Last Days of Pompeii

Chapter II


'BUT tell me, Glaucus,' said Ione, as they glided down the rippling Sarnus in their boat of pleasure, 'how camest thou with Apaecides to my rescue from that bad man?'

'Ask Nydia yonder,' answered the Athenian, pointing to the blind girl, who sat at a little distance from them, leaning pensively over her lyre; 'she must have thy thanks, not we. It seems that she came to my house, and, finding me from home, sought thy brother in his temple; he accompanied her to Arbaces; on their way they encountered me, with a company of friends, whom thy kind letter had given me a spirit cheerful enough to join. Nydia's quick ear detected my voice—a few words sufficed to make me the companion of Apaecides; I told not my associates why I left them—could I trust thy name to their light tongues and gossiping opinion?—Nydia led us to the garden gate, by which we afterwards bore thee—we entered, and were about to plunge into the mysteries of that evil house, when we heard thy cry in another direction. Thou knowest the rest.'

Ione blushed deeply. She then raised her eyes to those of Glaucus, and he felt all the thanks she could not utter. 'Come hither, my Nydia,' said she, tenderly, to the Thessalian.

'Did I not tell thee that thou shouldst be my sister and friend? Hast thou not already been more?—my guardian, my preserver!'

'It is nothing,' answered Nydia coldly, and without stirring.

'Ah! I forgot,' continued Ione, 'I should come to thee'; and she moved along the benches till she reached the place where Nydia sat, and flinging her arms caressingly round her, covered her cheeks with kisses.

Nydia was that morning paler than her wont, and her countenance grew even more wan and colorless as she submitted to the embrace of the beautiful Neapolitan. 'But how camest thou, Nydia,' whispered Ione, 'to surmise so faithfully the danger I was exposed to? Didst thou know aught of the Egyptian?'

'Yes, I knew of his vices.'

'And how?'

'Noble Ione, I have been a slave to the vicious—those whom I served were his minions.'

'And thou hast entered his house since thou knewest so well that private entrance?'

'I have played on my lyre to Arbaces,' answered the Thessalian, with embarrassment.

'And thou hast escaped the contagion from which thou hast saved Ione?' returned the Neapolitan, in a voice too low for the ear of Glaucus.

'Noble Ione, I have neither beauty nor station; I am a child, and a slave, and blind. The despicable are ever safe.'

It was with a pained, and proud, and indignant tone that Nydia made this humble reply; and Ione felt that she only wounded Nydia by pursuing the subject. She remained silent, and the bark now floated into the sea.

'Confess that I was right, Ione,' said Glaucus, 'in prevailing on thee not to waste this beautiful noon in thy chamber—confess that I was right.'

'Thou wert right, Glaucus,' said Nydia, abruptly.

'The dear child speaks for thee,' returned the Athenian. 'But permit me to move opposite to thee, or our light boat will be over-balanced.'

So saying, he took his seat exactly opposite to Ione, and leaning forward, he fancied that it was her breath, and not the winds of summer, that flung fragrance over the sea.

'Thou wert to tell me,' said Glaucus, 'why for so many days thy door was closed to me?'

'Oh, think of it no more!' answered Ione, quickly; 'I gave my ear to what I now know was the malice of slander.'

'And my slanderer was the Egyptian?'

Ione's silence assented to the question.

'His motives are sufficiently obvious.'

'Talk not of him,' said Ione, covering her face with her hands, as if to shut out his very thought.

'Perhaps he may be already by the banks of the slow Styx,' resumed Glaucus; 'yet in that case we should probably have heard of his death. Thy brother, methinks, hath felt the dark influence of his gloomy soul. When we arrived last night at thy house he left me abruptly. Will he ever vouchsafe to be my friend?'

'He is consumed with some secret care,' answered Ione, tearfully. 'Would that we could lure him from himself! Let us join in that tender office.'

'He shall be my brother,' returned the Greek.

'How calmly,' said Ione, rousing herself from the gloom into which her thoughts of Apaecides had plunged her—'how calmly the clouds seem to repose in heaven; and yet you tell me, for I knew it not myself, that the earth shook beneath us last night.'

'It did, and more violently, they say, than it has done since the great convulsion sixteen years ago: the land we live in yet nurses mysterious terror; and the reign of Pluto, which spreads beneath our burning fields, seems rent with unseen commotion. Didst thou not feel the earth quake, Nydia, where thou wert seated last night? and was it not the fear that it occasioned thee that made thee weep?'

'I felt the soil creep and heave beneath me, like some monstrous serpent,' answered Nydia; 'but as I saw nothing, I did not fear: I imagined the convulsion to be a spell of the Egyptian's. They say he has power over the elements.'

'Thou art a Thessalian, my Nydia,' replied Glaucus, 'and hast a national right to believe in magic.

'Magic!—who doubts it?' answered Nydia, simply: 'dost thou?'

'Until last night (when a necromantic prodigy did indeed appal me), methinks I was not credulous in any other magic save that of love!' said Glaucus, in a tremulous voice, and fixing his eyes on Ione.

'Ah!' said Nydia, with a sort of shiver, and she awoke mechanically a few pleasing notes from her lyre; the sound suited well the tranquility of the waters, and the sunny stillness of the noon.

'Play to us, dear Nydia, said Glaucus—'play and give us one of thine old Thessalian songs: whether it be of magic or not, as thou wilt—let it, at least, be of love!'

'Of love!' repeated Nydia, raising her large, wandering eyes, that ever thrilled those who saw them with a mingled fear and pity; you could never familiarize yourself to their aspect: so strange did it seem that those dark wild orbs were ignorant of the day, and either so fixed was their deep mysterious gaze, or so restless and perturbed their glance, that you felt, when you encountered them, that same vague, and chilling, and half-preternatural impression, which comes over you in the presence of the insane—of those who, having a life outwardly like your own, have a life within life—dissimilar—unsearchable—unguessed!

'Will you that I should sing of love?' said she, fixing those eyes upon Glaucus.

'Yes,' replied he, looking down.

She moved a little way from the arm of Ione, still cast round her, as if that soft embrace embarrassed; and placing her light and graceful instrument on her knee, after a short prelude, she sang the following strain:



The Wind and the Beam loved the Rose,
And the Rose loved one;
For who recks the wind where it blows?
Or loves not the sun?


None knew whence the humble Wind stole,
Poor sport of the skies—
None dreamt that the Wind had a soul,
In its mournful sighs!


Oh, happy Beam! how canst thou prove
That bright love of thine?
In thy light is the proof of thy love.
Thou hast but—to shine!


How its love can the Wind reveal?
Unwelcome its sigh;
Mute—mute to its Rose let it steal—
Its proof is—to die!

'Thou singest but sadly, sweet girl,' said Glaucus; 'thy youth only feels as yet the dark shadow of Love; far other inspiration doth he wake, when he himself bursts and brightens upon us.

'I sing as I was taught,' replied Nydia, sighing.

'Thy master was love-crossed, then—try thy hand at a gayer air. Nay, girl, give the instrument to me.' As Nydia obeyed, her hand touched his, and, with that slight touch, her breast heaved—her cheek flushed. Ione and Glaucus, occupied with each other, perceived not those signs of strange and premature emotions, which preyed upon a heart that, nourished by imagination, dispensed with hope.

And now, broad, blue, bright, before them, spread that halcyon sea, fair as at this moment, seventeen centuries from that date, I behold it rippling on the same divinest shores. Clime that yet enervates with a soft and Circean spell—that moulds us insensibly, mysteriously, into harmony with thyself, banishing the thought of austerer labor, the voices of wild ambition, the contests and the roar of life; filling us with gentle and subduing dreams, making necessary to our nature that which is its least earthly portion, so that the very air inspires us with the yearning and thirst of love. Whoever visits thee seems to leave earth and its harsh cares behind—to enter by the Ivory gate into the Land of Dreams. The young and laughing Hours of the PRESENT—the Hours, those children of Saturn, which he hungers ever to devour, seem snatched from his grasp. The past—the future—are forgotten; we enjoy but the breathing time. Flower of the world's garden—Fountain of Delight—Italy of Italy—beautiful, benign Campania!—vain were, indeed, the Titans, if on this spot they yet struggled for another heaven! Here, if God meant this working-day life for a perpetual holiday, who would not sigh to dwell for ever—asking nothing, hoping nothing, fearing nothing, while thy skies shine over him—while thy seas sparkle at his feet—while thine air brought him sweet messages from the violet and the orange—and while the heart, resigned to—beating with—but one emotion, could find the lips and the eyes, which flatter it (vanity of vanities!) that love can defy custom, and be eternal?

It was then in this clime—on those seas, that the Athenian gazed upon a face that might have suited the nymph, the spirit of the place: feeding his eyes on the changeful roses of that softest cheek, happy beyond the happiness of common life, loving, and knowing himself beloved.

In the tale of human passion, in past ages, there is something of interest even in the remoteness of the time. We love to feel within us the bond which unites the most distant era—men, nations, customs perish; THE AFFECTIONS ARE IMMORTAL!—they are the sympathies which unite the ceaseless generations. The past lives again, when we look upon its emotions—it lives in our own! That which was, ever is! The magician's gift, that revives the dead—that animates the dust of forgotten graves, is not in the author's skill—it is in the heart of the reader!

Still vainly seeking the eyes of Ione, as, half downcast, half averted, they shunned his own, the Athenian, in a low and soft voice, thus expressed the feelings inspired by happier thoughts than those which had colored the song of Nydia.


As the bark floateth on o'er the summer-lit sea,
Floats my heart o'er the deeps of its passion for thee;
All lost in the space, without terror it glides,
For bright with thy soul is the face of the tides.
Now heaving, now hush'd, is that passionate ocean,
As it catches thy smile or thy sighs;
And the twin-stars that shine on the wanderer's devotion
Its guide and its god—are thine eyes!


The bark may go down, should the cloud sweep above,
For its being is bound to the light of thy love.
As thy faith and thy smile are its life and its joy,
So thy frown or thy change are the storms that destroy.
Ah! sweeter to sink while the sky is serene,
If time hath a change for thy heart!
If to live be to weep over what thou hast been,
Let me die while I know what thou art!

As the last words of the song trembled over the sea, Ione raised her looks—they met those of her lover. Happy Nydia!—happy in thy affliction, that thou couldst not see that fascinated and charmed gaze, that said so much—that made the eye the voice of the soul—that promised the impossibility of change!

But, though the Thessalian could not detect that gaze, she divined its meaning by their silence—by their sighs. She pressed her hands lightly across her breast, as if to keep down its bitter and jealous thoughts; and then she hastened to speak—for that silence was intolerable to her.

'After all, O Glaucus!' said she, 'there is nothing very mirthful in your strain!'

'Yet I meant it to be so, when I took up thy lyre, pretty one. Perhaps happiness will not permit us to be mirthful.'

'How strange is it,' said Ione, changing a conversation which oppressed her while it charmed—'that for the last several days yonder cloud has hung motionless over Vesuvius! Yet not indeed motionless, for sometimes it changes its form; and now methinks it looks like some vast giant, with an arm outstretched over the city. Dost thou see the likeness—or is it only to my fancy?'

'Fair Ione! I see it also. It is astonishingly distinct. The giant seems seated on the brow of the mountain, the different shades of the cloud appear to form a white robe that sweeps over its vast breast and limbs; it seems to gaze with a steady face upon the city below, to point with one hand, as thou sayest, over its glittering streets, and to raise the other (dost thou note it?) towards the higher heaven. It is like the ghost of some huge Titan brooding over the beautiful world he lost; sorrowful for the past—yet with something of menace for the future.'

'Could that mountain have any connection with the last night's earthquake? They say that, ages ago, almost in the earliest era of tradition, it gave forth fires as AEtna still. Perhaps the flames yet lurk and dart beneath.'

'It is possible,' said Glaucus, musingly.

'Thou sayest thou art slow to believe in magic,' said Nydia, suddenly. 'I have heard that a potent witch dwells amongst the scorched caverns of the mountain, and yon cloud may be the dim shadow of the demon she confers with.'

'Thou art full of the romance of thy native Thessaly,' said Glaucus; 'and a strange mixture of sense and all conflicting superstitions.'

'We are ever superstitious in the dark,' replied Nydia. 'Tell me,' she added, after a slight pause, 'tell me, O Glaucus! do all that are beautiful resemble each other? They say you are beautiful, and Ione also. Are your faces then the same? I fancy not, yet it ought to be so.'

'Fancy no such grievous wrong to Ione,' answered Glaucus, laughing. 'But we do not, alas! resemble each other, as the homely and the beautiful sometimes do. Ione's hair is dark, mine light; Ione's eyes are—what color, Ione? I cannot see, turn them to me. Oh, are they black? no, they are too soft. Are they blue? no, they are too deep: they change with every ray of the sun—I know not their color: but mine, sweet Nydia, are grey, and bright only when Ione shines on them! Ione's cheek is...'

'I do not understand one word of thy description,' interrupted Nydia, peevishly. 'I comprehend only that you do not resemble each other, and I am glad of it.'

'Why, Nydia?' said Ione.

Nydia colored slightly. 'Because,' she replied, coldly, 'I have always imagined you under different forms, and one likes to know one is right.'

'And what hast thou imagined Glaucus to resemble?' asked Ione, softly.

'Music!' replied Nydia, looking down.

'Thou art right,' thought Ione.

'And what likeness hast thou ascribed to Ione?'

'I cannot tell yet,' answered the blind girl; 'I have not yet known her long enough to find a shape and sign for my guesses.'

'I will tell thee, then,' said Glaucus, passionately; 'she is like the sun that warms—like the wave that refreshes.'

'The sun sometimes scorches, and the wave sometimes drowns,' answered Nydia.

'Take then these roses,' said Glaucus; 'let their fragrance suggest to thee Ione.'

'Alas, the roses will fade!' said the Neapolitan, archly.

Thus conversing, they wore away the hours; the lovers, conscious only of the brightness and smiles of love; the blind girl feeling only its darkness—its tortures—the fierceness of jealousy and its woe!

And now, as they drifted on, Glaucus once more resumed the lyre, and woke its strings with a careless hand to a strain, so wildly and gladly beautiful, that even Nydia was aroused from her reverie, and uttered a cry of admiration.

'Thou seest, my child,' cried Glaucus, 'that I can yet redeem the character of love's music, and that I was wrong in saying happiness could not be gay. Listen, Nydia! listen, dear Ione! and hear:



Like a Star in the seas above,
Like a Dream to the waves of sleep—
She rose from the charmed deep!
And over the Cyprian Isle
The skies shed their silent smile;
And the Forest's green heart was rife
With the stir of the gushing life—
The life that had leap'd to birth,
In the veins of the happy earth!
Hail! oh, hail!
The dimmest sea-cave below thee,
The farthest sky-arch above,
In their innermost stillness know thee:
And heave with the Birth of Love!
Gale! soft Gale!
Thou comest on thy silver winglets,
From thy home in the tender west,
Now fanning her golden ringlets,
Now hush'd on her heaving breast.
And afar on the murmuring sand,
The Seasons wait hand in hand
To welcome thee, Birth Divine,
To the earth which is henceforth thine.


Behold! how she kneels in the shell,
Bright pearl in its floating cell!
Behold! how the shell's rose-hues,
The cheek and the breast of snow,
And the delicate limbs suffuse,
Like a blush, with a bashful glow.
Sailing on, slowly sailing
O'er the wild water;
All hail! as the fond light is hailing
Her daughter,
All hail!
We are thine, all thine evermore:
Not a leaf on the laughing shore,
Not a wave on the heaving sea,
Nor a single sigh
In the boundless sky,
But is vow'd evermore to thee!


And thou, my beloved one—thou,
As I gaze on thy soft eyes now,
Methinks from their depths I view
The Holy Birth born anew;
Thy lids are the gentle cell
Where the young Love blushing lies;
See! she breaks from the mystic shell,
She comes from thy tender eyes!
Hail! all hail!
She comes, as she came from the sea,
To my soul as it looks on thee;
She comes, she comes!
She comes, as she came from the sea,
To my soul as it looks on thee!
Hail! all hail!

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