my whole life shall atone a moment's error.'
'Egyptian, were even I to consent, my sister loathes the very air thou breathest: but I have my own wrongs to forgive—I may pardon thee that thou hast made me a tool to thy deceits, but never that thou hast seduced me to become the abettor of thy vices—a polluted and a perjured man. Tremble!—even now I prepare the hour in which thou and thy false gods shall be unveiled. Thy lewd and Circean life shall be dragged to day—thy mumming oracles disclosed—the fane of the idol Isis shall be a byword and a scorn—the name of Arbaces a mark for the hisses of execration! Tremble!'
The flush on the Egyptian's brow was succeeded by a livid paleness. He looked behind, before, around, to feel assured that none were by; and then he fixed his dark and dilating eye on the priest, with such a gaze of wrath and menace, that one, perhaps, less supported than Apaecides by the fervent daring of a divine zeal, could not have faced with unflinching look that lowering aspect. As it was, however, the young convert met it unmoved, and returned it with an eye of proud defiance.
'Apaecides,' said the Egyptian, in a tremulous and inward tone, 'beware! What is it thou wouldst meditate? Speakest thou—reflect, pause before thou repliest—from the hasty influences of wrath, as yet divining no settled purpose, or from some fixed design?'
'I speak from the inspiration of the True God, whose servant I now am,' answered the Christian, boldly; 'and in the knowledge that by His grace human courage has already fixed the date of thy hypocrisy and thy demon's worship; ere thrice the sun has dawned, thou wilt know all! Dark sorcerer, tremble, and farewell!'
All the fierce and lurid passions which he inherited from his nation and his clime, at all times but ill concealed beneath the blandness of craft and the coldness of philosophy, were released in the breast of the Egyptian. Rapidly one thought chased another; he saw before him an obstinate barrier to even a lawful alliance with Ione—the fellow-champion of Glaucus in the struggle which had baffled his designs—the reviler of his name—the threatened desecrator of the goddess he served while he disbelieved—the avowed and approaching revealer of his own impostures and vices. His love, his repute, nay, his very life, might be in danger—the day and hour seemed even to have been fixed for some design against him. He knew by the words of the convert that Apaecides had adopted the Christian faith: he knew the indomitable zeal which led on the proselytes of that creed. Such was his enemy; he grasped his stilus—that enemy was in his power! They were now before the chapel; one hasty glance once more he cast around; he saw none near—silence and solitude alike tempted him.
'Die, then, in thy rashness!' he muttered; 'away, obstacle to my rushing fates!'
And just as the young Christian had turned to depart, Arbaces raised his hand high over the left shoulder of Apaecides, and plunged his sharp weapon twice into his breast.
Apaecides fell to the ground pierced to the heart—he fell mute, without even a groan, at the very base of the sacred chapel.
Arbaces gazed upon him for a moment with the fierce animal joy of conquest over a foe. But presently the full sense of the danger to which he was exposed flashed upon him; he wiped his weapon carefully in the long grass, and with the very garments of his victim; drew his cloak round him, and was about to depart, when he saw, coming up the path, right before him, the figure of a young man, whose steps reeled and vacillated strangely as he advanced: the quiet moonlight streamed full upon his face, which seemed, by the whitening ray, colorless as marble. The Egyptian recognized the face and form of Glaucus. The unfortunate and benighted Greek was chanting a disconnected and mad song, composed from snatches of hymns and sacred odes, all jarringly woven together.
'Ha!' thought the Egyptian, instantaneously divining his state and its terrible cause; 'so, then, the hell-draught works, and destiny hath sent thee hither to crush two of my foes at once!'
Quickly, even ere this thought occurred to him, he had withdrawn on one side of the chapel, and concealed himself amongst the boughs; from that lurking place he watched, as a tiger in his lair, the advance of his second victim. He noted the wandering and restless fire in the bright and beautiful eyes of the Athenian; the convulsions that distorted his statue-like features, and writhed his hueless lip. He saw that the Greek was utterly deprived of reason. Nevertheless, as Glaucus came up to the dead body of Apaecides, from which the dark red stream flowed slowly over the grass, so strange and ghastly a spectacle could not fail to arrest him, benighted and erring as was his glimmering sense. He paused, placed his hand to his brow, as if to collect himself, and then saying:
'What ho! Endymion, sleepest thou so soundly? What has the moon said to thee? Thou makest me jealous; it is time to wake'—he stooped down with the intention of lifting up the body.
Forgetting—feeling not—his own debility, the Egyptian sprung from his hiding-place, and, as the Greek bent, struck him forcibly to the ground, over the very body of the Christian; then, raising his powerful voice to its highest pitch, he shouted:
'Ho, citizens—oh! help me!—run hither—hither!—A murder—a murder before your very fane! Help, or the murderer escapes!' As he spoke, he placed his foot on the breast of Glaucus: an idle and superfluous precaution; for the potion operating with the fall, the Greek lay there motionless and insensible, save that now and then his lips gave vent to some vague and raving sounds.
As he there stood awaiting the coming of those his voice still continued to summons, perhaps some remorse, some compunctious visitings—for despite his crimes he was human—haunted the breast of the Egyptian; the defenceless state of Glaucus—his wandering words—his shattered reason, smote him even more than the death of Apaecides, and he said, half audibly, to himself:
'Poor clay!—poor human reason; where is the soul now? I could spare thee, O my rival—rival never more! But destiny must be obeyed—my safety demands thy sacrifice.' With that, as if to drown compunction, he shouted yet more loudly; and drawing from the girdle of Glaucus the stilus it contained, he steeped it in the blood of the murdered man, and laid it beside the corpse.
And now, fast and breathless, several of the citizens came thronging to the place, some with torches, which the moon rendered unnecessary, but which flared red and tremulously against the darkness of the trees; they surrounded the spot. 'Lift up yon corpse,' said the Egyptian, 'and guard well the murderer.'
They raised the body, and great was their horror and sacred indignation to discover in that lifeless clay a priest of the adored and venerable Isis; but still greater, perhaps, was their surprise, when they found the accused in the brilliant and admired Athenian.
'Glaucus!' cried the bystanders, with one accord; 'is it even credible?'
'I would sooner,' whispered one man to his neighbor, 'believe it to be the Egyptian himself.'
Here a centurion thrust himself into the gathering crowd, with an air of authority.
'How! blood spilt! who the murderer?'
The bystanders pointed to Glaucus.
'He!—by Mars, he has rather the air of being the victim!
'Who accuses him?'
'I,' said Arbaces, drawing himself up haughtily; and the jewels which adorned his dress flashing in the eyes of the soldier, instantly convinced that worthy warrior of the witness's respectability.
'Pardon me—your name?' said he.
'Arbaces; it is well known methinks in Pompeii. Passing through the grove, I beheld before me the Greek and the priest in earnest conversation. I was struck by the reeling motions of the first, his violent gestures, and the loudness of his voice; he seemed to me either drunk or mad. Suddenly I saw him raise his stilus—I darted forward—too late to arrest the blow. He had twice stabbed his victim, and was bending over him, when, in my horror and indignation, I struck the murderer to the ground. He fell without a struggle, which makes me yet more suspect that he was not altogether in his senses when the crime was perpetrated; for, recently recovered from a severe illness, my blow was comparatively feeble, and the frame of Glaucus, as you see, is strong and youthful.'
'His eyes are open now—his lips move,' said the soldier. 'Speak, prisoner, what sayest thou to the charge?'
'The charge—ha—ha! Why, it was merrily done; when the old hag set her serpent at me, and Hecate stood by laughing from ear to ear—what could I do? But I am ill—I faint—the serpent's fiery tongue hath bitten me. Bear me to bed, and send for your physician; old AEsculapius himself will attend me if you let him know that I am Greek. Oh, mercy—mercy! I burn!—marrow and brain, I burn!'
And, with a thrilling and fierce groan, the Athenian fell back in the arms of the bystanders.
'He raves,' said the officer, compassionately; 'and in his delirium he has struck the priest. Hath any one present seen him to-day!'
'I,' said one of the spectators, 'beheld him in the morning. He passed my shop and accosted me. He seemed well and sane as the stoutest of us!'
'And I saw him half an hour ago,' said another, 'passing up the streets, muttering to himself with strange gestures, and just as the Egyptian has described.'
'A corroboration of the witness! it must be too true. He must at all events to the praetor; a pity, so young and so rich! But the crime is dreadful: a priest of Isis, in his very robes, too, and at the base itself of our most ancient chapel!'
At these words the crowd were reminded more forcibly, than in their excitement and curiosity they had yet been, of the heinousness of the sacrilege. They shuddered in pious horror.
'No wonder the earth has quaked,' said one, 'when it held such a monster!'
'Away with him to prison—away!' cried they all.
And one solitary voice was heard shrilly and joyously above the rest: 'The beasts will not want a gladiator now, Ho, ho, for the merry, merry show!
It was the voice of the young woman whose conversation with Medon has been repeated.
'True—true—it chances in season for the games!' cried several; and at that thought all pity for the accused seemed vanished. His youth, his beauty, but fitted him better for the purpose of the arena.
'Bring hither some planks—or if at hand, a litter—to bear the dead,' said Arbaces: 'a priest of Isis ought scarcely to be carried to his temple by vulgar hands, like a butchered gladiator.'
At this the bystanders reverently laid the corpse of Apaecides on the ground, with the face upwards; and some of them went in search of some contrivance to bear the body, untouched by the profane.
It was just at that time that the crowd gave way to right and left as a sturdy form forced itself through, and Olinthus the Christian stood immediately confronting the Egyptian. But his eyes, at first, only rested with inexpressible grief and horror on that gory side and upturned face, on which the agony of violent death yet lingered.
'Murdered!' he said. 'Is it thy zeal that has brought thee to this? Have they detected thy noble purpose, and by death prevented their own shame?'
He turned his head abruptly, and his eyes fell full on the solemn features of the Egyptian.
As he looked, you might see in his face, and even the slight shiver of his frame, the repugnance and aversion which the Christian felt for one whom he knew to be so dangerous and so criminal. It was indeed the gaze of the bird upon the basilisk—so silent was it and so prolonged. But shaking off the sudden chill that had crept over him, Olinthus extended his right arm towards Arbaces, and said, in a deep and loud voice:
'Murder hath been done upon this corpse! Where is the murderer? Stand forth, Egyptian! For, as the Lord liveth, I believe thou art the man!'
An anxious and perturbed change might for one moment be detected on the dusky features of Arbaces; but it gave way to the frowning expression of indignation and scorn, as, awed and arrested by the suddenness and vehemence of the charge, the spectators pressed nearer and nearer upon the two more prominent actors.
'I know,' said Arbaces, proudly, 'who is my accuser, and I guess wherefore he thus arraigns me. Men and citizens, know this man for the most bitter of the Nazarenes, if that or Christians be their proper name! What marvel that in his malignity he dares accuse even an Egyptian of the murder of a priest of Egypt!'
'I know him! I know the dog!' shouted several voices. 'It is Olinthus the Christian—or rather the Atheist—he denies the gods!'
'Peace, brethren,' said Olinthus, with dignity, 'and hear me! This murdered priest of Isis before his death embraced the Christian faith—he revealed to me the dark sins, the sorceries of yon Egyptian—the mummeries and delusions of the fane of Isis. He was about to declare them publicly. He, a stranger, unoffending, without enemies! who should shed his blood but one of those who feared his witness? Who might fear that testimony the most?—Arbaces, the Egyptian!'
'You hear him!' said Arbaces; 'you hear him! he blasphemes! Ask him if he believes in Isis!'
'Do I believe in an evil demon?' returned Olinthus, boldly.
A groan and shudder passed through the assembly. Nothing daunted, for prepared at every time for peril, and in the present excitement losing all prudence, the Christian continued:
'Back, idolaters! this clay is not for your vain and polluting rites—it is to us—to the followers of Christ, that the last offices due to a Christian belong. I claim this dust in the name of the great Creator who has recalled the spirit!'
With so solemn and commanding a voice and aspect the Christian spoke these words, that even the crowd forbore to utter aloud the execration of fear and hatred which in their hearts they conceived. And never, perhaps, since Lucifer and the Archangel contended for the body of the mighty Lawgiver, was there a more striking subject for the painter's genius than that scene exhibited. The dark trees—the stately fane—the moon full on the corpse of the deceased—the torches tossing wildly to and fro in the rear—the various faces of the motley audience—the insensible form of the Athenian, supported, in the distance, and in the foreground, and above all, the forms of Arbaces and the Christian: the first drawn to its full height, far taller than the herd around; his arms folded, his brow knit, his eyes fixed, his lip slightly curled in defiance and disdain. The last bearing, on a brow worn and furrowed, the majesty of an equal command—the features stern, yet frank—the aspect bold, yet open—the quiet dignity of the whole form impressed with an ineffable earnestness, hushed, as it were, in a solemn sympathy with the awe he himself had created. His left hand pointing to the corpse—his right hand raised to heaven.
The centurion pressed forward again.
'In the first place, hast thou, Olinthus, or whatever be thy name, any proof of the charge thou hast made against Arbaces, beyond thy vague suspicions?'
Olinthus remained silent—the Egyptian laughed contemptuously.
'Dost thou claim the body of a priest of Isis as one of the Nazarene or Christian sect?'
'Swear then by yon fane, yon statue of Cybele, by yon most ancient sacellum in Pompeii, that the dead man embraced your faith!'
'Vain man! I disown your idols! I abhor your temples! How can I swear by Cybele then?'
'Away, away with the Atheist! away! the earth will swallow us, if we suffer these blasphemers in a sacred grove—away with him to death!'
'To the beasts!' added a female voice in the centre of the crowd; 'we shall have one a-piece now for the lion and tiger!'
'If, O Nazarene, thou disbelievest in Cybele, which of our gods dost thou own?' resumed the soldier, unmoved by the cries around.
'Hark to him! hark!' cried the crowd.
'O vain and blind!' continued the Christian, raising his voice: 'can you believe in images of wood and stone? Do you imagine that they have eyes to see, or ears to hear, or hands to help ye? Is yon mute thing carved by man's art a goddess!—hath it made mankind?—alas! by mankind was it made. Lo! convince yourself of its nothingness—of your folly.'
And as he spoke he strode across to the fane, and ere any of the bystanders were aware of his purpose, he, in his compassion or his zeal, struck the statue of wood from its pedestal.
'See!' cried he, 'your goddess cannot avenge herself. Is this a thing to worship?'
Further words were denied to him: so gross and daring a sacrilege—of one, too, of the most sacred of their places of worship—filled even the most lukewarm with rage and horror. With one accord the crowd rushed upon him, seized, and but for the interference of the centurion, they would have torn him to pieces.
'Peace!' said the soldier, authoritatively—'refer we this insolent blasphemer to the proper tribunal—time has been already wasted. Bear we both the culprits to the magistrates; place the body of the priest on the litter—carry it to his own home.'
At this moment a priest of Isis stepped forward. 'I claim these remains, according to the custom of the priesthood.'
'The flamen be obeyed,' said the centurion. 'How is the murderer?'
'Insensible or asleep.'
'Were his crimes less, I could pity him. On!'
Arbaces, as he turned, met the eye of that priest of Isis—it was Calenus; and something there was in that glance, so significant and sinister, that the Egyptian muttered to himself:
'Could he have witnessed the deed?'
A girl darted from the crowd, and gazed hard on the face of Olinthus. 'By Jupiter, a stout knave! I say, we shall have a man for the tiger now; one for each beast!'
'Ho!' shouted the mob; 'a man for the lion, and another for the tiger! What luck! Io Paean!'
IN WHICH THE READER LEARNS THE CONDITION OF GLAUCUS. FRIENDSHIP TESTED. ENMITY SOFTENED. LOVE THE SAME, BECAUSE THE ONE LOVING IS BLIND.
THE night was somewhat advanced, and the gay lounging places of the Pompeians were still crowded. You might observe in the countenances of the various idlers a more earnest expression than usual. They talked in large knots and groups, as if they sought by numbers to divide the half-painful, half-pleasurable anxiety which belonged to the subject on which they conversed: it was a subject of life and death.
A young man passed briskly by the graceful portico of the Temple of Fortune—so briskly, indeed, that he came with no slight force full against the rotund and comely form of that respectable citizen Diomed, who was retiring homeward to his suburban villa.
'Holloa!' groaned the merchant, recovering with some difficulty his equilibrium; 'have you no eyes? or do you think I have no feeling? By Jupiter! you have well nigh driven out the divine particle; such another shock, and my soul will be in Hades!'
'Ah, Diomed! is it you? forgive my inadvertence. I was absorbed in thinking of the reverses of life. Our poor friend, Glaucus, eh! who could have guessed it?'
'Well, but tell me, Clodius, is he really to be tried by the senate?'
'Yes; they say the crime is of so extraordinary a nature that the senate itself must adjudge it; and so the lictors are to induct him formally.'
'He has been accused publicly, then?'
'To be sure; where have you been not to hear that?'
'Why, I have only just returned from Neapolis, whither I went on business the very morning after his crime—so shocking, and at my house the same night that it happened!'
'There is no doubt of his guilt,' said Clodius, shrugging his shoulders; 'and as these crimes take precedence of all little undignified peccadilloes, they will hasten to finish the sentence previous to the games.'
'The games! Good gods!' replied Diomed, with a slight shudder: 'can they adjudge him to the beasts?—so young, so rich!'
'True; but then he is a Greek. Had he been a Roman, it would have been a thousand pities. These foreigners can be borne with in their prosperity; but in adversity we must not forget that they are in reality slaves. However, we of the upper classes are always tender-hearted; and he would certainly get off tolerably well if he were left to us: for, between ourselves, what is a paltry priest of Isis!—what Isis herself? But the common people are superstitious; they clamor for the blood of the sacrilegious one. It is dangerous not to give way to public opinion.'
'And the blasphemer—the Christian, or Nazarene, or whatever else he be called?'
'Oh, poor dog! if he will sacrifice to Cybele or Isis, he will be pardoned—if not, the tiger has him. At least, so I suppose; but the trial will decide. We talk while the urn's still empty. And the Greek may yet escape the deadly Theta of his own alphabet. But enough of this gloomy subject. How is the fair Julia?'
'Well, I fancy.'
'Commend me to her. But hark! the door yonder creaks on its hinges; it is the house of the praetor. Who comes forth? By Pollux! it is the Egyptian! What can he want with our official friend!'
'Some conference touching the murder, doubtless,' replied Diomed; 'but what was supposed to be the inducement to the crime? Glaucus was to have married the priest's sister.'
'Yes: some say Apaecides refused the alliance. It might have been a sudden quarrel. Glaucus was evidently drunk—nay, so much so as to have been quite insensible when taken up, and I hear is still delirious—whether with wine, terror, remorse, the Furies, or the Bacchanals, I cannot say.'
'Poor fellow!—he has good counsel?'
'The best—Caius Pollio, an eloquent fellow enough. Pollio has been hiring all the poor gentlemen and well-born spendthrifts of Pompeii to dress shabbily and sneak about, swearing their friendship to Glaucus (who would not have spoken to them to be made emperor!—I will do him justice, he was a gentleman in his choice of acquaintance), and trying to melt the stony citizens into pity. But it will not do; Isis is mightily popular just at this moment.'
'And, by-the-by, I have some merchandise at Alexandria. Yes, Isis ought to be protected.'
'True; so farewell, old gentleman: we shall meet soon; if not, we must have a friendly bet at the Amphitheatre. All my calculations are confounded by this cursed misfortune of Glaucus! He had bet on Lydon the gladiator; I must make up my tablets elsewhere. Vale!'
Leaving the less active Diomed to regain his villa, Clodius strode on, humming a Greek air, and perfuming the night with the odorous that steamed from his snowy garments and flowing locks.
'If,' thought he, 'Glaucus feed the lion, Julia will no longer have a person to love better than me; she will certainly doat on me—and so, I suppose, I must marry. By the gods! the twelve lines begin to fail—men look suspiciously at my hand when it rattles the dice. That infernal Sallust insinuates cheating; and if it be discovered that the ivory is clogged, why farewell to the merry supper and the perfumed billet—Clodius is undone! Better marry, then, while I may, renounce gaming, and push my fortune (or rather the gentle Julia's) at the imperial court.'
Thus muttering the schemes of his ambition, if by that high name the projects of Clodius may be called, the gamester found himself suddenly accosted; he turned and beheld the dark brow of Arbaces.
'Hail, noble Clodius! pardon my interruption; and inform me, I pray you, which is the house of Sallust?'
'It is but a few yards hence, wise Arbaces. But does Sallust entertain to-night?'
'I know not,' answered the Egyptian; 'nor am I, perhaps, one of those whom he would seek as a boon companion. But thou knowest that his house holds the person of Glaucus, the murderer.'
'Ay! he, good-hearted epicure, believes in the Greek's innocence! You remind me that he has become his surety; and, therefore, till the trial, is responsible for his appearance.' Well, Sallust's house is better than a prison, especially that wretched hole in the forum. But for what can you seek Glaucus?'
'Why, noble Clodius, if we could save him from execution it would be well. The condemnation of the rich is a blow upon society itself. I should like to confer with him—for I hear he has recovered his senses—and ascertain the motives of his crime; they may be so extenuating as to plead in his defence.'
'You are benevolent, Arbaces.'
'Benevolence is the duty of one who aspires to wisdom,' replied the Egyptian, modestly. 'Which way lies Sallust's mansion?'
'I will show you,' said Clodius, 'if you will suffer me to accompany you a few steps. But, pray what has become of the poor girl who was to have wed the Athenian—the sister of the murdered priest?'
'Alas! well-nigh insane! Sometimes she utters imprecations on the murderer—then suddenly stops short—then cries, "But why curse? Oh, my brother! Glaucus was not thy murderer—never will I believe it!" Then she begins again, and again stops short, and mutters awfully to herself, "Yet if it were indeed he?"'
'But it is well for her that those solemn cares to the dead which religion enjoins have hitherto greatly absorbed her attention from Glaucus and herself: and, in the dimness of her senses, she scarcely seems aware that Glaucus is apprehended and on the eve of trial. When the funeral rites due to Apaecides are performed, her apprehension will return; and then I fear me much that her friends will be revolted by seeing her run to succour and aid the murderer of her brother!'
'Such scandal should be prevented.'
'I trust I have taken precautions to that effect. I am her lawful guardian, and have just succeeded in obtaining permission to escort her, after the funeral of Apaecides, to my own house; there, please the gods! she will be secure.'
'You have done well, sage Arbaces. And, now, yonder is the house of Sallust. The gods keep you! Yet, hark you, Arbaces—why so gloomy and unsocial? Men say you can be gay—why not let me initiate you into the pleasures of Pompeii?—I flatter myself no one knows them better.'
'I thank you, noble Clodius: under your auspices I might venture, I think, to wear the philyra: but, at my age, I should be an awkward pupil.'
'Oh, never fear; I have made converts of fellows of seventy. The rich, too, are never old.'
'You flatter me. At some future time I will remind you of your promise.'
'You may command Marcus Clodius at all times—and so, vale!'
'Now,' said the Egyptian, soliloquising, 'I am not wantonly a man of blood; I would willingly save this Greek, if, by confessing the crime, he will lose himself for ever to Ione, and for ever free me from the chance of discovery; and I can save him by persuading Julia to own the philtre, which will be held his excuse. But if he do not confess the crime, why, Julia must be shamed from the confession, and he must die!—die, lest he prove my rival with the living—die, that he may be my proxy with the dead! Will he confess?—can he not be persuaded that in his delirium he struck the blow? To me it would give far greater safety than even his death. Hem! we must hazard the experiment.'
Sweeping along the narrow street, Arbaces now approached the house of Sallust, when he beheld a dark form wrapped in a cloak, and stretched at length across the threshold of the door.
So still lay the figure, and so dim was its outline, that any other than Arbaces might have felt a superstitious fear, lest he beheld one of those grim lemures, who, above all other spots, haunted the threshold of the homes they formerly possessed. But not for Arbaces were such dreams.
'Rise!' said he, touching the figure with his foot; 'thou obstructest the way!'
'Ha! who art thou cried the form, in a sharp tone, and as she raised herself from the ground, the starlight fell full on the pale face and fixed but sightless eyes of Nydia the Thessalian. 'Who art thou? I know the burden of thy voice.'
'Blind girl! what dost thou here at this late hour? Fie!—is this seeming thy sex or years? Home, girl!'
'I know thee,' said Nydia, in a low voice, 'thou art Arbaces the Egyptian': then, as if inspired by some sudden impulse, she flung herself at his feet, and clasping his knees, exclaimed, in a wild and passionate tone, 'Oh dread and potent man! save him—save him! He is not guilty—it is I! He lies within, ill-dying, and I—I am the hateful cause! And they will not admit me to him—they spurn the blind girl from the hall. Oh, heal him! thou knowest some herb—some spell—some countercharm, for it is a potion that hath wrought this frenzy!
'Hush, child! I know all!—thou forgettest that I accompanied Julia to the saga's home. Doubtless her hand administered the draught; but her reputation demands thy silence. Reproach not thyself—what must be, must: meanwhile, I seek the criminal—he may yet be saved. Away!'
Thus saying, Arbaces extricated himself from the clasp of the despairing Thessalian, and knocked loudly at the door.
In a few moments the heavy bars were heard suddenly to yield, and the porter, half opening the door, demanded who was there.
'Arbaces—important business to Sallust relative to Glaucus. I come from the praetor.'
The porter, half yawning, half groaning, admitted the tall form of the Egyptian. Nydia sprang forward. 'How is he?' she cried; 'tell me—tell me!'
'Ho, mad girl! is it thou still?—for shame! Why, they say he is sensible.'
'The gods be praised!—and you will not admit me? Ah! I beseech thee...'
'Admit thee!—no. A pretty salute I should prepare for these shoulders were I to admit such things as thou! Go home!'
The door closed, and Nydia, with a deep sigh, laid herself down once more on the cold stones; and, wrapping her cloak round her face, resumed her weary vigil.
Meanwhile Arbaces had already gained the triclinium, where Sallust, with his favorite freedman, sat late at supper.
'What! Arbaces! and at this hour!—Accept this cup.'
'Nay, gentle Sallust; it is on business, not pleasure, that I venture to disturb thee. How doth thy charge?—they say in the town that he has recovered sense.'
'Alas! and truly,' replied the good-natured but thoughtless Sallust, wiping the tear from his eyes; 'but so shattered are his nerves and frame that I scarcely recognize the brilliant and gay carouser I was wont to know. Yet, strange to say, he cannot account for the cause of the sudden frenzy that seized him—he retains but a dim consciousness of what hath passed; and, despite thy witness, wise Egyptian, solemnly upholds his innocence of the death of Apaecides.'
'Sallust,' said Arbaces, gravely, 'there is much in thy friend's case that merits a peculiar indulgence; and could we learn from his lips the confession and the cause of his crime, much might be yet hoped from the mercy of the senate; for the senate, thou knowest, hath the power either to mitigate or to sharpen the law. Therefore it is that I have conferred with the highest authority of the city, and obtained his permission to hold a private conference this night with the Athenian. Tomorrow, thou knowest, the trial comes on.'
'Well,' said Sallust, 'thou wilt be worthy of thy Eastern name and fame if thou canst learn aught from him; but thou mayst try. Poor Glaucus!—and he had such an excellent appetite! He eats nothing now!'
The benevolent epicure was moved sensibly at this thought. He sighed, and ordered his slaves to refill his cup.
'Night wanes,' said the Egyptian; 'suffer me to see thy ward now.'
Sallust nodded assent, and led the way to a small chamber, guarded without by two dozing slaves. The door opened; at the request of Arbaces, Sallust withdrew—the Egyptian was alone with Glaucus.
One of those tall and graceful candelabra common to that day, supporting a single lamp, burned beside the narrow bed. Its rays fell palely over the face of the Athenian, and Arbaces was moved to see how sensibly that countenance had changed. The rich color was gone, the cheek was sunk, the lips were convulsed and pallid; fierce had been the struggle between reason and madness, life and death. The youth, the strength of Glaucus had conquered; but the freshness of blood and soul—the life of life—its glory and its zest, were gone for ever.
The Egyptian seated himself quietly beside the bed; Glaucus still lay mute and unconscious of his presence. At length, after a considerable pause, Arbaces thus spoke:
'Glaucus, we have been enemies. I come to thee alone and in the dead of night—thy friend, perhaps thy saviour.'
As the steed starts from the path of the tiger, Glaucus sprang up breathless—alarmed, panting at the abrupt voice, the sudden apparition of his foe. Their eyes met, and neither, for some moments, had power to withdraw his gaze. The flush went and came over the face of the Athenian, and the bronzed cheek of the Egyptian grew a shade more pale. At length, with an inward groan, Glaucus turned away, drew his hand across his brow, sunk back, and muttered:
'Am I still dreaming?'
'No, Glaucus thou art awake. By this right hand and my father's head, thou seest one who may save thy life. Hark! I know what thou hast done, but I know also its excuse, of which thou thyself art ignorant. Thou hast committed murder, it is true—a sacrilegious murder—frown not—start not—these eyes saw it. But I can save thee—I can prove how thou wert bereaved of sense, and made not a free-thinking and free-acting man. But in order to save thee, thou must confess thy crime. Sign but this paper, acknowledging thy hand in the death of Apaecides, and thou shalt avoid the fatal urn.'
'What words are these?—Murder and Apaecides!—Did I not see him stretched on the ground bleeding and a corpse? and wouldst thou persuade me that I did the deed? Man, thou liest! Away!'
'Be not rash—Glaucus, be not hasty; the deed is proved. Come, come, thou mayst well be excused for not recalling the act of thy delirium, and which thy sober senses would have shunned even to contemplate. But let me try to refresh thy exhausted and weary memory. Thou knowest thou wert walking with the priest, disputing about his sister; thou knowest he was intolerant, and half a Nazarene, and he sought to convert thee, and ye had hot words; and he calumniated thy mode of life, and swore he would not marry Ione to thee—and then, in thy wrath and thy frenzy, thou didst strike the sudden blow. Come, come; you can recollect this!—read this papyrus, it runs to that effect—sign it, and thou art saved.'
'Barbarian, give me the written lie, that I may tear it! I the murderer of Ione's brother: I confess to have injured one hair of the head of him she loved! Let me rather perish a thousand times!'
'Beware!' said Arbaces, in a low and hissing tone; 'there is but one choice—thy confession and thy signature, or the amphitheatre and the lion's maw!'
As the Egyptian fixed his eyes upon the sufferer, he hailed with joy the signs of evident emotion that seized the latter at these words. A slight shudder passed over the Athenian's frame—his lip fell—an expression of sudden fear and wonder betrayed itself in his brow and eye.
'Great gods!' he said, in a low voice, 'what reverse is this? It seems but a little day since life laughed out from amidst roses—Ione mine—youth, health, love, lavishing on me their treasures; and now—pain, madness, shame, death! And for what? What have I done? Oh, I am mad still?'
'Sign, and be saved!' said the soft, sweet voice of the Egyptian.
'Tempter, never!' cried Glaucus, in the reaction of rage. 'Thou knowest me not: thou knowest not the haughty soul of an Athenian! The sudden face of death might appal me for a moment, but the fear is over. Dishonour appals for ever! Who will debase his name to save his life? who exchange clear thoughts for sullen days? who will belie himself to shame, and stand blackened in the eyes of love? If to earn a few years of polluted life there be so base a coward, dream not, dull barbarian of Egypt! to find him in one who has trod the same sod as Harmodius, and breathed the same air as Socrates. Go! leave me to live without self-reproach—or to perish without fear!'
'Bethink thee well! the lion's fangs: the hoots of the brutal mob: the vulgar gaze on thy dying agony and mutilated limbs: thy name degraded; thy corpse unburied; the shame thou wouldst avoid clinging to thee for aye and ever!'
'Thou ravest; thou art the madman! shame is not in the loss of other men's esteem—it is in the loss of our own. Wilt thou go?—my eyes loathe the sight of thee! hating ever, I despise thee now!'
'I go,' said Arbaces, stung and exasperated, but not without some pitying admiration of his victim, 'I go; we meet twice again—once at the Trial, once at the Death! Farewell!'
The Egyptian rose slowly, gathered his robes about him, and left the chamber. He sought Sallust for a moment, whose eyes began to reel with the vigils of the cup: 'He is still unconscious, or still obstinate; there is no hope for him.'
'Say not so,' replied Sallust, who felt but little resentment against the Athenian's accuser, for he possessed no great austerity of virtue, and was rather moved by his friend's reverses than persuaded of his innocence—'say not so, my Egyptian! so good a drinker shall be saved if possible. Bacchus against Isis!'
'We shall see,' said the Egyptian.
Suddenly the bolts were again withdrawn—the door unclosed; Arbaces was in the open street; and poor Nydia once more started from her long watch.
'Wilt thou save him?' she cried, clasping her hands.
'Child, follow me home; I would speak to thee—it is for his sake I ask it.'
'And thou wilt save him?'
No answer came forth to the thirsting ear of the blind girl: Arbaces had already proceeded far up the street; she hesitated a moment, and then followed his steps in silence.
'I must secure this girl,' said he, musingly, 'lest she give evidence of the philtre; as to the vain Julia, she will not betray herself.'
A CLASSIC FUNERAL.
WHILE Arbaces had been thus employed, Sorrow and Death were in the house of Ione. It was the night preceding the morn in which the solemn funeral rites were to be decreed to the remains of the murdered Apaecides. The corpse had been removed from the temple of Isis to the house of the nearest surviving relative, and Ione had heard, in the same breath, the death of her brother and the accusation against her betrothed. That first violent anguish which blunts the sense to all but itself, and the forbearing silence of her slaves, had prevented her learning minutely the circumstances attendant on the fate of her lover. His illness, his frenzy, and his approaching trial, were unknown to her. She learned only the accusation against him, and at once indignantly rejected it; nay, on hearing that Arbaces was the accuser, she required no more to induce her firmly and solemnly to believe that the Egyptian himself was the criminal. But the vast and absorbing importance attached by the ancients to the performance of every ceremonial connected with the death of a relation, had, as yet, confined her woe and her convictions to the chamber of the deceased. Alas! it was not for her to perform that tender and touching office, which obliged the nearest relative to endeavor to catch the last breath—the parting soul—of the beloved one: but it was hers to close the straining eyes, the distorted lips: to watch by the consecrated clay, as, fresh bathed and anointed, it lay in festive robes upon the ivory bed; to strew the couch with leaves and flowers, and to renew the solemn cypress-branch at the threshold of the door. And in these sad offices, in lamentation and in prayer, Ione forgot herself. It was among the loveliest customs of the ancients to bury the young at the morning twilight; for, as they strove to give the softest interpretation to death, so they poetically imagined that Aurora, who loved the young, had stolen them to her embrace; and though in the instance of the murdered priest this fable could not appropriately cheat the fancy, the general custom was still preserved.
The stars were fading one by one from the grey heavens, and night slowly receding before the approach of morn, when a dark group stood motionless before Ione's door. High and slender torches, made paler by the unmellowed dawn, cast their light over various countenances, hushed for the moment in one solemn and intent expression. And now there arose a slow and dismal music, which accorded sadly with the rite, and floated far along the desolate and breathless streets; while a chorus of female voices (the Praeficae so often cited by the Roman poets), accompanying the Tibicen and the Mysian flute, woke the following strain:
THE FUNERAL DIRGE
O'er the sad threshold, where the cypress bough Supplants the rose that should adorn thy home, On the last pilgrimage on earth that now Awaits thee, wanderer to Cocytus, come! Darkly we woo, and weeping we invite— Death is thy host—his banquet asks thy soul, Thy garlands hang within the House of Night, And the black stream alone shall fill thy bowl.
No more for thee the laughter and the song, The jocund night—the glory of the day! The Argive daughters' at their labours long; The hell-bird swooping on its Titan prey—
The false AEolides upheaving slow, O'er the eternal hill, the eternal stone; The crowned Lydian, in his parching woe, And green Callirrhoe's monster-headed son—
These shalt thou see, dim shadowed through the dark, Which makes the sky of Pluto's dreary shore; Lo! where thou stand'st, pale-gazing on the bark, That waits our rite to bear thee trembling o'er! Come, then! no more delay!—the phantom pines Amidst the Unburied for its latest home; O'er the grey sky the torch impatient shines— Come, mourner, forth!—the lost one bids thee come.
As the hymn died away, the group parted in twain; and placed upon a couch, spread with a purple pall, the corpse of Apaecides was carried forth, with the feet foremost. The designator, or marshal of the sombre ceremonial, accompanied by his torch-bearers, clad in black, gave the signal, and the procession moved dreadly on.
First went the musicians, playing a slow march—the solemnity of the lower instruments broken by many a louder and wilder burst of the funeral trumpet: next followed the hired mourners, chanting their dirges to the dead; and the female voices were mingled with those of boys, whose tender years made still more striking the contrast of life and death—the fresh leaf and the withered one. But the players, the buffoons, the archimimus (whose duty it was to personate the dead)—these, the customary attendants at ordinary funerals, were banished from a funeral attended with so many terrible associations.
The priests of Isis came next in their snowy garments, barefooted, and supporting sheaves of corn; while before the corpse were carried the images of the deceased and his many Athenian forefathers. And behind the bier followed, amidst her women, the sole surviving relative of the dead—her head bare, her locks disheveled, her face paler than marble, but composed and still, save ever and anon, as some tender thought—awakened by the music, flashed upon the dark lethargy of woe, she covered that countenance with her hands, and sobbed unseen; for hers were not the noisy sorrow, the shrill lament, the ungoverned gesture, which characterized those who honored less faithfully. In that age, as in all, the channel of deep grief flowed hushed and still.
And so the procession swept on, till it had traversed the streets, passed the city gate, and gained the Place of Tombs without the wall, which the traveler yet beholds.
Raised in the form of an altar—of unpolished pine, amidst whose interstices were placed preparations of combustible matter—stood the funeral pyre; and around it drooped the dark and gloomy cypresses so consecrated by song to the tomb.
As soon as the bier was placed upon the pile, the attendants parting on either side, Ione passed up to the couch, and stood before the unconscious clay for some moments motionless and silent. The features of the dead had been composed from the first agonized expression of violent death. Hushed for ever the terror and the doubt, the contest of passion, the awe of religion, the struggle of the past and present, the hope and the horror of the future!—of all that racked and desolated the breast of that young aspirant to the Holy of Life, what trace was visible in the awful serenity of that impenetrable brow and unbreathing lip? The sister gazed, and not a sound was heard amidst the crowd; there was something terrible, yet softening, also, in the silence; and when it broke, it broke sudden and abrupt—it broke, with a loud and passionate cry—the vent of long-smothered despair.
'My brother! my brother!' cried the poor orphan, falling upon the couch; 'thou whom the worm on thy path feared not—what enemy couldst thou provoke? Oh, is it in truth come to this? Awake! awake! We grew together! Are we thus torn asunder? Thou art not dead—thou sleepest. Awake! awake!'
The sound of her piercing voice aroused the sympathy of the mourners, and they broke into loud and rude lament. This startled, this recalled Ione; she looked up hastily and confusedly, as if for the first time sensible of the presence of those around.
'Ah!' she murmured with a shiver, 'we are not then alone!' With that, after a brief pause, she rose; and her pale and beautiful countenance was again composed and rigid. With fond and trembling hands, she unclosed the lids of the deceased; but when the dull glazed eye, no longer beaming with love and life, met hers, she shrieked aloud, as if she had seen a spectre. Once more recovering herself she kissed again and again the lids, the lips, the brow; and with mechanic and unconscious hand, received from the high priest of her brother's temple the funeral torch.
The sudden burst of music, the sudden song of the mourners announced the birth of the sanctifying flame.
HYMN TO THE WIND
On thy couch of cloud reclined, Wake, O soft and sacred Wind! Soft and sacred will we name thee, Whosoe'er the sire that claim thee— Whether old Auster's dusky child, Or the loud son of Eurus wild; Or his who o'er the darkling deeps, From the bleak North, in tempest sweeps; Still shalt thou seem as dear to us As flowery-crowned Zephyrus, When, through twilight's starry dew, Trembling, he hastes his nymph to woo.
Lo! our silver censers swinging, Perfumes o'er thy path are flinging— Ne'er o'er Tempe's breathless valleys, Ne'er o'er Cypria's cedarn alleys, Or the Rose-isle's moonlit sea, Floated sweets more worthy thee. Lo! around our vases sending Myrrh and nard with cassia blending: Paving air with odorous meet, For thy silver-sandall'd feet!
August and everlasting air! The source of all that breathe and be, From the mute clay before thee bear The seeds it took from thee! Aspire, bright Flame! aspire! Wild wind!—awake, awake! Thine own, O solemn Fire! O Air, thine own retake!
It comes! it comes! Lo! it sweeps, The Wind we invoke the while! And crackles, and darts, and leaps The light on the holy pile! It rises! its wings interweave With the flames—how they howl and heave! Toss'd, whirl'd to and fro, How the flame-serpents glow! Rushing higher and higher, On—on, fearful Fire! Thy giant limbs twined With the arms of the Wind! Lo! the elements meet on the throne Of death—to reclaim their own!
Swing, swing the censer round— Tune the strings to a softer sound! From the chains of thy earthly toil, From the clasp of thy mortal coil, From the prison where clay confined thee, The hands of the flame unbind thee! O Soul! thou art free—all free! As the winds in their ceaseless chase, When they rush o'er their airy sea, Thou mayst speed through the realms of space, No fetter is forged for thee! Rejoice! o'er the sluggard tide Of the Styx thy bark can glide, And thy steps evermore shall rove Through the glades of the happy grove; Where, far from the loath'd Cocytus, The loved and the lost invite us. Thou art slave to the earth no more! O soul, thou art freed!—and we?— Ah! when shall our toil be o'er? Ah! when shall we rest with thee?
And now high and far into the dawning skies broke the fragrant fire; it flushed luminously across the gloomy cypresses—it shot above the massive walls of the neighboring city; and the early fisherman started to behold the blaze reddening on the waves of the creeping sea.
But Ione sat down apart and alone, and, leaning her face upon her hands, saw not the flame, nor heard the lamentation of the music: she felt only one sense of loneliness—she had not yet arrived to that hallowing sense of comfort, when we know that we are not alone—that the dead are with us!
The breeze rapidly aided the effect of the combustibles placed within the pile. By degrees the flame wavered, lowered, dimmed, and slowly, by fits and unequal starts, died away—emblem of life itself; where, just before, all was restlessness and flame, now lay the dull and smouldering ashes.
The last sparks were extinguished by the attendants—the embers were collected. Steeped in the rarest wine and the costliest odorous, the remains were placed in a silver urn, which was solemnly stored in one of the neighboring sepulchres beside the road; and they placed within it the vial full of tears, and the small coin which poetry still consecrated to the grim boatman. And the sepulchre was covered with flowers and chaplets, and incense kindled on the altar, and the tomb hung round with many lamps.
But the next day, when the priest returned with fresh offerings to the tomb, he found that to the relics of heathen superstition some unknown hands had added a green palm-branch. He suffered it to remain, unknowing that it was the sepulchral emblem of Christianity.
When the above ceremonies were over, one of the Praeficae three times sprinkled the mourners from the purifying branch of laurel, uttering the last word, 'Ilicet!'—Depart!—and the rite was done.
But first they paused to utter—weepingly and many times—the affecting farewell, 'Salve Eternum!' And as Ione yet lingered, they woke the parting strain.
Farewell! O soul departed! Farewell! O sacred urn! Bereaved and broken-hearted, To earth the mourners turn. To the dim and dreary shore, Thou art gone our steps before! But thither the swift Hours lead us, And thou dost but a while precede us, Salve—salve! Loved urn, and thou solemn cell, Mute ashes!—farewell, farewell! Salve—salve!
Ilicet—ire licet— Ah, vainly would we part! Thy tomb is the faithful heart. About evermore we bear thee; For who from the heart can tear thee? Vainly we sprinkle o'er us The drops of the cleansing stream; And vainly bright before us The lustral fire shall beam. For where is the charm expelling Thy thought from its sacred dwelling? Our griefs are thy funeral feast, And Memory thy mourning priest. Salve—salve!
Ilicet—ire licet! The spark from the hearth is gone Wherever the air shall bear it; The elements take their own— The shadows receive thy spirit. It will soothe thee to feel our grief, As thou glid'st by the Gloomy River! If love may in life be brief, In death it is fixed for ever. Salve—salve! In the hall which our feasts illume, The rose for an hour may bloom; But the cypress that decks the tomb— The cypress is green for ever! Salve—salve!
IN WHICH AN ADVENTURE HAPPENS TO IONE.
WHILE some stayed behind to share with the priests the funeral banquet, Ione and her handmaids took homeward their melancholy way. And now (the last duties to her brother performed) her mind awoke from its absorption, and she thought of her allianced, and the dread charge against him. Not—as we have before said—attaching even a momentary belief to the unnatural accusation, but nursing the darkest suspicion against Arbaces, she felt that justice to her lover and to her murdered relative demanded her to seek the praetor, and communicate her impression, unsupported as it might be. Questioning her maidens, who had hitherto—kindly anxious, as I have said, to save her the additional agony—refrained from informing her of the state of Glaucus, she learned that he had been dangerously ill: that he was in custody, under the roof of Sallust; that the day of his trial was appointed.
'Averting gods,' she exclaimed; 'and have I been so long forgetful of him? Have I seemed to shun him? O! let me hasten to do him justice—to show that I, the nearest relative of the dead, believe him innocent of the charge. Quick! quick! let us fly. Let me soothe—tend—cheer him! and if they will not believe me; if they will not lead to my conviction; if they sentence him to exile or to death, let me share the sentence with him!'
Instinctively she hastened her pace, confused and bewildered, scarce knowing whither she went; now designing first to seek the praetor, and now to rush to the chamber of Glaucus. She hurried on—she passed the gate of the city—she was in the long street leading up the town. The houses were opened, but none were yet astir in the streets; the life of the city was scarce awake—when lo! she came suddenly upon a small knot of men standing beside a covered litter. A tall figure stepped from the midst of them, and Ione shrieked aloud to behold Arbaces.
'Fair Ione!' said he, gently, and appearing not to heed her alarm: 'my ward, my pupil! forgive me if I disturb thy pious sorrows; but the praetor, solicitous of thy honour, and anxious that thou mayest not rashly be implicated in the coming trial; knowing the strange embarrassment of thy state (seeking justice for thy brother, but dreading punishment to thy betrothed)—sympathizing, too, with thy unprotected and friendless condition, and deeming it harsh that thou shouldst be suffered to act unguided and mourn alone—hath wisely and paternally confided thee to the care of thy lawful guardian. Behold the writing which intrusts thee to my charge!'
'Dark Egyptian!' cried Ione, drawing herself proudly aside; 'begone! It is thou that hast slain my brother! Is it to thy care, thy hands yet reeking with his blood, that they will give the sister Ha! thou turnest pale! thy conscience smites thee! thou tremblest at the thunderbolt of the avenging god! Pass on, and leave me to my woe!'
'Thy sorrows unstring thy reason, Ione,' said Arbaces, attempting in vain his usual calmness of tone. 'I forgive thee. Thou wilt find me now, as ever, thy surest friend. But the public streets are not the fitting place for us to confer—for me to console thee. Approach, slaves! Come, my sweet charge, the litter awaits thee.'
The amazed and terrified attendants gathered round Ione, and clung to her knees.
'Arbaces,' said the eldest of the maidens, 'this is surely not the law! For nine days after the funeral, is it not written that the relatives of the deceased shall not be molested in their homes, or interrupted in their solitary grief?'
'Woman!' returned Arbaces, imperiously waving his hand, 'to place a ward under the roof of her guardian is not against the funeral laws. I tell thee I have the fiat of the praetor. This delay is indecorous. Place her in the litter.'
So saying, he threw his arm firmly round the shrinking form of Ione. She drew back, gazed earnestly in his face, and then burst into hysterical laughter:
'Ha, ha! this is well—well! Excellent guardian—paternal law! Ha, ha!' And, startled herself at the dread echo of that shrill and maddened laughter, she sunk, as it died away, lifeless upon the ground... A minute more, and Arbaces had lifted her into the litter. The bearers moved swiftly on, and the unfortunate Ione was soon borne from the sight of her weeping handmaids.
WHAT BECOMES OF NYDIA IN THE HOUSE OF ARBACES. THE EGYPTIAN FEELS COMPASSION FOR GLAUCUS. COMPASSION IS OFTEN A VERY USELESS VISITOR TO THE GUILTY.
IT will be remembered that, at the command of Arbaces, Nydia followed the Egyptian to his home, and conversing there with her, he learned from the confession of her despair and remorse, that her hand, and not Julia's, had administered to Glaucus the fatal potion. At another time the Egyptian might have conceived a philosophical interest in sounding the depths and origin of the strange and absorbing passion which, in blindness and in slavery, this singular girl had dared to cherish; but at present he spared no thought from himself. As, after her confession, the poor Nydia threw herself on her knees before him, and besought him to restore the health and save the life of Glaucus—for in her youth and ignorance she imagined the dark magician all-powerful to effect both—Arbaces, with unheeding ears, was noting only the new expediency of detaining Nydia a prisoner until the trial and fate of Glaucus were decided. For if, when he judged her merely the accomplice of Julia in obtaining the philtre, he had felt it was dangerous to the full success of his vengeance to allow her to be at large—to appear, perhaps, as a witness—to avow the manner in which the sense of Glaucus had been darkened, and thus win indulgence to the crime of which he was accused—how much more was she likely to volunteer her testimony when she herself had administered the draught, and, inspired by love, would be only anxious, at any expense of shame, to retrieve her error and preserve her beloved? Besides, how unworthy of the rank and repute of Arbaces to be implicated in the disgrace of pandering to the passion of Julia, and assisting in the unholy rites of the Saga of Vesuvius! Nothing less, indeed, than his desire to induce Glaucus to own the murder of Apaecides, as a policy evidently the best both for his own permanent safety and his successful suit with Ione, could ever have led him to contemplate the confession of Julia.
As for Nydia, who was necessarily cut off by her blindness from much of the knowledge of active life, and who, a slave and a stranger, was naturally ignorant of the perils of the Roman law, she thought rather of the illness and delirium of her Athenian, than the crime of which she had vaguely heard him accused, or the chances of the impending trial. Poor wretch that she was, whom none addressed, none cared for, what did she know of the senate and the sentence—the hazard of the law—the ferocity of the people—the arena and the lion's den? She was accustomed only to associate with the thought of Glaucus everything that was prosperous and lofty—she could not imagine that any peril, save from the madness of her love, could menace that sacred head. He seemed to her set apart for the blessings of life. She only had disturbed the current of his felicity; she knew not, she dreamed not that the stream, once so bright, was dashing on to darkness and to death. It was therefore to restore the brain that she had marred, to save the life that she had endangered that she implored the assistance of the great Egyptian.
'Daughter,' said Arbaces, waking from his reverie, 'thou must rest here; it is not meet for thee to wander along the streets, and be spurned from the threshold by the rude feet of slaves. I have compassion on thy soft crime—I will do all to remedy it. Wait here patiently for some days, and Glaucus shall be restored.' So saying, and without waiting for her reply, he hastened from the room, drew the bolt across the door, and consigned the care and wants of his prisoner to the slave who had the charge of that part of the mansion.
Alone, then, and musingly, he waited the morning light, and with it repaired, as we have seen, to possess himself of the person of Ione.
His primary object, with respect to the unfortunate Neapolitan, was that which he had really stated to Clodius, viz., to prevent her interesting herself actively in the trial of Glaucus, and also to guard against her accusing him (which she would, doubtless, have done) of his former act of perfidy and violence towards her, his ward—denouncing his causes for vengeance against Glaucus—unveiling the hypocrisy of his character—and casting any doubt upon his veracity in the charge which he had made against the Athenian. Not till he had encountered her that morning—not till he had heard her loud denunciations—was he aware that he had also another danger to apprehend in her suspicion of his crime. He hugged himself now at the thought that these ends were effected: that one, at once the object of his passion and his fear, was in his power. He believed more than ever the flattering promises of the stars; and when he sought Ione in that chamber in the inmost recesses of his mysterious mansion to which he had consigned her—when he found her overpowered by blow upon blow, and passing from fit to fit, from violence to torpor, in all the alternations of hysterical disease—he thought more of the loveliness which no frenzy could distort than of the woe which he had brought upon her. In that sanguine vanity common to men who through life have been invariably successful, whether in fortune or love, he flattered himself that when Glaucus had perished—when his name was solemnly blackened by the award of a legal judgment, his title to her love for ever forfeited by condemnation to death for the murder of her own brother—her affection would be changed to horror; and that his tenderness and his passion, assisted by all the arts with which he well knew how to dazzle woman's imagination, might elect him to that throne in her heart from which his rival would be so awfully expelled. This was his hope: but should it fail, his unholy and fervid passion whispered, 'At the worst, now she is in my power.'
Yet, withal, he felt that uneasiness and apprehension which attended upon the chance of detection, even when the criminal is insensible to the voice of conscience—that vague terror of the consequences of crime, which is often mistaken for remorse at the crime itself. The buoyant air of Campania weighed heavily upon his breast; he longed to hurry from a scene where danger might not sleep eternally with the dead; and, having Ione now in his possession, he secretly resolved, as soon as he had witnessed the last agony of his rival, to transport his wealth—and her, the costliest treasure of all, to some distant shore.
'Yes,' said he, striding to and fro his solitary chamber—'yes, the law that gave me the person of my ward gives me the possession of my bride. Far across the broad main will we sweep on our search after novel luxuries and inexperienced pleasures. Cheered by my stars, supported by the omens of my soul, we will penetrate to those vast and glorious worlds which my wisdom tells me lie yet untracked in the recesses of the circling sea. There may this heart, possessed of love, grow once more alive to ambition—there, amongst nations uncrushed by the Roman yoke, and to whose ear the name of Rome has not yet been wafted, I may found an empire, and transplant my ancestral creed; renewing the ashes of the dead Theban rule; continuing in yet grander shores the dynasty of my crowned fathers, and waking in the noble heart of Ione the grateful consciousness that she shares the lot of one who, far from the aged rottenness of this slavish civilization, restores the primal elements of greatness, and unites in one mighty soul the attributes of the prophet and the king.' From this exultant soliloquy, Arbaces was awakened to attend the trial of the Athenian.
The worn and pallid cheek of his victim touched him less than the firmness of his nerves and the dauntlessness of his brow; for Arbaces was one who had little pity for what was unfortunate, but a strong sympathy for what was bold. The congenialities that bind us to others ever assimilate to the qualities of our own nature. The hero weeps less at the reverses of his enemy than at the fortitude with which he bears them. All of us are human, and Arbaces, criminal as he was, had his share of our common feelings and our mother clay. Had he but obtained from Glaucus the written confession of his crime, which would, better than even the judgment of others, have lost him with Ione, and removed from Arbaces the chance of future detection, the Egyptian would have strained every nerve to save his rival. Even now his hatred was over—his desire of revenge was slaked: he crushed his prey, not in enmity, but as an obstacle in his path. Yet was he not the less resolved, the less crafty and persevering, in the course he pursued, for the destruction of one whose doom was become necessary to the attainment of his objects: and while, with apparent reluctance and compassion, he gave against Glaucus the evidence which condemned him, he secretly, and through the medium of the priesthood, fomented that popular indignation which made an effectual obstacle to the pity of the senate. He had sought Julia; he had detailed to her the confession of Nydia; he had easily, therefore, lulled any scruple of conscience which might have led her to extenuate the offence of Glaucus by avowing her share in his frenzy: and the more readily, for her vain heart had loved the fame and the prosperity of Glaucus—not Glaucus himself, she felt no affection for a disgraced man—nay, she almost rejoiced in the disgrace that humbled the hated Ione. If Glaucus could not be her slave, neither could he be the adorer of her rival. This was sufficient consolation for any regret at his fate. Volatile and fickle, she began again to be moved by the sudden and earnest suit of Clodius, and was not willing to hazard the loss of an alliance with that base but high-born noble by any public exposure of her past weakness and immodest passion for another. All things then smiled upon Arbaces—all things frowned upon the Athenian.
NYDIA AFFECTS THE SORCERESS.
WHEN the Thessalian found that Arbaces returned to her no more—when she was left, hour after hour, to all the torture of that miserable suspense which was rendered by blindness doubly intolerable, she began, with outstretched arms, to feel around her prison for some channel of escape; and finding the only entrance secure, she called aloud, and with the vehemence of a temper naturally violent, and now sharpened by impatient agony.
'Ho, girl!' said the slave in attendance, opening the door; art thou bit by a scorpion? or thinkest thou that we are dying of silence here, and only to be preserved, like the infant Jupiter, by a hullabaloo?'
'Where is thy master? and wherefore am I caged here? I want air and liberty: let me go forth!'
'Alas! little one, hast thou not seen enough of Arbaces to know that his will is imperial! He hath ordered thee to be caged; and caged thou art, and I am thy keeper. Thou canst not have air and liberty; but thou mayst have what are much better things—food and wine.'
'Proh Jupiter!' cried the girl, wringing her hands; 'and why am I thus imprisoned? What can the great Arbaces want with so poor a thing as I am?'
'That I know not, unless it be to attend on thy new mistress, who has been brought hither this day.'
'What! Ione here?'
'Yes, poor lady; she liked it little, I fear. Yet, by the Temple of Castor! Arbaces is a gallant man to the women. Thy lady is his ward, thou knowest.'
'Wilt thou take me to her?'
'She is ill—frantic with rage and spite. Besides, I have no orders to do so; and I never think for myself. When Arbaces made me slave of these chambers, he said, "I have but one lesson to give thee—while thou servest me, thou must have neither ears, eyes, nor thought; thou must be but one quality—obedience."'
'But what harm is there in seeing Ione?'
'That I know not; but if thou wantest a companion, I am willing to talk to thee, little one, for I am solitary enough in my dull cubiculum. And, by the way, thou art Thessalian—knowest thou not some cunning amusement of knife and shears, some pretty trick of telling fortunes, as most of thy race do, in order to pass the time.'
'Tush, slave, hold thy peace! or, if thou wilt speak, what hast thou heard of the state of Glaucus?'
'Why, my master has gone to the Athenian's trial; Glaucus will smart for it!'
'The murder of the priest Apaecides.'
'Ha!' said Nydia, pressing her hands to her forehead; 'something of this I have indeed heard, but understand not. Yet, who will dare to touch a hair of his head?'
'That will the lion, I fear.'
'Averting gods! what wickedness dost thou utter?'
'Why, only that, if he be found guilty, the lion, or may be the tiger, will be his executioner.'
Nydia leaped up, as if an arrow had entered her heart; she uttered a piercing scream; then, falling before the feet of the slave, she cried, in a tone that melted even his rude heart:
'Ah! tell me thou jestest—thou utterest not the truth—speak, speak!'
'Why, by my faith, blind girl, I know nothing of the law; it may not be so bad as I say. But Arbaces is his accuser, and the people desire a victim for the arena. Cheer thee! But what hath the fate of the Athenian to do with thine?'
'No matter, no matter—he has been kind to me: thou knowest not, then, what they will do? Arbaces his accuser! O fate! The people—the people! Ah! they can look upon his face—who will be cruel to the Athenian!—Yet was not Love itself cruel to him?'
So saying, her head drooped upon her bosom: she sunk into silence; scalding tears flowed down her cheeks; and all the kindly efforts of the slave were unable either to console her or distract the absorption of her reverie.
When his household cares obliged the ministrant to leave her room, Nydia began to re-collect her thoughts. Arbaces was the accuser of Glaucus; Arbaces had imprisoned her here; was not that a proof that her liberty might be serviceable to Glaucus? Yes, she was evidently inveigled into some snare; she was contributing to the destruction of her beloved! Oh, how she panted for release! Fortunately, for her sufferings, all sense of pain became merged in the desire of escape; and as she began to revolve the possibility of deliverance, she grew calm and thoughtful. She possessed much of the craft of her sex, and it had been increased in her breast by her early servitude. What slave was ever destitute of cunning? She resolved to practise upon her keeper; and calling suddenly to mind his superstitious query as to her Thessalian art, she hoped by that handle to work out some method of release. These doubts occupied her mind during the rest of the day and the long hours of night; and, accordingly, when Sosia visited her the following morning, she hastened to divert his garrulity into that channel in which it had before evinced a natural disposition to flow.
She was aware, however, that her only chance of escape was at night; and accordingly she was obliged with a bitter pang at the delay to defer till then her purposed attempt.
'The night,' said she, 'is the sole time in which we can well decipher the decrees of Fate—then it is thou must seek me. But what desirest thou to learn?'
'By Pollux! I should like to know as much as my master; but that is not to be expected. Let me know, at least, whether I shall save enough to purchase my freedom, or whether this Egyptian will give it me for nothing. He does such generous things sometimes. Next, supposing that be true, shall I possess myself of that snug taberna among the Myropolia, which I have long had in my eye? 'Tis a genteel trade that of a perfumer, and suits a retired slave who has something of a gentleman about him!'
'Ay! so you would have precise answers to those questions?—there are various ways of satisfying you. There is the Lithomanteia, or Speaking-stone, which answers your prayer with an infant's voice; but, then, we have not that precious stone with us—costly is it and rare. Then there is the Gastromanteia, whereby the demon casts pale and deadly images upon the water, prophetic of the future. But this art requires also glasses of a peculiar fashion, to contain the consecrated liquid, which we have not. I think, therefore, that the simplest method of satisfying your desire would be by the Magic of Air.'
'I trust,' said Sosia, tremulously, 'that there is nothing very frightful in the operation? I have no love for apparitions.'
'Fear not; thou wilt see nothing; thou wilt only hear by the bubbling of water whether or not thy suit prospers. First, then, be sure, from the rising of the evening star, that thou leavest the garden-gate somewhat open, so that the demon may feel himself invited to enter therein; and place fruits and water near the gate as a sign of hospitality; then, three hours after twilight, come here with a bowl of the coldest and purest water, and thou shalt learn all, according to the Thessalian lore my mother taught me. But forget not the garden-gate—all rests upon that: it must be open when you come, and for three hours previously.'
'Trust me,' replied the unsuspecting Sosia; 'I know what a gentleman's feelings are when a door is shut in his face, as the cookshop's hath been in mine many a day; and I know, also, that a person of respectability, as a demon of course is, cannot but be pleased, on the other hand, with any little mark of courteous hospitality. Meanwhile, pretty one, here is thy morning's meal.'
'But what of the trial?'
'Oh, the lawyers are still at it—talk, talk—it will last over all to-morrow.'
'To-morrow? You are sure of that?'
'So I hear.'
'By Bacchus! she must be tolerably well, for she was strong enough to make my master stamp and bite his lip this morning. I saw him quit her apartment with a brow like a thunderstorm.'
'Lodges she near this?'
'No—in the upper apartments. But I must not stay prating here longer. Vale!'
A WASP VENTURES INTO THE SPIDER'S WEB.
THE second night of the trial had set in; and it was nearly the time in which Sosia was to brave the dread Unknown, when there entered, at that very garden-gate which the slave had left ajar—not, indeed, one of the mysterious spirits of earth or air, but the heavy and most human form of Calenus, the priest of Isis. He scarcely noted the humble offerings of indifferent fruit, and still more indifferent wine, which the pious Sosia had deemed good enough for the invisible stranger they were intended to allure. 'Some tribute,' thought he, 'to the garden god. By my father's head! if his deityship were never better served, he would do well to give up the godly profession. Ah! were it not for us priests, the gods would have a sad time of it. And now for Arbaces—I am treading a quicksand, but it ought to cover a mine. I have the Egyptian's life in my power—what will he value it at?'
As he thus soliloquised, he crossed through the open court into the peristyle, where a few lamps here and there broke upon the empire of the starlit night; and issuing from one of the chambers that bordered the colonnade, suddenly encountered Arbaces.
'Ho! Calenus—seekest thou me?' said the Egyptian; and there was a little embarrassment in his voice.
'Yes, wise Arbaces—I trust my visit is not unseasonable?'
'Nay—it was but this instant that my freedman Callias sneezed thrice at my right hand; I knew, therefore, some good fortune was in store for me—and, lo! the gods have sent me Calenus.'
'Shall we within to your chamber, Arbaces?'
'As you will; but the night is clear and balmy—I have some remains of languor yet lingering on me from my recent illness—the air refreshes me—let us walk in the garden—we are equally alone there.'
'With all my heart,' answered the priest; and the two friends passed slowly to one of the many terraces which, bordered by marble vases and sleeping flowers, intersected the garden.
'It is a lovely night,' said Arbaces—'blue and beautiful as that on which, twenty years ago, the shores of Italy first broke upon my view. My Calenus, age creeps upon us—let us, at least, feel that we have lived.'
'Thou, at least, mayst arrogate that boast,' said Calenus, beating about, as it were, for an opportunity to communicate the secret which weighed upon him, and feeling his usual awe of Arbaces still more impressively that night, from the quiet and friendly tone of dignified condescension which the Egyptian assumed—'Thou, at least, mayst arrogate that boast. Thou hast had countless wealth—a frame on whose close-woven fibres disease can find no space to enter—prosperous love—inexhaustible pleasure—and, even at this hour, triumphant revenge.'
'Thou alludest to the Athenian. Ay, to-morrow's sun the fiat of his death will go forth. The senate does not relent. But thou mistakest: his death gives me no other gratification than that it releases me from a rival in the affections of Ione. I entertain no other sentiment of animosity against that unfortunate homicide.'
'Homicide!' repeated Calenus, slowly and meaningly; and, halting as he spoke, he fixed his eyes upon Arbaces. The stars shone pale and steadily on the proud face of their prophet, but they betrayed there no change: the eyes of Calenus fell disappointed and abashed. He continued rapidly—'Homicide! it is well to charge him with that crime; but thou, of all men, knowest that he is innocent.'
'Explain thyself,' said Arbaces, coldly; for he had prepared himself for the hint his secret fears had foretold.
'Arbaces,' answered Calenus, sinking his voice into a whisper, 'I was in the sacred grove, sheltered by the chapel and the surrounding foliage. I overheard—I marked the whole. I saw thy weapon pierce the heart of Apaecides. I blame not the deed—it destroyed a foe and an apostate.'
'Thou sawest the whole!' said Arbaces, dryly; 'so I imagined—thou wert alone.'
'Alone!' returned Calenus, surprised at the Egyptian's calmness.
'And wherefore wert thou hid behind the chapel at that hour?'
'Because I had learned the conversion of Apaecides to the Christian faith—because I knew that on that spot he was to meet the fierce Olinthus—because they were to meet there to discuss plans for unveiling the sacred mysteries of our goddess to the people—and I was there to detect, in order to defeat them.'
'Hast thou told living ear what thou didst witness?'
'No, my master: the secret is locked in thy servant's breast.'
'What! even thy kinsman Burbo guesses it not! Come, the truth!'
'By the gods...'
'Hush! we know each other—what are the gods to us?'
'By the fear of thy vengeance, then—no!'
'And why hast thou hitherto concealed from me this secret? Why hast thou waited till the eve of the Athenian's condemnation before thou hast ventured to tell me that Arbaces is a murderer? And having tarried so long, why revealest thou now that knowledge?'
'Because—because...' stammered Calenus, coloring and in confusion.
'Because,' interrupted Arbaces, with a gentle smile, and tapping the priest on the shoulder with a kindly and familiar gesture—'because, my Calenus (see now, I will read thy heart, and explain its motives)—because thou didst wish thoroughly to commit and entangle me in the trial, so that I might have no loophole of escape; that I might stand firmly pledged to perjury and to malice, as well as to homicide; that having myself whetted the appetite of the populace to blood, no wealth, no power, could prevent my becoming their victim: and thou tellest me thy secret now, ere the trial be over and the innocent condemned, to show what a desperate web of villainy thy word to-morrow could destroy; to enhance in this, the ninth hour, the price of thy forbearance; to show that my own arts, in arousing the popular wrath, would, at thy witness, recoil upon myself; and that if not for Glaucus, for me would gape the jaws of the lion! Is it not so?'
'Arbaces, replied Calenus, losing all the vulgar audacity of his natural character, 'verily thou art a Magician; thou readest the heart as it were a scroll.'
'It is my vocation,' answered the Egyptian, laughing gently. 'Well, then, forbear; and when all is over, I will make thee rich.'
'Pardon me,' said the priest, as the quick suggestion of that avarice, which was his master-passion, bade him trust no future chance of generosity; 'pardon me; thou saidst right—we know each other. If thou wouldst have me silent, thou must pay something in advance, as an offer to Harpocrates.' If the rose, sweet emblem of discretion, is to take root firmly, water her this night with a stream of gold.'
'Witty and poetical!' answered Arbaces, still in that bland voice which lulled and encouraged, when it ought to have alarmed and checked, his griping comrade. 'Wilt thou not wait the morrow?'
'Why this delay? Perhaps, when I can no longer give my testimony without shame for not having given it ere the innocent man suffered, thou wilt forget my claim; and, indeed, thy present hesitation is a bad omen of thy future gratitude.'
'Well, then, Calenus, what wouldst thou have me pay thee?'
'Thy life is, very precious, and thy wealth is very great,' returned the priest, grinning.
'Wittier and more witty. But speak out—what shall be the sum?'
'Arbaces, I have heard that in thy secret treasury below, beneath those rude Oscan arches which prop thy stately halls, thou hast piles of gold, of vases, and of jewels, which might rival the receptacles of the wealth of the deified Nero. Thou mayst easily spare out of those piles enough to make Calenus among the richest priests of Pompeii, and yet not miss the loss.'
'Come, Calenus,' said Arbaces, winningly, and with a frank and generous air, 'thou art an old friend, and hast been a faithful servant. Thou canst have no wish to take away my life, nor I a desire to stint thy reward: thou shalt descend with me to that treasury thou referrest to, thou shalt feast thine eyes with the blaze of uncounted gold and the sparkle of priceless gems; and thou shalt for thy own reward, bear away with thee this night as much as thou canst conceal beneath thy robes. Nay, when thou hast once seen what thy friend possesses, thou wilt learn how foolish it would be to injure one who has so much to bestow. When Glaucus is no more, thou shalt pay the treasury another visit. Speak I frankly and as a friend?'
'Oh, greatest, best of men!' cried Calenus, almost weeping with joy, 'canst thou thus forgive my injurious doubts of thy justice, thy generosity?'
'Hush! one other turn and we will descend to the Oscan arches.'
THE SLAVE CONSULTS THE ORACLE. THEY WHO BLIND THEMSELVES THE BLIND MAY FOOL. TWO NEW PRISONERS MADE IN ONE NIGHT.
IMPATIENTLY Nydia awaited the arrival of the no less anxious Sosia. Fortifying his courage by plentiful potations of a better liquor than that provided for the demon, the credulous ministrant stole into the blind girl's chamber.
'Well, Sosia, and art thou prepared? Hast thou the bowl of pure water?'
'Verily, yes: but I tremble a little. You are sure I shall not see the demon? I have heard that those gentlemen are by no means of a handsome person or a civil demeanor.'
'Be assured! And hast thou left the garden-gate gently open?'
'Yes; and placed some beautiful nuts and apples on a little table close by?'
'That's well. And the gate is open now, so that the demon may pass through it?'
'Surely it is.'
'Well, then, open this door; there—leave it just ajar. And now, Sosia, give me the lamp.'
'What, you will not extinguish it?'
'No; but I must breathe my spell over its ray. There is a spirit in fire. Seat thyself.'
The slave obeyed; and Nydia, after bending for some moments silently over the lamp, rose, and in a low voice chanted the following rude:—
INVOCATION TO THE SPECTRE OF THE AIR
Loved alike by Air and Water Aye must be Thessalia's daughter; To us, Olympian hearts, are given Spells that draw the moon from heaven. All that Egypt's learning wrought— All that Persia's Magian taught— Won from song, or wrung from flowers, Or whisper'd low by fiend—are ours.
Spectre of the viewless air! Hear the blind Thessalian's prayer! By Erictho's art, that shed Dews of life when life was fled— By lone Ithaca's wise king,
Who could wake the crystal spring To the voice of prophecy? By the lost Eurydice, Summon'd from the shadowy throng, As the muse-son's magic song— By the Colchian's awful charms, When fair-haired Jason left her arms—
Spectre of the airy halls, One who owns thee duly calls! Breathe along the brimming bowl, And instruct the fearful soul In the shadowy things that lie Dark in dim futurity. Come, wild demon of the air, Answer to thy votary's prayer! Come! oh, come!
And no god on heaven or earth— Not the Paphian Queen of Mirth, Not the vivid Lord of Light, Nor the triple Maid of Night, Nor the Thunderer's self shall be Blest and honour'd more than thee! Come! oh, come!
'The spectre is certainly coming,' said Sosia. 'I feel him running along my hair!'
'Place thy bowl of water on the ground. Now, then, give me thy napkin, and let me fold up thy face and eyes.'
'Ay! that's always the custom with these charms. Not so tight, though: gently—gently!'
'There—thou canst not see?'
'See, by Jupiter! No! nothing but darkness.'
'Address, then, to the spectre whatever question thou wouldst ask him, in a low-whispered voice, three times. If thy question is answered in the affirmative, thou wilt hear the water ferment and bubble before the demon breathes upon it; if in the negative, the water will be quite silent.'
'But you will not play any trick with the water, eh?'
'Let me place the bowl under thy feet—so. Now thou wilt perceive that I cannot touch it without thy knowledge.'
'Very fair. Now, then, O Bacchus! befriend me. Thou knowest that I have always loved thee better than all the other gods, and I will dedicate to thee that silver cup I stole last year from the burly carptor (butler), if thou wilt but befriend me with this water-loving demon. And thou, O Spirit! listen and hear me. Shall I be enabled to purchase my freedom next year? Thou knowest; for, as thou livest in the air, the birds have doubtless acquainted thee with every secret of this house,—thou knowest that I have filched and pilfered all that I honestly—that is, safely—could lay finger upon for the last three years, and I yet want two thousand sesterces of the full sum. Shall I be able, O good Spirit! to make up the deficiency in the course of this year? Speak—Ha! does the water bubble? No; all is as still as a tomb.—Well, then, if not this year, in two years?—Ah! I hear something; the demon is scratching at the door; he'll be here presently.—In two years, my good fellow: come now, two; that's a very reasonable time. What! dumb still! Two years and a half—three—four? ill fortune to you, friend demon! You are not a lady, that's clear, or you would not keep silence so long. Five—six—sixty years? and may Pluto seize you! I'll ask no more.' And Sosia, in a rage, kicked down the water over his legs. He then, after much fumbling and more cursing, managed to extricate his head from the napkin in which it was completely folded—stared round—and discovered that he was in the dark.
'What, ho! Nydia; the lamp is gone. Ah, traitress; and thou art gone too; but I'll catch thee—thou shalt smart for this!' The slave groped his way to the door; it was bolted from without: he was a prisoner instead of Nydia. What could he do? He did not dare to knock loud—to call out—lest Arbaces should overhear him, and discover how he had been duped; and Nydia, meanwhile, had probably already gained the garden-gate, and was fast on her escape.
'But,' thought he, 'she will go home, or, at least, be somewhere in the city. To-morrow, at dawn, when the slaves are at work in the peristyle, I can make myself heard; then I can go forth and seek her. I shall be sure to find and bring her back, before Arbaces knows a word of the matter. Ah! that's the best plan. Little traitress, my fingers itch at thee: and to leave only a bowl of water, too! Had it been wine, it would have been some comfort.'
While Sosia, thus entrapped, was lamenting his fate, and revolving his schemes to repossess himself of Nydia, the blind girl, with that singular precision and dexterous rapidity of motion, which, we have before observed, was peculiar to her, had passed lightly along the peristyle, threaded the opposite passage that led into the garden, and, with a beating heart, was about to proceed towards the gate, when she suddenly heard the sound of approaching steps, and distinguished the dreaded voice of Arbaces himself. She paused for a moment in doubt and terror; then suddenly it flashed across her recollection that there was another passage which was little used except for the admission of the fair partakers of the Egyptian's secret revels, and which wound along the basement of that massive fabric towards a door which also communicated with the garden. By good fortune it might be open. At that thought, she hastily retraced her steps, descended the narrow stairs at the right, and was soon at the entrance of the passage. Alas! the door at the entrance was closed and secured. While she was yet assuring herself that it was indeed locked, she heard behind her the voice of Calenus, and, a moment after, that of Arbaces in low reply. She could not stay there; they were probably passing to that very door. She sprang onward, and felt herself in unknown ground. The air grew damp and chill; this reassured her. She thought she might be among the cellars of the luxurious mansion, or, at least, in some rude spot not likely to be visited by its haughty lord, when again her quick ear caught steps and the sound of voices. On, on, she hurried, extending her arms, which now frequently encountered pillars of thick and massive form. With a tact, doubled in acuteness by her fear, she escaped these perils, and continued her way, the air growing more and more damp as she proceeded; yet, still, as she ever and anon paused for breath, she heard the advancing steps and the indistinct murmur of voices. At length she was abruptly stopped by a wall that seemed the limit of her path. Was there no spot in which she could hide? No aperture? no cavity? There was none! She stopped, and wrung her hands in despair; then again, nerved as the voices neared upon her, she hurried on by the side of the wall; and coming suddenly against one of the sharp buttresses that here and there jutted boldly forth, she fell to the ground. Though much bruised, her senses did not leave her; she uttered no cry; nay, she hailed the accident that had led her to something like a screen; and creeping close up to the angle formed by the buttress, so that on one side at least she was sheltered from view, she gathered her slight and small form into its smallest compass, and breathlessly awaited her fate.