'DEAREST Nydia!' exclaimed Glaucus as he read the letter of Ione, 'whitest robed messenger that ever passed between earth and heaven—how, how shall I thank thee?'
'I am rewarded,' said the poor Thessalian.
'To-morrow—to-morrow! how shall I while the hours till then?'
The enamoured Greek would not let Nydia escape him, though she sought several times to leave the chamber; he made her recite to him over and over again every syllable of the brief conversation that had taken place between her and Ione; a thousand times, forgetting her misfortune, he questioned her of the looks, of the countenance of his beloved; and then quickly again excusing his fault, he bade her recommence the whole recital which he had thus interrupted. The hours thus painful to Nydia passed rapidly and delightfully to him, and the twilight had already darkened ere he once more dismissed her to Ione with a fresh letter and with new flowers. Scarcely had she gone, than Clodius and several of his gay companions broke in upon him; they rallied him on his seclusion during the whole day, and absence from his customary haunts; they invited him to accompany them to the various resorts in that lively city, which night and day proffered diversity to pleasure. Then, as now, in the south (for no land, perhaps, losing more of greatness has retained more of custom), it was the delight of the Italians to assemble at the evening; and, under the porticoes of temples or the shade of the groves that interspersed the streets, listening to music or the recitals of some inventive tale-teller, they hailed the rising moon with libations of wine and the melodies of song. Glaucus was too happy to be unsocial; he longed to cast off the exuberance of joy that oppressed him. He willingly accepted the proposal of his comrades, and laughingly they sallied out together down the populous and glittering streets.
In the meantime Nydia once more gained the house of Ione, who had long left it; she inquired indifferently whither Ione had gone.
The answer arrested and appalled her.
'To the house of Arbaces—of the Egyptian? Impossible!'
'It is true, my little one,' said the slave, who had replied to her question. 'She has known the Egyptian long.'
'Long! ye gods, yet Glaucus loves her?' murmured Nydia to herself.
'And has,' asked she aloud, 'has she often visited him before?'
'Never till now,' answered the slave. 'If all the rumored scandal of Pompeii be true, it would be better, perhaps, if she had not ventured there at present. But she, poor mistress mine, hears nothing of that which reaches us; the talk of the vestibulum reaches not to the peristyle.'
'Never till now!' repeated Nydia. 'Art thou sure?'
'Sure, pretty one: but what is that to thee or to us?'
Nydia hesitated a moment, and then, putting down the flowers with which she had been charged, she called to the slave who had accompanied her, and left the house without saying another word.
Not till she had got half-way back to the house of Glaucus did she break silence, and even then she only murmured inly:
'She does not dream—she cannot—of the dangers into which she has plunged. Fool that I am—shall I save her?—yes, for I love Glaucus better than myself.'
When she arrived at the house of the Athenian, she learnt that he had gone out with a party of his friends, and none knew whither. He probably would not be home before midnight.
The Thessalian groaned; she sank upon a seat in the hall and covered her face with her hands as if to collect her thoughts. 'There is no time to be lost,' thought she, starting up. She turned to the slave who had accompanied her.
'Knowest thou,' said she, 'if Ione has any relative, any intimate friend at Pompeii?'
'Why, by Jupiter!' answered the slave, 'art thou silly enough to ask the question? Every one in Pompeii knows that Ione has a brother who, young and rich, has been—under the rose I speak—so foolish as to become a priest of Isis.'
'A priest of Isis! O Gods! his name?'
'I know it all,' muttered Nydia: 'brother and sister, then, are to be both victims! Apaecides! yes, that was the name I heard in... Ha! he well, then, knows the peril that surrounds his sister; I will go to him.'
She sprang up at that thought, and taking the staff which always guided her steps, she hastened to the neighboring shrine of Isis. Till she had been under the guardianship of the kindly Greek, that staff had sufficed to conduct the poor blind girl from corner to corner of Pompeii. Every street, every turning in the more frequented parts, was familiar to her; and as the inhabitants entertained a tender and half-superstitious veneration for those subject to her infirmity, the passengers had always given way to her timid steps. Poor girl, she little dreamed that she should, ere many days were passed, find her blindness her protection, and a guide far safer than the keenest eyes!
But since she had been under the roof of Glaucus, he had ordered a slave to accompany her always; and the poor devil thus appointed, who was somewhat of the fattest, and who, after having twice performed the journey to Ione's house, now saw himself condemned to a third excursion (whither the gods only knew), hastened after her, deploring his fate, and solemnly assuring Castor and Pollux that he believed the blind girl had the talaria of Mercury as well as the infirmity of Cupid.
Nydia, however, required but little of his assistance to find her way to the popular temple of Isis: the space before it was now deserted, and she won without obstacle to the sacred rail.
'There is no one here,' said the fat slave. 'What dost thou want, or whom Knowest thou not that the priests do not live in the temple?'
'Call out,' said she, impatiently; 'night and day there is always one flamen, at least, watching in the shrine of Isis.'
The slave called—no one appeared.
'Seest thou no one?'
'Thou mistakest; I hear a sigh: look again.'
The slave, wondering and grumbling, cast round his heavy eyes, and before one of the altars, whose remains still crowd the narrow space, he beheld a form bending as in meditation.
'I see a figure, said he; 'and by the white garments, it is a priest.'
'O flamen of Isis!' cried Nydia; 'servant of the Most Ancient, hear me!'
'Who calls?' said a low and melancholy voice.
'One who has no common tidings to impart to a member of your body: I come to declare and not to ask oracles.'
'With whom wouldst thou confer? This is no hour for thy conference; depart, disturb me not; the night is sacred to the gods, the day to men.'
'Methinks I know thy voice? thou art he whom I seek; yet I have heard thee speak but once before. Art thou not the priest Apaecides?'
'I am that man,' replied the priest, emerging from the altar, and approaching the rail.
'Thou art! the gods be praised!' Waving her hand to the slave, she bade him withdraw to a distance; and he, who naturally imagined some superstition connected, perhaps, with the safety of Ione, could alone lead her to the temple, obeyed, and seated himself on the ground, at a little distance. 'Hush!' said she, speaking quick and low; 'art thou indeed Apaecides?'
'If thou knowest me, canst thou not recall my features?'
'I am blind,' answered Nydia; 'my eyes are in my ear, and that recognizes thee: yet swear that thou art he.'
'By the gods I swear it, by my right hand, and by the moon!'
'Hush! speak low—bend near—give me thy hand; knowest thou Arbaces? Hast thou laid flowers at the feet of the dead? Ah! thy hand is cold—hark yet!—hast thou taken the awful vow?'
'Who art thou, whence comest thou, pale maiden?' said Apaecides, fearfully: 'I know thee not; thine is not the breast on which this head hath lain; I have never seen thee before.'
'But thou hast heard my voice: no matter, those recollections it should shame us both to recall. Listen, thou hast a sister.'
'Speak! speak! what of her?'
'Thou knowest the banquets of the dead, stranger—it pleases thee, perhaps, to share them—would it please thee to have thy sister a partaker? Would it please thee that Arbaces was her host?'
'O gods, he dare not! Girl, if thou mockest me, tremble! I will tear thee limb from limb!'
'I speak the truth; and while I speak, Ione is in the halls of Arbaces—for the first time his guest. Thou knowest if there be peril in that first time! Farewell! I have fulfilled my charge.'
'Stay! stay!' cried the priest, passing his wan hand over his brow. 'If this be true, what—what can be done to save her? They may not admit me. I know not all the mazes of that intricate mansion. O Nemesis! justly am I punished!'
'I will dismiss yon slave, be thou my guide and comrade; I will lead thee to the private door of the house: I will whisper to thee the word which admits. Take some weapon: it may be needful!'
'Wait an instant,' said Apaecides, retiring into one of the cells that flank the temple, and reappearing in a few moments wrapped in a large cloak, which was then much worn by all classes, and which concealed his sacred dress. 'Now,' he said, grinding his teeth, 'if Arbaces hath dared to—but he dare not! he dare not! Why should I suspect him? Is he so base a villain? I will not think it—yet, sophist! dark bewilderer that he is! O gods protect—hush! are there gods? Yes, there is one goddess, at least, whose voice I can command; and that is—Vengeance!'
Muttering these disconnected thoughts, Apaecides, followed by his silent and sightless companion, hastened through the most solitary paths to the house of the Egyptian.
The slave, abruptly dismissed by Nydia, shrugged his shoulders, muttered an adjuration, and, nothing loath, rolled off to his cubiculum.