Meanwhile Arbaces and the priest were taking their way to that secret chamber whose stores were so vaunted by the Egyptian. They were in a vast subterranean atrium, or hall; the low roof was supported by short, thick pillars of an architecture far remote from the Grecian graces of that luxuriant period. The single and pale lamp, which Arbaces bore, shed but an imperfect ray over the bare and rugged walls, in which the huge stones, without cement, were fitted curiously and uncouthly into each other. The disturbed reptiles glared dully on the intruders, and then crept into the shadow of the walls.
Calenus shivered as he looked around and breathed the damp, unwholesome air.
'Yet,' said Arbaces, with a smile, perceiving his shudder, 'it is these rude abodes that furnish the luxuries of the halls above. They are like the laborers of the world—we despise their ruggedness, yet they feed the very pride that disdains them.'
'And whither goes yon dim gallery to the left asked Calenus; 'in this depth of gloom it seems without limit, as if winding into Hades.'
'On the contrary, it does but conduct to the upper rooms,' answered Arbaces, carelessly: 'it is to the right that we steer to our bourn.'
The hall, like many in the more habitable regions of Pompeii, branched off at the extremity into two wings or passages; the length of which, not really great, was to the eye considerably exaggerated by the sudden gloom against which the lamp so faintly struggled. To the right of these alae, the two comrades now directed their steps.
'The gay Glaucus will be lodged to-morrow in apartments not much drier, and far less spacious than this,' said Calenus, as they passed by the very spot where, completely wrapped in the shadow of the broad, projecting buttress, cowered the Thessalian.
'Ay, but then he will have dry room, and ample enough, in the arena on the following day. And to think,' continued Arbaces, slowly, and very deliberately—'to think that a word of thine could save him, and consign Arbaces to his doom!'
'That word shall never be spoken,' said Calenus.
'Right, my Calenus! it never shall,' returned Arbaces, familiarly leaning his arm on the priest's shoulder: 'and now, halt—we are at the door.'
The light trembled against a small door deep set in the wall, and guarded strongly by many plates and bindings of iron, that intersected the rough and dark wood. From his girdle Arbaces now drew a small ring, holding three or four short but strong keys. Oh, how beat the griping heart of Calenus, as he heard the rusty wards growl, as if resenting the admission to the treasures they guarded!
'Enter, my friend,' said Arbaces, 'while I hold the lamp on high, that thou mayst glut thine eyes on the yellow heaps.'
The impatient Calenus did not wait to be twice invited; he hastened towards the aperture.
Scarce had he crossed the threshold, when the strong hand of Arbaces plunged him forwards.
'The word shall never be spoken!' said the Egyptian, with a loud exultant laugh, and closed the door upon the priest.
Calenus had been precipitated down several steps, but not feeling at the moment the pain of his fall, he sprung up again to the door, and beating at it fiercely with his clenched fist, he cried aloud in what seemed more a beast's howl than a human voice, so keen was his agony and despair: 'Oh, release me, release me, and I will ask no gold!'
The words but imperfectly penetrated the massive door, and Arbaces again laughed. Then, stamping his foot violently, rejoined, perhaps to give vent to his long-stifled passions:
'All the gold of Dalmatia,' cried he, 'will not buy thee a crust of bread. Starve, wretch! thy dying groans will never wake even the echo of these vast halls; nor will the air ever reveal, as thou gnawest, in thy desperate famine, thy flesh from thy bones, that so perishes the man who threatened, and could have undone, Arbaces! Farewell!'
'Oh, pity—mercy! Inhuman villain; was it for this...'
The rest of the sentence was lost to the ear of Arbaces as he passed backward along the dim hall. A toad, plump and bloated, lay unmoving before his path; the rays of the lamp fell upon its unshaped hideousness and red upward eye. Arbaces turned aside that he might not harm it.
'Thou art loathsome and obscene,' he muttered, 'but thou canst not injure me; therefore thou art safe in my path.'
The cries of Calenus, dulled and choked by the barrier that confined him, yet faintly reached the ear of the Egyptian. He paused and listened intently.
'This is unfortunate,' thought he; 'for I cannot sail till that voice is dumb for ever. My stores and treasures lie, not in yon dungeon it is true, but in the opposite wing. My slaves, as they move them, must not hear his voice. But what fear of that? In three days, if he still survive, his accents, by my father's beard, must be weak enough, then!—no, they could not pierce even through his tomb. By Isis, it is cold!—I long for a deep draught of the spiced Falernian.'
With that the remorseless Egyptian drew his gown closer round him, and resought the upper air.
NYDIA ACCOSTS CALENUS.
WHAT words of terror, yet of hope, had Nydia overheard! The next day Glaucus was to be condemned; yet there lived one who could save him, and adjudge Arbaces to his doom, and that one breathed within a few steps of her hiding-place! She caught his cries and shrieks—his imprecations—his prayers, though they fell choked and muffled on her ear. He was imprisoned, but she knew the secret of his cell: could she but escape—could she but seek the praetor he might yet in time be given to light, and preserve the Athenian. Her emotions almost stifled her; her brain reeled—she felt her sense give way—but by a violent effort she mastered herself,—and, after listening intently for several minutes, till she was convinced that Arbaces had left the space to solitude and herself, she crept on as her ear guided her to the very door that had closed upon Calenus. Here she more distinctly caught his accents of terror and despair. Thrice she attempted to speak, and thrice her voice failed to penetrate the folds of the heavy door. At length finding the lock, she applied her lips to its small aperture, and the prisoner distinctly heard a soft tone breathe his name.
His blood curdled—his hair stood on end. That awful solitude, what mysterious and preternatural being could penetrate! 'Who's there?' he cried, in new alarm; 'what spectre—what dread larva, calls upon the lost Calenus?'
'Priest,' replied the Thessalian, 'unknown to Arbaces, I have been, by the permission of the gods, a witness to his perfidy. If I myself can escape from these walls, I may save thee. But let thy voice reach my ear through this narrow passage, and answer what I ask.'
'Ah, blessed spirit,' said the priest, exultingly, and obeying the suggestion of Nydia, 'save me, and I will sell the very cups on the altar to pay thy kindness.'
'I want not thy gold—I want thy secret. Did I hear aright? Canst thou save the Athenian Glaucus from the charge against his life?'
'I can—I can!—therefore (may the Furies blast the foul Egyptian!) hath Arbaces snared me thus, and left me to starve and rot!'
'They accuse the Athenian of murder: canst thou disprove the accusation?'
'Only free me, and the proudest head of Pompeii is not more safe than his. I saw the deed done—I saw Arbaces strike the blow; I can convict the true murderer and acquit the innocent man. But if I perish, he dies also. Dost thou interest thyself for him? Oh, blessed stranger, in my heart is the urn which condemns or frees him!'
'And thou wilt give full evidence of what thou knowest?'
'Will!—Oh! were hell at my feet—yes! Revenge on the false Egyptian!—revenge!—revenge! revenge!'
As through his ground teeth Calenus shrieked forth those last words, Nydia felt that in his worst passions was her certainty of his justice to the Athenian. Her heart beat: was it to be her proud destiny to preserve her idolized—her adored? Enough,' said she, 'the powers that conducted me hither will carry me through all. Yes, I feel that I shall deliver thee. Wait in patience and hope.'
'But be cautious, be prudent, sweet stranger. Attempt not to appeal to Arbaces—he is marble. Seek the praetor—say what thou knowest—obtain his writ of search; bring soldiers, and smiths of cunning—these locks are wondrous strong! Time flies—I may starve—starve! if you are not quick! Go—go! Yet stay—it is horrible to be alone!—the air is like a charnel—and the scorpions—ha! and the pale larvae; oh! stay, stay!'
'Nay,' said Nydia, terrified by the terror of the priest, and anxious to confer with herself—'nay, for thy sake, I must depart. Take hope for thy companion—farewell!'
So saying, she glided away, and felt with extended arms along the pillared space until she had gained the farther end of the hall and the mouth of the passage that led to the upper air. But there she paused; she felt that it would be more safe to wait awhile, until the night was so far blended with the morning that the whole house would be buried in sleep, and so that she might quit it unobserved. She, therefore, once more laid herself down, and counted the weary moments. In her sanguine heart, joy was the predominant emotion. Glaucus was in deadly peril—but she should save him!
ARBACES AND IONE. NYDIA GAINS THE GARDEN. WILL SHE ESCAPE AND SAVE THE ATHENIAN?
WHEN Arbaces had warmed his veins by large draughts of that spiced and perfumed wine so valued by the luxurious, he felt more than usually elated and exultant of heart. There is a pride in triumphant ingenuity, not less felt, perhaps, though its object be guilty. Our vain human nature hugs itself in the consciousness of superior craft and self-obtained success—afterwards comes the horrible reaction of remorse.
But remorse was not a feeling which Arbaces was likely ever to experience for the fate of the base Calenus. He swept from his remembrance the thought of the priest's agonies and lingering death: he felt only that a great danger was passed, and a possible foe silenced; all left to him now would be to account to the priesthood for the disappearance of Calenus; and this he imagined it would not be difficult to do. Calenus had often been employed by him in various religious missions to the neighboring cities. On some such errand he could now assert that he had been sent, with offerings to the shrines of Isis at Herculaneum and Neapolis, placatory of the goddess for the recent murder of her priest Apaecides. When Calenus had expired, his body might be thrown, previous to the Egyptian's departure from Pompeii, into the deep stream of the Sarnus; and when discovered, suspicion would probably fall upon the Nazarene atheists, as an act of revenge for the death of Olinthus at the arena. After rapidly running over these plans for screening himself, Arbaces dismissed at once from his mind all recollection of the wretched priest; and, animated by the success which had lately crowned all his schemes, he surrendered his thoughts to Ione. The last time he had seen her, she had driven him from her presence by a reproachful and bitter scorn, which his arrogant nature was unable to endure. He now felt emboldened once more to renew that interview; for his passion for her was like similar feelings in other men—it made him restless for her presence, even though in that presence he was exasperated and humbled. From delicacy to her grief he laid not aside his dark and unfestive robes, but, renewing the perfumes on his raven locks, and arranging his tunic in its most becoming folds, he sought the chamber of the Neapolitan. Accosting the slave in attendance without, he inquired if Ione had yet retired to rest; and learning that she was still up, and unusually quiet and composed, he ventured into her presence. He found his beautiful ward sitting before a small table, and leaning her face upon both her hands in the attitude of thought. Yet the expression of the face itself possessed not its wonted bright and Psyche-like expression of sweet intelligence; the lips were apart—the eye vacant and unheeding—and the long dark hair, falling neglected and disheveled upon her neck, gave by the contrast additional paleness to a cheek which had already lost the roundness of its contour.
Arbaces gazed upon her a moment ere he advanced. She, too, lifted up her eyes; and when she saw who was the intruder, shut them with an expression of pain, but did not stir.
'Ah!' said Arbaces in a low and earnest tone as he respectfully, nay, humbly, advanced and seated himself at a little distance from the table—'Ah! that my death could remove thy hatred, then would I gladly die! Thou wrongest me, Ione; but I will bear the wrong without a murmur, only let me see thee sometimes. Chide, reproach, scorn me, if thou wilt—I will teach myself to bear it. And is not even thy bitterest tone sweeter to me than the music of the most artful lute? In thy silence the world seems to stand still—a stagnation curdles up the veins of the earth—there is no earth, no life, without the light of thy countenance and the melody of thy voice.'
'Give me back my brother and my betrothed,' said Ione, in a calm and imploring tone, and a few large tears rolled unheeded down her cheeks.
'Would that I could restore the one and save the other!' returned Arbaces, with apparent emotion. 'Yes; to make thee happy I would renounce my ill-fated love, and gladly join thy hand to the Athenian's. Perhaps he will yet come unscathed from his trial (Arbaces had prevented her learning that the trial had already commenced); if so, thou art free to judge or condemn him thyself. And think not, O Ione, that I would follow thee longer with a prayer of love. I know it is in vain. Suffer me only to weep—to mourn with thee. Forgive a violence deeply repented, and that shall offend no more. Let me be to thee only what I once was—a friend, a father, a Protector. Ah, Ione! spare me and forgive.'
'I forgive thee. Save but Glaucus, and I will renounce him. O mighty Arbaces! thou art powerful in evil or in good: save the Athenian, and the poor Ione will never see him more.' As she spoke, she rose with weak and trembling limbs, and falling at his feet, she clasped his knees: 'Oh! if thou really lovest me—if thou art human—remember my father's ashes, remember my childhood, think of all the hours we passed happily together, and save my Glaucus!'
Strange convulsions shook the frame of the Egyptian; his features worked fearfully—he turned his face aside, and said, in a hollow voice, 'If I could save him, even now, I would; but the Roman law is stern and sharp. Yet if I could succeed—if I could rescue and set him free—wouldst thou be mine—my bride?'
'Thine?' repeated Ione, rising: 'thine!—thy bride? My brother's blood is unavenged: who slew him? O Nemesis, can I even sell, for the life of Glaucus, thy solemn trust? Arbaces—thine? Never.'
'Ione, Ione!' cried Arbaces, passionately; 'why these mysterious words?—why dost thou couple my name with the thought of thy brother's death?'
'My dreams couple it—and dreams are from the gods.'
'Vain fantasies all! Is it for a dream that thou wouldst wrong the innocent, and hazard thy sole chance of saving thy lover's life?'
'Hear me!' said Ione, speaking firmly, and with a deliberate and solemn voice: 'If Glaucus be saved by thee, I will never be borne to his home a bride. But I cannot master the horror of other rites: I cannot wed with thee. Interrupt me not; but mark me, Arbaces!—if Glaucus die, on that same day I baffle thine arts, and leave to thy love only my dust! Yes—thou mayst put the knife and the poison from my reach—thou mayst imprison—thou mayst chain me, but the brave soul resolved to escape is never without means. These hands, naked and unarmed though they be, shall tear away the bonds of life. Fetter them, and these lips shall firmly refuse the air. Thou art learned—thou hast read how women have died rather than meet dishonour. If Glaucus perish, I will not unworthily linger behind him. By all the gods of the heaven, and the ocean, and the earth, I devote myself to death! I have said!'
High, proud, dilating in her stature, like one inspired, the air and voice of Ione struck an awe into the breast of her listener.
'Brave heart!' said he, after a short pause; 'thou art indeed worthy to be mine. Oh! that I should have dreamt of such a partner in my lofty destinies, and never found it but in thee! Ione,' he continued rapidly, 'dost thou not see that we are born for each other? Canst thou not recognize something kindred to thine own energy—thine own courage—in this high and self-dependent soul? We were formed to unite our sympathies—formed to breathe a new spirit into this hackneyed and gross world—formed for the mighty ends which my soul, sweeping down the gloom of time, foresees with a prophet's vision. With a resolution equal to thine own, I defy thy threats of an inglorious suicide. I hail thee as my own! Queen of climes undarkened by the eagle's wing, unravaged by his beak, I bow before thee in homage and in awe—but I claim thee in worship and in love! Together will we cross the ocean—together will we found our realm; and far distant ages shall acknowledge the long race of kings born from the marriage-bed of Arbaces and Ione!'
'Thou ravest! These mystic declamations are suited rather to some palsied crone selling charms in the market-place than to the wise Arbaces. Thou hast heard my resolution—it is fixed as the Fates themselves. Orcus has heard my vow, and it is written in the book of the unforgetful Hades. Atone, then, O Arbaces!—atone the past: convert hatred into regard—vengeance into gratitude; preserve one who shall never be thy rival. These are acts suited to thy original nature, which gives forth sparks of something high and noble. They weigh in the scales of the Kings of Death: they turn the balance on that day when the disembodied soul stands shivering and dismayed between Tartarus and Elysium; they gladden the heart in life, better and longer than the reward of a momentary passion. Oh, Arbaces! hear me, and be swayed!'
'Enough, Ione. All that I can do for Glaucus shall be done; but blame me not if I fail. Inquire of my foes, even, if I have not sought, if I do not seek, to turn aside the sentence from his head; and judge me accordingly. Sleep then, Ione. Night wanes; I leave thee to rest—and mayst thou have kinder dreams of one who has no existence but in thine.'
Without waiting a reply, Arbaces hastily withdrew; afraid, perhaps, to trust himself further to the passionate prayer of Ione, which racked him with jealousy, even while it touched him to compassion. But compassion itself came too late. Had Ione even pledged him her hand as his reward, he could not now—his evidence given—the populace excited—have saved the Athenian. Still made sanguine by his very energy of mind, he threw himself on the chances of the future, and believed he should yet triumph over the woman that had so entangled his passions.
As his attendants assisted to unrobe him for the night, the thought of Nydia flashed across him. He felt it was necessary that Ione should never learn of her lover's frenzy, lest it might excuse his imputed crime; and it was possible that her attendants might inform her that Nydia was under his roof, and she might desire to see her. As this idea crossed him, he turned to one of his freedmen:
'Go, Callias,' said he, 'forthwith to Sosia, and tell him, that on no pretence is he to suffer the blind slave Nydia out of her chamber. But, stay—first seek those in attendance upon my ward, and caution them not to inform her that the blind girl is under my roof Go—quick!'
The freedman hastened to obey. After having discharged his commission with respect to Ione's attendants, he sought the worthy Sosia. He found him not in the little cell which was apportioned for his cubiculum; he called his name aloud, and from Nydia's chamber, close at hand, he heard the voice of Sosia reply:
'Oh, Callias, is it you that I hear?—the gods be praised!' Open the door, I pray you!'
Callias withdrew the bolt, and the rueful face of Sosia hastily protruded itself.
'What!—in the chamber with that young girl, Sosia! Proh pudor! Are there not fruits ripe enough on the wall, but that thou must tamper with such green...'
'Name not the little witch!' interrupted Sosia, impatiently; 'she will be my ruin!' And he forthwith imparted to Callias the history of the Air Demon, and the escape of the Thessalian.
'Hang thyself, then, unhappy Sosia! I am just charged from Arbaces with a message to thee; on no account art thou to suffer her, even for a moment, from that chamber!'
'Me miserum!' exclaimed the slave. 'What can I do!—by this time she may have visited half Pompeii. But tomorrow I will undertake to catch her in her old haunts. Keep but my counsel, my dear Callias.'
'I will do all that friendship can, consistent with my own safety. But are you sure she has left the house?—she may be hiding here yet.'
'How is that possible? She could easily have gained the garden; and the door, as I told thee, was open.'
'Nay, not so; for, at that very hour thou specifiest, Arbaces was in the garden with the priest Calenus. I went there in search of some herbs for my master's bath to-morrow. I saw the table set out; but the gate I am sure was shut: depend upon it, that Calenus entered by the garden, and naturally closed the door after him.'
'But it was not locked.'
'Yes; for I myself, angry at a negligence which might expose the bronzes in the peristyle to the mercy of any robber, turned the key, took it away, and—as I did not see the proper slave to whom to give it, or I should have rated him finely—here it actually is, still in my girdle.'
'Oh, merciful Bacchus! I did not pray to thee in vain, after all. Let us not lose a moment! Let us to the garden instantly—she may yet be there!'
The good-natured Callias consented to assist the slave; and after vainly searching the chambers at hand, and the recesses of the peristyle, they entered the garden.
It was about this time that Nydia had resolved to quit her hiding-place, and venture forth on her way. Lightly, tremulously holding her breath, which ever and anon broke forth in quick convulsive gasps—now gliding by the flower—wreathed columns that bordered the peristyle—now darkening the still moonshine that fell over its tessellated centre—now ascending the terrace of the garden—now gliding amidst the gloomy and breathless trees, she gained the fatal door—to find it locked! We have all seen that expression of pain, of uncertainty, of fear, which a sudden disappointment of touch, if I may use the expression, casts over the face of the blind. But what words can paint the intolerable woe, the sinking of the whole heart, which was now visible on the features of the Thessalian? Again and again her small, quivering hands wandered to and fro the inexorable door. Poor thing that thou wert! in vain had been all thy noble courage, thy innocent craft, thy doublings to escape the hound and huntsmen! Within but a few yards from thee, laughing at thy endeavors—thy despair—knowing thou wert now their own, and watching with cruel patience their own moment to seize their prey—thou art saved from seeing thy pursuers!
'Hush, Callias!—let her go on. Let us see what she will do when she has convinced herself that the door is honest.'
'Look! she raises her face to the heavens—she mutters—she sinks down despondent! No! by Pollux, she has some new scheme! She will not resign herself! By Jupiter, a tough spirit! See, she springs up—she retraces her steps—she thinks of some other chance!—I advise thee, Sosia, to delay no longer: seize her ere she quit the garden—now!'
'Ah! runaway! I have thee—eh?' said Sosia, seizing upon the unhappy Nydia. As a hare's last human cry in the fangs of the dogs—as the sharp voice of terror uttered by a sleep-walker suddenly awakened—broke the shriek of the blind girl, when she felt the abrupt gripe of her gaoler. It was a shriek of such utter agony, such entire despair, that it might have rung hauntingly in your ears for ever. She felt as if the last plank of the sinking Glaucus were torn from his clasp! It had been a suspense of life and death; and death had now won the game.
'Gods! that cry will alarm the house! Arbaces sleeps full lightly. Gag her!' cried Callias.
'Ah! here is the very napkin with which the young witch conjured away my reason! Come, that's right; now thou art dumb as well as blind.'
And, catching the light weight in his arms, Sosia soon gained the house, and reached the chamber from which Nydia had escaped. There, removing the gag, he left her to a solitude so racked and terrible, that out of Hades its anguish could scarcely be exceeded.
THE SORROW OF BOON COMPANIONS FOR OUR AFFLICTIONS. THE DUNGEON AND ITS VICTIMS.
IT was now late on the third and last day of the trial of Glaucus and Olinthus. A few hours after the court had broken up and judgment been given, a small party of the fashionable youth at Pompeii were assembled round the fastidious board of Lepidus.
'So Glaucus denies his crime to the last?' said Clodius.
'Yes; but the testimony of Arbaces was convincing; he saw the blow given,' answered Lepidus.
'What could have been the cause?'
'Why, the priest was a gloomy and sullen fellow. He probably rated Glaucus soundly about his gay life and gaming habits, and ultimately swore he would not consent to his marriage with Ione. High words arose; Glaucus seems to have been full of the passionate god, and struck in sudden exasperation. The excitement of wine, the desperation of abrupt remorse, brought on the delirium under which he suffered for some days; and I can readily imagine, poor fellow! that, yet confused by that delirium, he is even now unconscious of the crime he committed! Such, at least, is the shrewd conjecture of Arbaces, who seems to have been most kind and forbearing in his testimony.'
'Yes; he has made himself generally popular by it. But, in consideration of these extenuating circumstances, the senate should have relaxed the sentence.'
'And they would have done so, but for the people; but they were outrageous. The priest had spared no pains to excite them; and they imagined—the ferocious brutes!—because Glaucus was a rich man and a gentleman, that he was likely to escape; and therefore they were inveterate against him, and doubly resolved upon his sentence. It seems, by some accident or other, that he was never formally enrolled as a Roman citizen; and thus the senate is deprived of the power to resist the people, though, after all, there was but a majority of three against him. Ho! the Chian!'
'He looks sadly altered; but how composed and fearless!'
'Ay, we shall see if his firmness will last over to-morrow.' But what merit in courage, when that atheistical hound, Olinthus, manifested the same?'
'The blasphemer! Yes,' said Lepidus, with pious wrath, 'no wonder that one of the decurions was, but two days ago, struck dead by lightning in a serene sky.' The gods feel vengeance against Pompeii while the vile desecrator is alive within its walls.'
'Yet so lenient was the senate, that had he but expressed his penitence, and scattered a few grains of incense on the altar of Cybele, he would have been let off. I doubt whether these Nazarenes, had they the state religion, would be as tolerant to us, supposing we had kicked down the image of their Deity, blasphemed their rites, and denied their faith.'
'They give Glaucus one chance, in consideration of the circumstances; they allow him, against the lion, the use of the same stilus wherewith he smote the priest.'
'Hast thou seen the lion? hast thou looked at his teeth and fangs, and wilt thou call that a chance? Why, sword and buckler would be mere reed and papyrus against the rush of the mighty beast! No, I think the true mercy has been, not to leave him long in suspense; and it was therefore fortunate for him that our benign laws are slow to pronounce, but swift to execute; and that the games of the amphitheatre had been, by a sort of providence, so long since fixed for to-morrow. He who awaits death, dies twice.'
'As for the Atheist, said Clodius, 'he is to cope the grim tiger naked-handed. Well, these combats are past betting on. Who will take the odds?' A peal of laughter announced the ridicule of the question.
'Poor Clodius!' said the host; I to lose a friend is something; but to find no one to bet on the chance of his escape is a worse misfortune to thee.'
'Why, it is provoking; it would have been some consolation to him and to me to think he was useful to the last.'
'The people,' said the grave Pansa, 'are all delighted with the result. They were so much afraid the sports at the amphitheatre would go off without a criminal for the beasts; and now, to get two such criminals is indeed a joy for the poor fellows! They work hard; they ought to have some amusement.'
'There speaks the popular Pansa, who never moves without a string of clients as long as an Indian triumph. He is always prating about the people. Gods! he will end by being a Gracchus!'
'Certainly I am no insolent patrician,' said Pansa, with a generous air.
'Well,' observed Lepidus, it would have been assuredly dangerous to have been merciful at the eve of a beast-fight. If ever I, though a Roman bred and born, come to be tried, pray Jupiter there may be either no beasts in the vivaria, or plenty of criminals in the gaol.'
'And pray,' said one of the party, 'what has become of the poor girl whom Glaucus was to have married? A widow without being a bride—that is hard!'
'Oh,' returned Clodius, 'she is safe under the protection of her guardian, Arbaces. It was natural she should go to him when she had lost both lover and brother.'
'By sweet Venus, Glaucus was fortunate among the women. They say the rich Julia was in love with him.'
'A mere fable, my friend,' said Clodius, coxcombically; 'I was with her to-day. If any feeling of the sort she ever conceived, I flatter myself that I have consoled her.'
'Hush, gentlemen!' said Pansa; 'do you not know that Clodius is employed at the house of Diomed in blowing hard at the torch? It begins to burn, and will soon shine bright on the shrine of Hymen.'
'Is it so?' said Lepidus. 'What! Clodius become a married man?—Fie!'
'Never fear,' answered Clodius; 'old Diomed is delighted at the notion of marrying his daughter to a nobleman, and will come down largely with the sesterces. You will see that I shall not lock them up in the atrium. It will be a white day for his jolly friends, when Clodius marries an heiress.'
'Say you so?' cried Lepidus; 'come, then, a full cup to the health of the fair Julia!'
While such was the conversation—one not discordant to the tone of mind common among the dissipated of that day, and which might perhaps, a century ago, have found an echo in the looser circles of Paris—while such, I say, was the conversation in the gaudy triclinium of Lepidus, far different the scene which scowled before the young Athenian.
After his condemnation, Glaucus was admitted no more to the gentle guardianship of Sallust, the only friend of his distress. He was led along the forum till the guards stopped at a small door by the side of the temple of Jupiter. You may see the place still. The door opened in the centre in a somewhat singular fashion, revolving round on its hinges, as it were, like a modern turnstile, so as only to leave half the threshold open at the same time. Through this narrow aperture they thrust the prisoner, placed before him a loaf and a pitcher of water, and left him to darkness, and, as he thought, to solitude. So sudden had been that revolution of fortune which had prostrated him from the palmy height of youthful pleasure and successful love to the lowest abyss of ignominy, and the horror of a most bloody death, that he could scarcely convince himself that he was not held in the meshes of some fearful dream. His elastic and glorious frame had triumphed over a potion, the greater part of which he had fortunately not drained. He had recovered sense and consciousness, but still a dim and misty depression clung to his nerves and darkened his mind. His natural courage, and the Greek nobility of pride, enabled him to vanquish all unbecoming apprehension, and, in the judgment-court, to face his awful lot with a steady mien and unquailing eye. But the consciousness of innocence scarcely sufficed to support him when the gaze of men no longer excited his haughty valor, and he was left to loneliness and silence. He felt the damps of the dungeon sink chillingly into his enfeebled frame. He—the fastidious, the luxurious, the refined—he who had hitherto braved no hardship and known no sorrow. Beautiful bird that he was! why had he left his far and sunny clime—the olive-groves of his native hills—the music of immemorial streams? Why had he wantoned on his glittering plumage amidst these harsh and ungenial strangers, dazzling the eyes with his gorgeous hues, charming the ear with his blithesome song—thus suddenly to be arrested—caged in darkness—a victim and a prey—his gay flights for ever over—his hymns of gladness for ever stilled! The poor Athenian! his very faults the exuberance of a gentle and joyous nature, how little had his past career fitted him for the trials he was destined to undergo! The hoots of the mob, amidst whose plaudits he had so often guided his graceful car and bounding steeds, still rang gratingly in his ear. The cold and stony faces of former friends (the co-mates of merry revels) still rose before his eye. None now were by to soothe, to sustain, the admired, the adulated stranger. These walls opened but on the dread arena of a violent and shameful death. And Ione! of her, too, he had heard naught; no encouraging word, no pitying message; she, too, had forsaken him; she believed him guilty—and of what crime?—the murder of a brother! He ground his teeth—he groaned aloud—and ever and anon a sharp fear shot across him. In that fell and fierce delirium which had so unaccountably seized his soul, which had so ravaged the disordered brain, might he not, indeed, unknowing to himself, have committed the crime of which he was accused? Yet, as the thought flashed upon him, it was as suddenly checked; for, amidst all the darkness of the past, he thought distinctly to recall the dim grove of Cybele, the upward face of the pale dead, the pause that he had made beside the corpse, and the sudden shock that felled him to the earth. He felt convinced of his innocence; and yet who, to the latest time, long after his mangled remains were mingled with the elements, would believe him guiltless, or uphold his fame? As he recalled his interview with Arbaces, and the causes of revenge which had been excited in the heart of that dark and fearful man, he could not but believe that he was the victim of some deep-laid and mysterious snare—the clue and train of which he was lost in attempting to discover: and Ione—Arbaces loved her—might his rival's success be founded upon his ruin? That thought cut him more deeply than all; and his noble heart was more stung by jealousy than appalled by fear. Again he groaned aloud.
A voice from the recess of the darkness answered that burst of anguish. 'Who (it said) is my companion in this awful hour? Athenian Glaucus, it is thou?'
'So, indeed, they called me in mine hour of fortune: they may have other names for me now. And thy name, stranger?'
'Is Olinthus, thy co-mate in the prison as the trial.'
'What! he whom they call the Atheist? Is it the injustice of men that hath taught thee to deny the providence of the gods?'
'Alas!' answered Olinthus: 'thou, not I, art the true Atheist, for thou deniest the sole true God—the Unknown One—to whom thy Athenian fathers erected an altar. It is in this hour that I know my God. He is with me in the dungeon; His smile penetrates the darkness; on the eve of death my heart whispers immortality, and earth recedes from me but to bring the weary soul nearer unto heaven.'
'Tell me,' said Glaucus, abruptly, 'did I not hear thy name coupled with that of Apaecides in my trial? Dost thou believe me guilty?'
'God alone reads the heart! but my suspicion rested not upon thee.'
'On whom then?'
'Thy accuser, Arbaces.'
'Ha! thou cheerest me: and wherefore?'
'Because I know the man's evil breast, and he had cause to fear him who is now dead.'
With that, Olinthus proceeded to inform Glaucus of those details which the reader already knows, the conversion of Apaecides, the plan they had proposed for the detection of the impostures of the Egyptian upon the youthful weakness of the proselyte. 'Therefore,' concluded Olinthus, 'had the deceased encountered Arbaces, reviled his treasons, and threatened detection, the place, the hour, might have favored the wrath of the Egyptian, and passion and craft alike dictated the fatal blow.'
'It must have been so!' cried Glaucus, joyfully. 'I am happy.'
'Yet what, O unfortunate! avails to thee now the discovery? Thou art condemned and fated; and in thine innocence thou wilt perish.'
'But I shall know myself guiltless; and in my mysterious madness I had fearful, though momentary, doubts. Yet tell me, man of a strange creed, thinkest thou that for small errors, or for ancestral faults, we are for ever abandoned and accursed by the powers above, whatever name thou allottest to them?'
'God is just, and abandons not His creatures for their mere human frailty. God is merciful, and curses none but the wicked who repent not.'
'Yet it seemeth to me as if, in the divine anger, I had been smitten by a sudden madness, a supernatural and solemn frenzy, wrought not by human means.'
'There are demons on earth,' answered the Nazarene, fearfully, 'as well as there are God and His Son in heaven; and since thou acknowledgest not the last, the first may have had power over thee.'
Glaucus did not reply, and there was a silence for some minutes. At length the Athenian said, in a changed, and soft, and half-hesitating voice. 'Christian, believest thou, among the doctrines of thy creed, that the dead live again—that they who have loved here are united hereafter—that beyond the grave our good name shines pure from the mortal mists that unjustly dim it in the gross-eyed world—and that the streams which are divided by the desert and the rock meet in the solemn Hades, and flow once more into one?'
'Believe I that, O Athenian No, I do not believe—I know! and it is that beautiful and blessed assurance which supports me now. O Cyllene!' continued Olinthus, passionately, 'bride of my heart! torn from me in the first month of our nuptials,' shall I not see thee yet, and ere many days be past? Welcome, welcome death, that will bring me to heaven and thee!'
There was something in this sudden burst of human affection which struck a kindred chord in the soul of the Greek. He felt, for the first time, a sympathy greater than mere affliction between him and his companion. He crept nearer towards Olinthus; for the Italians, fierce in some points, were not unnecessarily cruel in others; they spared the separate cell and the superfluous chain, and allowed the victims of the arena the sad comfort of such freedom and such companionship as the prison would afford.
'Yes,' continued the Christian, with holy fervor, 'the immortality of the soul—the resurrection—the reunion of the dead—is the great principle of our creed—the great truth a God suffered death itself to attest and proclaim. No fabled Elysium—no poetic Orcus—but a pure and radiant heritage of heaven itself, is the portion of the good.'
'Tell me, then, thy doctrines, and expound to me thy hopes,' said Glaucus, earnestly.
Olinthus was not slow to obey that prayer; and there—as oftentimes in the early ages of the Christian creed—it was in the darkness of the dungeon, and over the approach of death, that the dawning Gospel shed its soft and consecrating rays.
A CHANCE FOR GLAUCUS.
THE hours passed in lingering torture over the head of Nydia from the time in which she had been replaced in her cell.
Sosia, as if afraid he should be again outwitted, had refrained from visiting her until late in the morning of the following day, and then he but thrust in the periodical basket of food and wine, and hastily reclosed the door. That day rolled on, and Nydia felt herself pent—barred—inexorably confined, when that day was the judgment-day of Glaucus, and when her release would have saved him! Yet knowing, almost impossible as seemed her escape, that the sole chance for the life of Glaucus rested on her, this young girl, frail, passionate, and acutely susceptible as she was—resolved not to give way to a despair that would disable her from seizing whatever opportunity might occur. She kept her senses whenever, beneath the whirl of intolerable thought, they reeled and tottered; nay, she took food and wine that she might sustain her strength—that she might be prepared!
She revolved scheme after scheme of escape, and was forced to dismiss all. Yet Sosia was her only hope, the only instrument with which she could tamper. He had been superstitious in the desire of ascertaining whether he could eventually purchase his freedom. Blessed gods! might he not be won by the bribe of freedom itself? was she not nearly rich enough to purchase it? Her slender arms were covered with bracelets, the presents of Ione; and on her neck she yet wore that very chain which, it may be remembered, had occasioned her jealous quarrel with Glaucus, and which she had afterwards promised vainly to wear for ever. She waited burningly till Sosia should again appear: but as hour after hour passed, and he came not, she grew impatient. Every nerve beat with fever; she could endure the solitude no longer—she groaned, she shrieked aloud—she beat herself against the door. Her cries echoed along the hall, and Sosia, in peevish anger, hastened to see what was the matter, and silence his prisoner if possible.
'Ho! ho! what is this?' said he, surlily. 'Young slave, if thou screamest out thus, we must gag thee again. My shoulders will smart for it, if thou art heard by my master.'
'Kind Sosia, chide me not—I cannot endure to be so long alone,' answered Nydia; 'the solitude appals me. Sit with me, I pray, a little while. Nay, fear not that I should attempt to escape; place thy seat before the door. Keep thine eye on me—I will not stir from this spot.'
Sosia, who was a considerable gossip himself, was moved by this address. He pitied one who had nobody to talk with—it was his case too; he pitied—and resolved to relieve himself. He took the hint of Nydia, placed a stool before the door, leant his back against it, and replied:
'I am sure I do not wish to be churlish; and so far as a little innocent chat goes, I have no objection to indulge you. But mind, no tricks—no more conjuring!'
'No, no; tell me, dear Sosia, what is the hour?'
'It is already evening—the goats are going home.'
'O gods! how went the trial'
Nydia repressed the shriek. 'Well—well, I thought it would be so. When do they suffer?'
'To-morrow, in the amphitheatre. If it were not for thee, little wretch, I should be allowed to go with the rest and see it.'
Nydia leant back for some moments. Nature could endure no more—she had fainted away. But Sosia did not perceive it, for it was the dusk of eve, and he was full of his own privations. He went on lamenting the loss of so delightful a show, and accusing the injustice of Arbaces for singling him out from all his fellows to be converted into a gaoler; and ere he had half finished, Nydia, with a deep sigh, recovered the sense of life.
'Thou sighest, blind one, at my loss! Well, that is some comfort. So long as you acknowledge how much you cost me, I will endeavor not to grumble. It is hard to be ill-treated, and yet not pitied.'
'Sosia, how much dost thou require to make up the purchase of thy freedom?'
'How much? Why, about two thousand sesterces.'
'The gods be praised! not more? Seest thou these bracelets and this chain? They are well worth double that sum. I will give them thee if...'
'Tempt me not: I cannot release thee. Arbaces is a severe and awful master. Who knows but I might feed the fishes of the Sarnus Alas! all the sesterces in the world would not buy me back into life. Better a live dog than a dead lion.'
'Sosia, thy freedom! Think well! If thou wilt let me out only for one little hour!—let me out at midnight—I will return ere to-morrow's dawn; nay, thou canst go with me.'
'No,' said Sosia, sturdily, 'a slave once disobeyed Arbaces, and he was never more heard of.'
'But the law gives a master no power over the life of a slave.'
'The law is very obliging, but more polite than efficient. I know that Arbaces always gets the law on his side. Besides, if I am once dead, what law can bring me to life again!'
Nydia wrung her hands. 'Is there no hope, then?' said she, convulsively.
'None of escape till Arbaces gives the word.'
'Well, then, said Nydia, quickly, 'thou wilt not, at least, refuse to take a letter for me: thy master cannot kill thee for that.'
'To a magistrate? No—not I. I should be made a witness in court, for what I know; and the way they cross-examine the slaves is by the torture.'
'Pardon: I meant not the praetor—it was a word that escaped me unawares: I meant quite another person—the gay Sallust.'
'Oh! and what want you with him?'
'Glaucus was my master; he purchased me from a cruel lord. He alone has been kind to me. He is to die. I shall never live happily if I cannot, in his hour of trial and doom, let him know that one heart is grateful to him. Sallust is his friend; he will convey my message.'
'I am sure he will do no such thing. Glaucus will have enough to think of between this and to-morrow without troubling his head about a blind girl.'
'Man,' said Nydia, rising, 'wilt thou become free? Thou hast the offer in thy power; to-morrow it will be too late. Never was freedom more cheaply purchased. Thou canst easily and unmissed leave home: less than half an hour will suffice for thine absence. And for such a trifle wilt thou refuse liberty?'
Sosia was greatly moved. It was true that the request was remarkably silly; but what was that to him? So much the better. He could lock the door on Nydia, and, if Arbaces should learn his absence, the offence was venial, and would merit but a reprimand. Yet, should Nydia's letter contain something more than what she had said—should it speak of her imprisonment, as he shrewdly conjectured it would do—what then! It need never be known to Arbaces that he had carried the letter. At the worst the bribe was enormous—the risk light—the temptation irresistible. He hesitated no longer—he assented to the proposal.
'Give me the trinkets, and I will take the letter. Yet stay—thou art a slave—thou hast no right to these ornaments—they are thy master's.'
'They were the gifts of Glaucus; he is my master. What chance hath he to claim them? Who else will know they are in my possession?'
'Enough—I will bring thee the papyrus.'
'No, not papyrus—a tablet of wax and a stilus.'
Nydia, as the reader will have seen, was born of gentle parents. They had done all to lighten her calamity, and her quick intellect seconded their exertions. Despite her blindness, she had therefore acquired in childhood, though imperfectly, the art to write with the sharp stilus upon waxen tablets, in which her exquisite sense of touch came to her aid. When the tablets were brought to her, she thus painfully traced some words in Greek, the language of her childhood, and which almost every Italian of the higher ranks was then supposed to know. She carefully wound round the epistle the thread, and covered its knot with wax; and ere she placed it in the hands of Sosia, she thus addressed him:
'Sosia, I am blind and in prison. Thou mayst think to deceive me—thou mayst pretend only to take the letter to Sallust—thou mayst not fulfill thy charge: but here I solemnly dedicate thy head to vengeance, thy soul to the infernal powers, if thou wrongest thy trust; and I call upon thee to place thy right hand of faith in mine, and repeat after me these words: "By the ground on which we stand—by the elements which contain life and can curse life—by Orcus, the all-avenging—by the Olympian Jupiter, the all-seeing—I swear that I will honestly discharge my trust, and faithfully deliver into the hands of Sallust this letter! And if I perjure myself in this oath, may the full curses of heaven and hell be wreaked upon me!" Enough!—I trust thee—take thy reward. It is already dark—depart at once.'
'Thou art a strange girl, and thou hast frightened me terribly; but it is all very natural: and if Sallust is to be found, I give him this letter as I have sworn. By my faith, I may have my little peccadilloes! but perjury—no! I leave that to my betters.'
With this Sosia withdrew, carefully passing the heavy bolt athwart Nydia's door—carefully locking its wards: and, hanging the key to his girdle, he retired to his own den, enveloped himself from head to foot in a huge disguising cloak, and slipped out by the back way undisturbed and unseen.
The streets were thin and empty. He soon gained the house of Sallust. The porter bade him leave his letter, and be gone; for Sallust was so grieved at the condemnation of Glaucus, that he could not on any account be disturbed.
'Nevertheless, I have sworn to give this letter into his own hands—do so I must!' And Sosia, well knowing by experience that Cerberus loves a sop, thrust some half a dozen sesterces into the hand of the porter.
'Well, well,' said the latter, relenting, 'you may enter if you will; but, to tell you the truth, Sallust is drinking himself out of his grief. It is his way when anything disturbs him. He orders a capital supper, the best wine, and does not give over till everything is out of his head—but the liquor.'
'An excellent plan—excellent! Ah, what it is to be rich! If I were Sallust, I would have some grief or another every day. But just say a kind word for me with the atriensis—I see him coming.'
Sallust was too sad to receive company; he was too sad, also, to drink alone; so, as was his wont, he admitted his favorite freedman to his entertainment, and a stranger banquet never was held. For ever and anon, the kind-hearted epicure sighed, whimpered, wept outright, and then turned with double zest to some new dish or his refilled goblet.
'My good fellow,' said he to his companion, it was a most awful judgment—heigho!—it is not bad that kid, eh? Poor, dear Glaucus!—what a jaw the lion has too! Ah, ah, ah!'
And Sallust sobbed loudly—the fit was stopped by a counteraction of hiccups.
'Take a cup of wine,' said the freedman.
'A thought too cold: but then how cold Glaucus must be! Shut up the house to-morrow—not a slave shall stir forth—none of my people shall honour that cursed arena—No, no!'
'Taste the Falernian—your grief distracts you. By the gods it does—a piece of that cheesecake.'
It was at this auspicious moment that Sosia was admitted to the presence of the disconsolate carouser.
'Ho—what art thou?'
'Merely a messenger to Sallust. I give him this billet from a young female. There is no answer that I know of. May I withdraw?'
Thus said the discreet Sosia, keeping his face muffled in his cloak, and speaking with a feigned voice, so that he might not hereafter be recognized.
'By the gods—a pimp! Unfeeling wretch!—do you not see my sorrows? Go! and the curses of Pandarus with you!'
Sosia lost not a moment in retiring.
'Will you read the letter, Sallust?' said the freedman.
'Letter!—which letter?' said the epicure, reeling, for he began to see double. 'A curse on these wenches, say I! Am I a man to think of—(hiccup)—pleasure, when—when—my friend is going to be eat up?'
'Eat another tartlet.'
'No, no! My grief chokes me!'
'Take him to bed said the freedman; and, Sallust's head now declining fairly on his breast, they bore him off to his cubiculum, still muttering lamentations for Glaucus, and imprecations on the unfeeling overtures of ladies of pleasure.
Meanwhile Sosia strode indignantly homeward. 'Pimp, indeed!' quoth he to himself. 'Pimp! a scurvy-tongued fellow that Sallust! Had I been called knave, or thief. I could have forgiven it; but pimp! Faugh! There is something in the word which the toughest stomach in the world would rise against. A knave is a knave for his own pleasure, and a thief a thief for his own profit; and there is something honorable and philosophical in being a rascal for one's own sake: that is doing things upon principle—upon a grand scale. But a pimp is a thing that defiles itself for another—a pipkin that is put on the fire for another man's pottage! a napkin, that every guest wipes his hands upon! and the scullion says, "by your leave" too. A pimp! I would rather he had called me parricide! But the man was drunk, and did not know what he said; and, besides, I disguised myself. Had he seen it had been Sosia who addressed him, it would have been "honest Sosia!" and, "worthy man!" I warrant. Nevertheless, the trinkets have been won easily—that's some comfort! and, O goddess Feronia! I shall be a freedman soon! and then I should like to see who'll call me pimp!—unless, indeed, he pay me pretty handsomely for it!'
While Sosia was soliloquising in this high-minded and generous vein, his path lay along a narrow lane that led towards the amphitheatre and its adjacent palaces. Suddenly, as he turned a sharp corner he found himself in the midst of a considerable crowd. Men, women, and children, all were hurrying or laughing, talking, gesticulating; and, ere he was aware of it, the worthy Sosia was borne away with the noisy stream.
'What now?' he asked of his nearest neighbor, a young artificer; 'what now? Where are all these good folks thronging?' Does any rich patron give away alms or viands to-night?'
'Not so, man—better still,' replied the artificer; 'the noble Pansa—the people's friend—has granted the public leave to see the beasts in their vivaria. By Hercules! they will not be seen so safely by some persons to-morrow.'
'Tis a pretty sight,' said the slave, yielding to the throng that impelled him onward; 'and since I may not go to the sports to-morrow, I may as well take a peep at the beasts to-night.'
'You will do well,' returned his new acquaintance, 'a lion and a tiger are not to be seen at Pompeii every day.'
The crowd had now entered a broken and wide space of ground, on which, as it was only lighted scantily and from a distance, the press became dangerous to those whose limbs and shoulders were not fitted for a mob. Nevertheless, the women especially—many of them with children in their arms, or even at the breast—were the most resolute in forcing their way; and their shrill exclamations of complaint or objurgation were heard loud above the more jovial and masculine voices. Yet, amidst them was a young and girlish voice, that appeared to come from one too happy in her excitement to be alive to the inconvenience of the crowd.
'Aha!' cried the young woman, to some of her companions, 'I always told you so; I always said we should have a man for the lion; and now we have one for the tiger too! I wish tomorrow were come!'
Ho, ho! for the merry, merry show, With a forest of faces in every row! Lo! the swordsmen, bold as the son of Alcmaena, Sweep, side by side, o'er the hushed arena. Talk while you may, you will hold your breath When they meet in the grasp of the glowing death! Tramp! tramp! how gaily they go! Ho! ho! for the merry, merry show!
'A jolly girl!' said Sosia.
'Yes,' replied the young artificer, a curly-headed, handsome youth. 'Yes,' replied he, enviously; 'the women love a gladiator. If I had been a slave, I would have soon found my schoolmaster in the lanista!'
'Would you, indeed?' said Sosia, with a sneer. 'People's notions differ!'
The crowd had now arrived at the place of destination; but as the cell in which the wild beasts were confined was extremely small and narrow, tenfold more vehement than it hitherto had been was the rush of the aspirants to obtain admittance. Two of the officers of the amphitheatre, placed at the entrance, very wisely mitigated the evil by dispensing to the foremost only a limited number of tickets at a time, and admitting no new visitors till their predecessors had sated their curiosity. Sosia, who was a tolerably stout fellow and not troubled with any remarkable scruples of diffidence or good breeding, contrived to be among the first of the initiated.
Separated from his companion the artificer, Sosia found himself in a narrow cell of oppressive heat and atmosphere, and lighted by several rank and flaring torches.
The animals, usually kept in different vivaria, or dens, were now, for the greater entertainment of the visitors, placed in one, but equally indeed divided from each other by strong cages protected by iron bars.
There they were, the fell and grim wanderers of the desert, who have now become almost the principal agents of this story. The lion, who, as being the more gentle by nature than his fellow-beast, had been more incited to ferocity by hunger, stalked restlessly and fiercely to and fro his narrow confines: his eyes were lurid with rage and famine: and as, every now and then, he paused and glared around, the spectators fearfully pressed backward, and drew their breath more quickly. But the tiger lay quiet and extended at full length in his cage, and only by an occasional play of his tail, or a long impatient yawn, testified any emotion at his confinement, or at the crowd which honored him with their presence.
'I have seen no fiercer beast than yon lion even in the amphitheatre of Rome,' said a gigantic and sinewy fellow who stood at the right hand of Sosia.
'I feel humbled when I look at his limbs,' replied, at the left of Sosia, a slighter and younger figure, with his arms folded on his breast.
The slave looked first at one, and then at the other. 'Virtus in medio!—virtue is ever in the middle!' muttered he to himself; 'a goodly neighborhood for thee, Sosia—a gladiator on each side!'
'That is well said, Lydon,' returned the huger gladiator; 'I feel the same.'
'And to think,' observed Lydon, in a tone of deep feeling, to think that the noble Greek, he whom we saw but a day or two since before us, so full of youth, and health, and joyousness, is to feast yon monster!'
'Why not?' growled Niger, savagely: 'many an honest gladiator has been compelled to a like combat by the emperor—why not a wealthy murderer by the law?'
Lydon sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and remained silent. Meanwhile the common gazers listened with staring eyes and lips apart: the gladiators were objects of interest as well as the beasts—they were animals of the same species; so the crowd glanced from one to the other—the men and the brutes—whispering their comments and anticipating the morrow.
'Well!' said Lydon, turning away, 'I thank the gods that it is not the lion or the tiger I am to contend with; even you, Niger, are a gentler combatant than they.'
'But equally dangerous,' said the gladiator, with a fierce laugh; and the bystanders, admiring his vast limbs and ferocious countenance, laughed too.
'That as it may be,' answered Lydon, carelessly, as he pressed through the throng and quitted the den.
'I may as well take advantage of his shoulders,' thought the prudent Sosia, hastening to follow him: 'the crowd always give way to a gladiator, so I will keep close behind, and come in for a share of his consequence.'
The son of Medon strode quickly through the mob, many of whom recognized his features and profession.
'That is young Lydon, a brave fellow: he fights to-morrow,' said one.
'Ah! I have a bet on him,' said another; 'see how firmly he walks!'
'Good luck to thee, Lydon!' said a third.
'Lydon, you have my wishes,' half whispered a fourth, smiling (a comely woman of the middle class)—'and if you win, why, you may hear more of me.'
'A handsome man, by Venus!' cried a fifth, who was a girl scarce in her teens. 'Thank you,' returned Sosia, gravely taking the compliment to himself.
However strong the purer motives of Lydon, and certain though it be that he would never have entered so bloody a calling but from the hope of obtaining his father's freedom, he was not altogether unmoved by the notice he excited. He forgot that the voices now raised in commendation might, on the morrow, shout over his death-pangs. By nature fierce and reckless, as well as generous and warm-hearted, he was already imbued with the pride of a profession that he fancied he disdained, and affected by the influence of a companionship that in reality he loathed. He saw himself now a man of importance; his step grew yet lighter, and his mien more elate.
'Niger,' said he, turning suddenly, as he had now threaded the crowd; 'we have often quarrelled; we are not matched against each other, but one of us, at least, may reasonably expect to fall—give us thy hand.'
'Most readily,' said Sosia, extending his palm.
'Ha! what fool is this? Why, I thought Niger was at my heels!'
'I forgive the mistake,' replied Sosia, condescendingly: 'don't mention it; the error was easy—I and Niger are somewhat of the same build.'
'Ha! ha! that is excellent! Niger would have slit thy throat had he heard thee!'
'You gentlemen of the arena have a most disagreeable mode of talking,' said Sosia; 'let us change the conversation.'
'Vah! vah!' said Lydon, impatiently; 'I am in no humor to converse with thee!'
'Why, truly,' returned the slave, 'you must have serious thoughts enough to occupy your mind: to-morrow is, I think, your first essay in the arena. Well, I am sure you will die bravely!'
'May thy words fall on thine own head!' said Lydon, superstitiously, for he by no means liked the blessing of Sosia. 'Die! No—I trust my hour is not yet come.'
'He who plays at dice with death must expect the dog's throw,' replied Sosia, maliciously. 'But you are a strong fellow, and I wish you all imaginable luck; and so, vale!'
With that the slave turned on his heel, and took his way homeward.
'I trust the rogue's words are not ominous,' said Lydon, musingly. 'In my zeal for my father's liberty, and my confidence in my own thews and sinews, I have not contemplated the possibility of death. My poor father! I am thy only son!—if I were to fall...'
As the thought crossed him, the gladiator strode on with a more rapid and restless pace, when suddenly, in an opposite street, he beheld the very object of his thoughts. Leaning on his stick, his form bent by care and age, his eyes downcast, and his steps trembling, the grey-haired Medon slowly approached towards the gladiator. Lydon paused a moment: he divined at once the cause that brought forth the old man at that late hour.
'Be sure, it is I whom he seeks,' thought he; 'he is horror struck at the condemnation of Olinthus—he more than ever esteems the arena criminal and hateful—he comes again to dissuade me from the contest. I must shun him—I cannot brook his prayers—his tears.'
These thoughts, so long to recite, flashed across the young man like lightning. He turned abruptly and fled swiftly in an opposite direction. He paused not till, almost spent and breathless, he found himself on the summit of a small acclivity which overlooked the most gay and splendid part of that miniature city; and as there he paused, and gazed along the tranquil streets glittering in the rays of the moon (which had just arisen, and brought partially and picturesquely into light the crowd around the amphitheatre at a distance, murmuring, and swaying to and fro), the influence of the scene affected him, rude and unimaginative though his nature. He sat himself down to rest upon the steps of a deserted portico, and felt the calm of the hour quiet and restore him. Opposite and near at hand, the lights gleamed from a palace in which the master now held his revels. The doors were open for coolness, and the gladiator beheld the numerous and festive group gathered round the tables in the atrium; while behind them, closing the long vista of the illumined rooms beyond, the spray of the distant fountain sparkled in the moonbeams. There, the garlands wreathed around the columns of the hall—there, gleamed still and frequent the marble statue—there, amidst peals of jocund laughter, rose the music and the lay.
Away with your stories of Hades, Which the Flamen has forged to affright us— We laugh at your three Maiden Ladies, Your Fates—and your sullen Cocytus.
Poor Jove has a troublesome life, sir, Could we credit your tales of his portals— In shutting his ears on his wife, sir, And opening his eyes upon mortals.
Oh, blest be the bright Epicurus! Who taught us to laugh at such fables; On Hades they wanted to moor us, And his hand cut the terrible cables.
If, then, there's a Jove or a Juno, They vex not their heads about us, man; Besides, if they did, I and you know 'Tis the life of a god to live thus, man!
What! think you the gods place their bliss—eh?— In playing the spy on a sinner? In counting the girls that we kiss, eh? Or the cups that we empty at dinner?
Content with the soft lips that love us, This music, this wine, and this mirth, boys, We care not for gods up above us— We know there's no god for this earth, boys!
While Lydon's piety (which accommodating as it might be, was in no slight degree disturbed by these verses, which embodied the fashionable philosophy of the day) slowly recovered itself from the shock it had received, a small party of men, in plain garments and of the middle class, passed by his resting-place. They were in earnest conversation, and did not seem to notice or heed the gladiator as they moved on.
'O horror on horrors!' said one; 'Olinthus is snatched from us! our right arm is lopped away! When will Christ descend to protect his own?'
'Can human atrocity go farther said another: 'to sentence an innocent man to the same arena as a murderer! But let us not despair; the thunder of Sinai may yet be heard, and the Lord preserve his saint. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."'
At that moment out broke again, from the illumined palace, the burden of the reveller's song:—
We care not for gods up above us— We know there's no god for this earth, boys!
Ere the words died away, the Nazarenes, moved by sudden indignation, caught up the echo, and, in the words of one of their favorite hymns, shouted aloud:—
THE WARNING HYMN OF THE NAZARENES
Around—about—for ever near thee, God—OUR GOD—shall mark and hear thee! On his car of storm He sweeps! Bow, ye heavens, and shrink, ye deeps! Woe to the proud ones who defy Him!— Woe to the dreamers who deny Him! Woe to the wicked, woe! The proud stars shall fail— The sun shall grow pale— The heavens shrivel up like a scroll— Hell's ocean shall bare Its depths of despair, Each wave an eternal soul! For the only thing, then, That shall not live again Is the corpse of the giant TIME.
Hark, the trumpet of thunder! Lo, earth rent asunder! And, forth, on His Angel-throne, He comes through the gloom, The Judge of the Tomb, To summon and save His own! Oh, joy to Care, and woe to Crime, He comes to save His own! Woe to the proud ones who defy Him! Woe to the dreamers who deny Him! Woe to the wicked, woe!
A sudden silence from the startled hall of revel succeeded these ominous words: the Christians swept on, and were soon hidden from the sight of the gladiator. Awed, he scarce knew why, by the mystic denunciations of the Christians, Lydon, after a short pause, now rose to pursue his way homeward.
Before him, how serenely slept the starlight on that lovely city! how breathlessly its pillared streets reposed in their security!—how softly rippled the dark-green waves beyond!—how cloudless spread, aloft and blue, the dreaming Campanian skies! Yet this was the last night for the gay Pompeii! the colony of the hoar Chaldean! the fabled city of Hercules! the delight of the voluptuous Roman! Age after age had rolled, indestructive, unheeded, over its head; and now the last ray quivered on the dial-plate of its doom! The gladiator heard some light steps behind—a group of females were wending homeward from their visit to the amphitheatre. As he turned, his eye was arrested by a strange and sudden apparition. From the summit of Vesuvius, darkly visible at the distance, there shot a pale, meteoric, livid light—it trembled an instant and was gone. And at the same moment that his eye caught it, the voice of one of the youngest of the women broke out hilariously and shrill:—
TRAMP! TRAMP! HOW GAILY THEY GO! HO, HO! FOR THE MORROW'S MERRY SHOW!
BOOK THE FIFTH
THE DREAM OF ARBACES. A VISITOR AND A WARNING TO THE EGYPTIAN. THE awful night preceding the fierce joy of the amphitheatre rolled drearily away, and greyly broke forth the dawn of THE LAST DAY OF POMPEII! The air was uncommonly calm and sultry—a thin and dull mist gathered over the valleys and hollows of the broad Campanian fields. But yet it was remarked in surprise by the early fishermen, that, despite the exceeding stillness of the atmosphere, the waves of the sea were agitated, and seemed, as it were, to run disturbedly back from the shore; while along the blue and stately Sarnus, whose ancient breadth of channel the traveler now vainly seeks to discover, there crept a hoarse and sullen murmur, as it glided by the laughing plains and the gaudy villas of the wealthy citizens. Clear above the low mist rose the time-worn towers of the immemorial town, the red-tiled roofs of the bright streets, the solemn columns of many temples, and the statue-crowned portals of the Forum and the Arch of Triumph. Far in the distance, the outline of the circling hills soared above the vapors, and mingled with the changeful hues of the morning sky. The cloud that had so long rested over the crest of Vesuvius had suddenly vanished, and its rugged and haughty brow looked without a frown over the beautiful scenes below.
Despite the earliness of the hour, the gates of the city were already opened. Horsemen upon horsemen, vehicle after vehicle, poured rapidly in; and the voices of numerous pedestrian groups, clad in holiday attire, rose high in joyous and excited merriment; the streets were crowded with citizens and strangers from the populous neighborhood of Pompeii; and noisily—fast—confusedly swept the many streams of life towards the fatal show.
Despite the vast size of the amphitheatre, seemingly so disproportioned to the extent of the city, and formed to include nearly the whole population of Pompeii itself, so great, on extraordinary occasions, was the concourse of strangers from all parts of Campania, that the space before it was usually crowded for several hours previous to the commencement of the sports, by such persons as were not entitled by their rank to appointed and special seats. And the intense curiosity which the trial and sentence of two criminals so remarkable had occasioned, increased the crowd on this day to an extent wholly unprecedented.
While the common people, with the lively vehemence of their Campanian blood, were thus pushing, scrambling, hurrying on—yet, amidst all their eagerness, preserving, as is now the wont with Italians in such meetings, a wonderful order and unquarrelsome good humor, a strange visitor to Arbaces was threading her way to his sequestered mansion. At the sight of her quaint and primaeval garb—of her wild gait and gestures—the passengers she encountered touched each other and smiled; but as they caught a glimpse of her countenance, the mirth was hushed at once, for the face was as the face of the dead; and, what with the ghastly features and obsolete robes of the stranger, it seemed as if one long entombed had risen once more amongst the living. In silence and awe each group gave way as she passed along, and she soon gained the broad porch of the Egyptian's palace.
The black porter, like the rest of the world, astir at an unusual hour, started as he opened the door to her summons.
The sleep of the Egyptian had been usually profound during the night; but, as the dawn approached, it was disturbed by strange and unquiet dreams, which impressed him the more as they were colored by the peculiar philosophy he embraced.
He thought that he was transported to the bowels of the earth, and that he stood alone in a mighty cavern supported by enormous columns of rough and primaeval rock, lost, as they ascended, in the vastness of a shadow athwart whose eternal darkness no beam of day had ever glanced. And in the space between these columns were huge wheels, that whirled round and round unceasingly, and with a rushing and roaring noise. Only to the right and left extremities of the cavern, the space between the pillars was left bare, and the apertures stretched away into galleries—not wholly dark, but dimly lighted by wandering and erratic fires, that, meteor-like, now crept (as the snake creeps) along the rugged and dank soil; and now leaped fiercely to and fro, darting across the vast gloom in wild gambols—suddenly disappearing, and as suddenly bursting into tenfold brilliancy and power. And while he gazed wonderingly upon the gallery to the left, thin, mist-like, aerial shapes passed slowly up; and when they had gained the hall they seemed to rise aloft, and to vanish, as the smoke vanishes, in the measureless ascent.
He turned in fear towards the opposite extremity—and behold! there came swiftly, from the gloom above, similar shadows, which swept hurriedly along the gallery to the right, as if borne involuntarily adown the sides of some invisible stream; and the faces of these spectres were more distinct than those that emerged from the opposite passage; and on some was joy, and on others sorrow—some were vivid with expectation and hope, some unutterably dejected by awe and horror. And so they passed, swift and constantly on, till the eyes of the gazer grew dizzy and blinded with the whirl of an ever-varying succession of things impelled by a power apparently not their own.
Arbaces turned away, and, in the recess of the hall, he saw the mighty form of a giantess seated upon a pile of skulls, and her hands were busy upon a pale and shadowy woof; and he saw that the woof communicated with the numberless wheels, as if it guided the machinery of their movements. He thought his feet, by some secret agency, were impelled towards the female, and that he was borne onwards till he stood before her, face to face. The countenance of the giantess was solemn and hushed, and beautifully serene. It was as the face of some colossal sculpture of his own ancestral sphinx. No passion—no human emotion, disturbed its brooding and unwrinkled brow: there was neither sadness, nor joy, nor memory, nor hope: it was free from all with which the wild human heart can sympathize. The mystery of mysteries rested on its beauty—it awed, but terrified not: it was the Incarnation of the sublime. And Arbaces felt the voice leave his lips, without an impulse of his own; and the voice asked:
'Who art thou, and what is thy task?'
'I am That which thou hast acknowledged,' answered, without desisting from its work, the mighty phantom. 'My name is NATURE! These are the wheels of the world, and my hand guides them for the life of all things.'
'And what,' said the voice of Arbaces, 'are these galleries, that strangely and fitfully illumined, stretch on either hand into the abyss of gloom?'
'That,' answered the giant-mother, 'which thou beholdest to the left, is the gallery of the Unborn. The shadows that flit onward and upward into the world, are the souls that pass from the long eternity of being to their destined pilgrimage on earth. That which thou beholdest to thy right, wherein the shadows descending from above sweep on, equally unknown and dim, is the gallery of the Dead!'
'And wherefore, said the voice of Arbaces, 'yon wandering lights, that so wildly break the darkness; but only break, not reveal?'
'Dark fool of the human sciences! dreamer of the stars, and would-be decipherer of the heart and origin of things! those lights are but the glimmerings of such knowledge as is vouchsafed to Nature to work her way, to trace enough of the past and future to give providence to her designs. Judge, then, puppet as thou art, what lights are reserved for thee!'
Arbaces felt himself tremble as he asked again, 'Wherefore am I here?'
'It is the forecast of thy soul—the prescience of thy rushing doom—the shadow of thy fate lengthening into eternity as declines from earth.'
Ere he could answer, Arbaces felt a rushing WIND sweep down the cavern, as the winds of a giant god. Borne aloft from the ground, and whirled on high as a leaf in the storms of autumn, he beheld himself in the midst of the Spectres of the Dead, and hurrying with them along the length of gloom. As in vain and impotent despair he struggled against the impelling power, he thought the WIND grew into something like a shape—a spectral outline of the wings and talons of an eagle, with limbs floating far and indistinctly along the air, and eyes that, alone clearly and vividly seen, glared stonily and remorselessly on his own.
'What art thou?' again said the voice of the Egyptian.
'I am That which thou hast acknowledged'; and the spectre laughed aloud—'and my name is NECESSITY.'
'To what dost thou bear me?'
'To the Unknown.'
'To happiness or to woe?'
'As thou hast sown, so shalt thou reap.'
'Dread thing, not so! If thou art the Ruler of Life, thine are my misdeeds, not mine.'
'I am but the breath of God!' answered the mighty WIND.
'Then is my wisdom vain!' groaned the dreamer.
'The husbandman accuses not fate, when, having sown thistles, he reaps not corn. Thou hast sown crime, accuse not fate if thou reapest not the harvest of virtue.'
The scene suddenly changed. Arbaces was in a place of human bones; and lo! in the midst of them was a skull, and the skull, still retaining its fleshless hollows, assumed slowly, and in the mysterious confusion of a dream, the face of Apaecides; and forth from the grinning jaws there crept a small worm, and it crawled to the feet of Arbaces. He attempted to stamp on it and crush it; but it became longer and larger with that attempt. It swelled and bloated till it grew into a vast serpent: it coiled itself round the limbs of Arbaces; it crunched his bones; it raised its glaring eyes and poisonous jaws to his face. He writhed in vain; he withered—he gasped—beneath the influence of the blighting breath—he felt himself blasted into death. And then a voice came from the reptile, which still bore the face of Apaecides and rang in his reeling ear:
'THY VICTIM IS THY JUDGE! THE WORM THOU WOULDST CRUSH BECOMES THE SERPENT THAT DEVOURS THEE!'
With a shriek of wrath, and woe, and despairing resistance, Arbaces awoke—his hair on end—his brow bathed in dew—his eyes glazed and staring—his mighty frame quivering as an infant's, beneath the agony of that dream. He awoke—he collected himself—he blessed the gods whom he disbelieved, that he was in a dream—he turned his eyes from side to side—he saw the dawning light break through his small but lofty window—he was in the Precincts of Day—he rejoiced—he smiled; his eyes fell, and opposite to him he beheld the ghastly features, the lifeless eye, the livid lip—of the hag of Vesuvius!
'Ha!' he cried, placing his hands before his eyes, as to shut out the grisly vision, 'do I dream still?—Am I with the dead?'
'Mighty Hermes—no! Thou art with one death-like, but not dead. Recognize thy friend and slave.'
There was a long silence. Slowly the shudders that passed over the limbs of the Egyptian chased each other away, faintlier and faintlier dying till he was himself again.
'It was a dream, then,' said he. 'Well—let me dream no more, or the day cannot compensate for the pangs of night. Woman, how camest thou here, and wherefore?'
'I came to warn thee,' answered the sepulchral voice of the saga.
'Warn me! The dream lied not, then? Of what peril?'
'Listen to me. Some evil hangs over this fated city. Fly while it be time. Thou knowest that I hold my home on that mountain beneath which old tradition saith there yet burn the fires of the river of Phlegethon; and in my cavern is a vast abyss, and in that abyss I have of late marked a red and dull stream creep slowly, slowly on; and heard many and mighty sounds hissing and roaring through the gloom. But last night, as I looked thereon, behold the stream was no longer dull, but intensely and fiercely luminous; and while I gazed, the beast that liveth with me, and was cowering by my side, uttered a shrill howl, and fell down and died, and the slaver and froth were round his lips. I crept back to my lair; but I distinctly heard, all the night, the rock shake and tremble; and, though the air was heavy and still, there were the hissing of pent winds, and the grinding as of wheels, beneath the ground. So, when I rose this morning at the very birth of dawn, I looked again down the abyss, and I saw vast fragments of stone borne black and floatingly over the lurid stream; and the stream itself was broader, fiercer, redder than the night before. Then I went forth, and ascended to the summit of the rock: and in that summit there appeared a sudden and vast hollow, which I had never perceived before, from which curled a dim, faint smoke; and the vapor was deathly, and I gasped, and sickened, and nearly died. I returned home. I took my gold and my drugs, and left the habitation of many years; for I remembered the dark Etruscan prophecy which saith, "When the mountain opens, the city shall fall—when the smoke crowns the Hill of the Parched Fields, there shall be woe and weeping in the hearths of the Children of the Sea." Dread master, ere I leave these walls for some more distant dwelling, I come to thee. As thou livest, know I in my heart that the earthquake that sixteen years ago shook this city to its solid base, was but the forerunner of more deadly doom. The walls of Pompeii are built above the fields of the Dead, and the rivers of the sleepless Hell. Be warned and fly!'
'Witch, I thank thee for thy care of one not ungrateful. On yon table stands a cup of gold; take it, it is thine. I dreamt not that there lived one, out of the priesthood of Isis, who would have saved Arbaces from destruction. The signs thou hast seen in the bed of the extinct volcano,' continued the Egyptian, musingly, 'surely tell of some coming danger to the city; perhaps another earthquake—fiercer than the last. Be that as it may, there is a new reason for my hastening from these walls. After this day I will prepare my departure. Daughter of Etruria, whither wendest thou?'
'I shall cross over to Herculaneum this day, and, wandering thence along the coast, shall seek out a new home. I am friendless: my two companions, the fox and the snake, are dead. Great Hermes, thou hast promised me twenty additional years of life!'
'Aye,' said the Egyptian, 'I have promised thee. But, woman,' he added, lifting himself upon his arm, and gazing curiously on her face, 'tell me, I pray thee, wherefore thou wishest to live? What sweets dost thou discover in existence?'
'It is not life that is sweet, but death that is awful,' replied the hag, in a sharp, impressive tone, that struck forcibly upon the heart of the vain star-seer. He winced at the truth of the reply; and no longer anxious to retain so uninviting a companion, he said, 'Time wanes; I must prepare for the solemn spectacle of this day. Sister, farewell! enjoy thyself as thou canst over the ashes of life.'
The hag, who had placed the costly gift of Arbaces in the loose folds of her vest, now rose to depart. When she had gained the door she paused, turned back, and said, 'This may be the last time we meet on earth; but whither flieth the flame when it leaves the ashes?—Wandering to and fro, up and down, as an exhalation on the morass, the flame may be seen in the marshes of the lake below; and the witch and the Magian, the pupil and the master, the great one and the accursed one, may meet again. Farewell!'
'Out, croaker!' muttered Arbaces, as the door closed on the hag's tattered robes; and, impatient of his own thoughts, not yet recovered from the past dream, he hastily summoned his slaves.
It was the custom to attend the ceremonials of the amphitheatre in festive robes, and Arbaces arrayed himself that day with more than usual care. His tunic was of the most dazzling white: his many fibulae were formed from the most precious stones: over his tunic flowed a loose eastern robe, half-gown, half-mantle, glowing in the richest hues of the Tyrian dye; and the sandals, that reached half way up the knee, were studded with gems, and inlaid with gold. In the quackeries that belonged to his priestly genius, Arbaces never neglected, on great occasions, the arts which dazzle and impose upon the vulgar; and on this day, that was for ever to release him, by the sacrifice of Glaucus, from the fear of a rival and the chance of detection, he felt that he was arraying himself as for a triumph or a nuptial feast.
It was customary for men of rank to be accompanied to the shows of the amphitheatre by a procession of their slaves and freedmen; and the long 'family' of Arbaces were already arranged in order, to attend the litter of their lord.
Only, to their great chagrin, the slaves in attendance on Ione, and the worthy Sosia, as gaoler to Nydia, were condemned to remain at home.
'Callias,' said Arbaces, apart to his freedman, who was buckling on his girdle, 'I am weary of Pompeii; I propose to quit it in three days, should the wind favor. Thou knowest the vessel that lies in the harbor which belonged to Narses, of Alexandria; I have purchased it of him. The day after tomorrow we shall begin to remove my stores.'
'So soon! 'Tis well. Arbaces shall be obeyed—and his ward, Ione?'
'Accompanies me. Enough!—Is the morning fair?'
'Dim and oppressive; it will probably be intensely hot in the forenoon.'
'The poor gladiators, and more wretched criminals! Descend, and see that the slaves are marshalled.'
Left alone, Arbaces stepped into his chamber of study, and thence upon the portico without. He saw the dense masses of men pouring fast into the amphitheatre, and heard the cry of the assistants, and the cracking of the cordage, as they were straining aloft the huge awning under which the citizens, molested by no discomforting ray, were to behold, at luxurious ease, the agonies of their fellow creatures. Suddenly a wild strange sound went forth, and as suddenly died away—it was the roar of the lion. There was a silence in the distant crowd; but the silence was followed by joyous laughter—they were making merry at the hungry impatience of the royal beast.
'Brutes!' muttered the disdainful Arbaces are ye less homicides than I am? I slay but in self-defence—ye make murder pastime.'
He turned with a restless and curious eye, towards Vesuvius. Beautifully glowed the green vineyards round its breast, and tranquil as eternity lay in the breathless skies the form of the mighty hill.
'We have time yet, if the earthquake be nursing,' thought Arbaces; and he turned from the spot. He passed by the table which bore his mystic scrolls and Chaldean calculations.
'August art!' he thought, 'I have not consulted thy decrees since I passed the danger and the crisis they foretold. What matter?—I know that henceforth all in my path is bright and smooth. Have not events already proved it? Away, doubt—away, pity! Reflect O my heart— reflect, for the future, but two images—Empire and Ione!'
NYDIA, assured by the account of Sosia, on his return home, and satisfied that her letter was in the hands of Sallust, gave herself up once more to hope. Sallust would surely lose no time in seeking the praetor—in coming to the house of the Egyptian—in releasing her—in breaking the prison of Calenus. That very night Glaucus would be free. Alas! the night passed—the dawn broke; she heard nothing but the hurried footsteps of the slaves along the hall and peristyle, and their voices in preparation for the show. By-and-by, the commanding voice of Arbaces broke on her ear—a flourish of music rung out cheerily: the long procession were sweeping to the amphitheatre to glut their eyes on the death-pangs of the Athenian!
The procession of Arbaces moved along slowly, and with much solemnity till now, arriving at the place where it was necessary for such as came in litters or chariots to alight, Arbaces descended from his vehicle, and proceeded to the entrance by which the more distinguished spectators were admitted. His slaves, mingling with the humbler crowd, were stationed by officers who received their tickets (not much unlike our modern Opera ones), in places in the popularia (the seats apportioned to the vulgar). And now, from the spot where Arbaces sat, his eyes scanned the mighty and impatient crowd that filled the stupendous theatre.
On the upper tier (but apart from the male spectators) sat women, their gay dresses resembling some gaudy flower-bed; it is needless to add that they were the most talkative part of the assembly; and many were the looks directed up to them, especially from the benches appropriated to the young and the unmarried men. On the lower seats round the arena sat the more high-born and wealthy visitors—the magistrates and those of senatorial or equestrian dignity; the passages which, by corridors at the right and left, gave access to these seats, at either end of the oval arena, were also the entrances for the combatants. Strong palings at these passages prevented any unwelcome eccentricity in the movements of the beasts, and confined them to their appointed prey. Around the parapet which was raised above the arena, and from which the seats gradually rose, were gladiatorial inscriptions, and paintings wrought in fresco, typical of the entertainments for which the place was designed. Throughout the whole building wound invisible pipes, from which, as the day advanced, cooling and fragrant showers were to be sprinkled over the spectators. The officers of the amphitheatre were still employed in the task of fixing the vast awning (or velaria) which covered the whole, and which luxurious invention the Campanians arrogated to themselves: it was woven of the whitest Apulian wool, and variegated with broad stripes of crimson. Owing either to some inexperience on the part of the workmen, or to some defect in the machinery, the awning, however, was not arranged that day so happily as usual; indeed, from the immense space of the circumference, the task was always one of great difficulty and art—so much so, that it could seldom be adventured in rough or windy weather. But the present day was so remarkably still that there seemed to the spectators no excuse for the awkwardness of the artificers; and when a large gap in the back of the awning was still visible, from the obstinate refusal of one part of the velaria to ally itself with the rest, the murmurs of discontent were loud and general.
The aedile Pansa, at whose expense the exhibition was given, looked particularly annoyed at the defect, and, vowed bitter vengeance on the head of the chief officer of the show, who, fretting, puffing, perspiring, busied himself in idle orders and unavailing threats.
The hubbub ceased suddenly—the operators desisted—the crowd were stilled—the gap was forgotten—for now, with a loud and warlike flourish of trumpets, the gladiators, marshalled in ceremonious procession, entered the arena. They swept round the oval space very slowly and deliberately, in order to give the spectators full leisure to admire their stern serenity of feature—their brawny limbs and various arms, as well as to form such wagers as the excitement of the moment might suggest.
'Oh!' cried the widow Fulvia to the wife of Pansa, as they leaned down from their lofty bench, 'do you see that gigantic gladiator? how drolly he is dressed!'
'Yes,' said the aedile's wife, with complacent importance, for she knew all the names and qualities of each combatant; 'he is a retiarius or netter; he is armed only, you see, with a three-pronged spear like a trident, and a net; he wears no armor, only the fillet and the tunic. He is a mighty man, and is to fight with Sporus, yon thick-set gladiator, with the round shield and drawn sword, but without body armor; he has not his helmet on now, in order that you may see his face—how fearless it is!—by-and-by he will fight with his vizor down.'
'But surely a net and a spear are poor arms against a shield and sword?'
'That shows how innocent you are, my dear Fulvia; the retiarius has generally the best of it.'
'But who is yon handsome gladiator, nearly naked—is it not quite improper? By Venus! but his limbs are beautifully shaped!'
'It is Lydon, a young untried man! he has the rashness to fight yon other gladiator similarly dressed, or rather undressed—Tetraides. They fight first in the Greek fashion, with the cestus; afterwards they put on armor, and try sword and shield.'
'He is a proper man, this Lydon; and the women, I am sure, are on his side.'
'So are not the experienced betters; Clodius offers three to one against him!'
'Oh, Jove! how beautiful!' exclaimed the widow, as two gladiators, armed cap-a-pie, rode round the arena on light and prancing steeds. Resembling much the combatants in the tilts of the middle age, they bore lances and round shields beautifully inlaid: their armor was woven intricately with bands of iron, but it covered only the thighs and the right arms; short cloaks, extending to the seat, gave a picturesque and graceful air to their costume; their legs were naked, with the exception of sandals, which were fastened a little above the ankle. 'Oh, beautiful! Who are these?' asked the widow.