Last Days of Pompeii

Chapter IV


DAYS are like years in the love of the young, when no bar, no obstacle, is between their hearts—when the sun shines, and the course runs smooth—when their love is prosperous and confessed. Ione no longer concealed from Glaucus the attachment she felt for him, and their talk now was only of their love. Over the rapture of the present the hopes of the future glowed like the heaven above the gardens of spring. They went in their trustful thoughts far down the stream of time: they laid out the chart of their destiny to come; they suffered the light of to-day to suffuse the morrow. In the youth of their hearts it seemed as if care, and change, and death, were as things unknown. Perhaps they loved each other the more because the condition of the world left to Glaucus no aim and no wish but love; because the distractions common in free states to men's affections existed not for the Athenian; because his country wooed him not to the bustle of civil life; because ambition furnished no counterpoise to love: and, therefore, over their schemes and projects, love only reigned. In the iron age they imagined themselves of the golden, doomed only to live and to love.

To the superficial observer, who interests himself only in characters strongly marked and broadly colored, both the lovers may seem of too slight and commonplace a mould: in the delineation of characters purposely subdued, the reader sometimes imagines that there is a want of character; perhaps, indeed, I wrong the real nature of these two lovers by not painting more impressively their stronger individualities. But in dwelling so much on their bright and birdlike existence, I am influenced almost insensibly by the forethought of the changes that await them, and for which they were so ill prepared. It was this very softness and gaiety of life that contrasted most strongly the vicissitudes of their coming fate. For the oak without fruit or blossom, whose hard and rugged heart is fitted for the storm, there is less fear than for the delicate branches of the myrtle, and the laughing clusters of the vine.

They had now advanced far into August—the next month their marriage was fixed, and the threshold of Glaucus was already wreathed with garlands; and nightly, by the door of Ione, he poured forth the rich libations. He existed no longer for his gay companions; he was ever with Ione. In the mornings they beguiled the sun with music: in the evenings they forsook the crowded haunts of the gay for excursions on the water, or along the fertile and vine-clad plains that lay beneath the fatal mount of Vesuvius. The earth shook no more; the lively Pompeians forgot even that there had gone forth so terrible a warning of their approaching doom. Glaucus imagined that convulsion, in the vanity of his heathen religion, an especial interposition of the gods, less in behalf of his own safety than that of Ione. He offered up the sacrifices of gratitude at the temples of his faith; and even the altar of Isis was covered with his votive garlands—as to the prodigy of the animated marble, he blushed at the effect it had produced on him. He believed it, indeed, to have been wrought by the magic of man; but the result convinced him that it betokened not the anger of a goddess.

Of Arbaces, they heard only that he still lived; stretched on the bed of suffering, he recovered slowly from the effect of the shock he had sustained—he left the lovers unmolested—but it was only to brood over the hour and the method of revenge.

Alike in their mornings at the house of Ione, and in their evening excursions, Nydia was usually their constant, and often their sole companion. They did not guess the secret fires which consumed her—the abrupt freedom with which she mingled in their conversation—her capricious and often her peevish moods found ready indulgence in the recollection of the service they owed her, and their compassion for her affliction. They felt an interest in her, perhaps the greater and more affectionate from the very strangeness and waywardness of her nature, her singular alternations of passion and softness—the mixture of ignorance and genius—of delicacy and rudeness—of the quick humors of the child, and the proud calmness of the woman. Although she refused to accept of freedom, she was constantly suffered to be free; she went where she listed; no curb was put either on her words or actions; they felt for one so darkly fated, and so susceptible of every wound, the same pitying and compliant indulgence the mother feels for a spoiled and sickly child—dreading to impose authority, even where they imagined it for her benefit. She availed herself of this license by refusing the companionship of the slave whom they wished to attend her. With the slender staff by which she guided her steps, she went now, as in her former unprotected state, along the populous streets: it was almost miraculous to perceive how quickly and how dexterously she threaded every crowd, avoiding every danger, and could find her benighted way through the most intricate windings of the city. But her chief delight was still in visiting the few feet of ground which made the garden of Glaucus—in tending the flowers that at least repaid her love. Sometimes she entered the chamber where he sat, and sought a conversation, which she nearly always broke off abruptly—for conversation with Glaucus only tended to one subject—Ione; and that name from his lips inflicted agony upon her. Often she bitterly repented the service she had rendered to Ione: often she said inly, 'If she had fallen, Glaucus could have loved her no longer'; and then dark and fearful thoughts crept into her breast.

She had not experienced fully the trials that were in store for her, when she had been thus generous. She had never before been present when Glaucus and Ione were together; she had never heard that voice so kind to her, so much softer to another. The shock that crushed her heart with the tidings that Glaucus loved, had at first only saddened and benumbed—by degrees jealousy took a wilder and fiercer shape; it partook of hatred—it whispered revenge. As you see the wind only agitate the green leaf upon the bough, while the leaf which has lain withered and seared on the ground, bruised and trampled upon till the sap and life are gone, is suddenly whirled aloft—now here—now there—without stay and without rest; so the love which visits the happy and the hopeful hath but freshness on its wings! its violence is but sportive. But the heart that hath fallen from the green things of life, that is without hope, that hath no summer in its fibres, is torn and whirled by the same wind that but caresses its brethren—it hath no bough to cling to—it is dashed from path to path—till the winds fall, and it is crushed into the mire for ever.

The friendless childhood of Nydia had hardened prematurely her character; perhaps the heated scenes of profligacy through which she had passed, seemingly unscathed, had ripened her passions, though they had not sullied her purity. The orgies of Burbo might only have disgusted, the banquets of the Egyptian might only have terrified, at the moment; but the winds that pass unheeded over the soil leave seeds behind them. As darkness, too, favors the imagination, so, perhaps, her very blindness contributed to feed with wild and delirious visions the love of the unfortunate girl. The voice of Glaucus had been the first that had sounded musically to her ear; his kindness made a deep impression upon her mind; when he had left Pompeii in the former year, she had treasured up in her heart every word he had uttered; and when any one told her that this friend and patron of the poor flower-girl was the most brilliant and the most graceful of the young revellers of Pompeii, she had felt a pleasing pride in nursing his recollection. Even the task which she imposed upon herself, of tending his flowers, served to keep him in her mind; she associated him with all that was most charming to her impressions; and when she had refused to express what image she fancied Ione to resemble, it was partly, perhaps, that whatever was bright and soft in nature she had already combined with the thought of Glaucus. If any of my readers ever loved at an age which they would now smile to remember—an age in which fancy forestalled the reason, let them say whether that love, among all its strange and complicated delicacies, was not, above all other and later passions, susceptible of jealousy? I seek not here the cause: I know that it is commonly the fact.

When Glaucus returned to Pompeii, Nydia had told another year of life; that year, with its sorrows, its loneliness, its trials, had greatly developed her mind and heart; and when the Athenian drew her unconsciously to his breast, deeming her still in soul as in years a child—when he kissed her smooth cheek, and wound his arm round her trembling frame, Nydia felt suddenly, and as by revelation, that those feelings she had long and innocently cherished were of love. Doomed to be rescued from tyranny by Glaucus—doomed to take shelter under his roof—doomed to breathe, but for so brief a time, the same air—and doomed, in the first rush of a thousand happy, grateful, delicious sentiments of an overflowing heart, to hear that he loved another; to be commissioned to that other, the messenger, the minister; to feel all at once that utter nothingness which she was—which she ever must be, but which, till then, her young mind had not taught her—that utter nothingness to him who was all to her; what wonder that, in her wild and passionate soul, all the elements jarred discordant; that if love reigned over the whole, it was not the love which is born of the more sacred and soft emotions? Sometimes she dreaded only lest Glaucus should discover her secret; sometimes she felt indignant that it was not suspected: it was a sign of contempt—could he imagine that she presumed so far? Her feelings to Ione ebbed and flowed with every hour; now she loved her because he did; now she hated him for the same cause. There were moments when she could have murdered her unconscious mistress; moments when she could have laid down life for her. These fierce and tremulous alternations of passion were too severe to be borne long. Her health gave way, though she felt it not—her cheek paled—her step grew feebler—tears came to her eyes more often, and relieved her less.

One morning, when she repaired to her usual task in the garden of the Athenian, she found Glaucus under the columns of the peristyle, with a merchant of the town; he was selecting jewels for his destined bride. He had already fitted up her apartment; the jewels he bought that day were placed also within it—they were never fated to grace the fair form of Ione; they may be seen at this day among the disinterred treasures of Pompeii, in the chambers of the studio at Naples.

'Come hither, Nydia; put down thy vase, and come hither. Thou must take this chain from me—stay—there, I have put it on. There, Servilius, does it not become her?'

'Wonderfully!' answered the jeweller; for jewellers were well-bred and flattering men, even at that day. 'But when these ear-rings glitter in the ears of the noble Ione, then, by Bacchus! you will see whether my art adds anything to beauty.'

'Ione?' repeated Nydia, who had hitherto acknowledged by smiles and blushes the gift of Glaucus.

'Yes,' replied the Athenian, carelessly toying with the gems; 'I am choosing a present for Ione, but there are none worthy of her.'

He was startled as he spoke by an abrupt gesture of Nydia; she tore the chain violently from her neck, and dashed it on the ground.

'How is this? What, Nydia, dost thou not like the bauble? art thou offended?'

'You treat me ever as a slave and as a child,' replied the Thessalian, with ill-suppressed sobs, and she turned hastily away to the opposite corner of the garden.

Glaucus did not attempt to follow, or to soothe; he was offended; he continued to examine the jewels and to comment on their fashion—to object to this and to praise that, and finally to be talked by the merchant into buying all; the safest plan for a lover, and a plan that any one will do right to adopt, provided always that he can obtain an Ione!

When he had completed his purchase and dismissed the jeweller, he retired into his chamber, dressed, mounted his chariot, and went to Ione. He thought no more of the blind girl, or her offence; he had forgotten both the one and the other.

He spent the forenoon with his beautiful Neapolitan, repaired thence to the baths, supped (if, as we have said before, we can justly so translate the three o'clock coena of the Romans) alone, and abroad, for Pompeii had its restaurateurs—and returning home to change his dress ere he again repaired to the house of Ione, he passed the peristyle, but with the absorbed reverie and absent eyes of a man in love, and did not note the form of the poor blind girl, bending exactly in the same place where he had left her. But though he saw her not, her ear recognized at once the sound of his step. She had been counting the moments to his return. He had scarcely entered his favorite chamber, which opened on the peristyle, and seated himself musingly on his couch, when he felt his robe timorously touched, and, turning, he beheld Nydia kneeling before him, and holding up to him a handful of flowers—a gentle and appropriate peace-offering—her eyes, darkly upheld to his own, streamed with tears.

'I have offended thee,' said she, sobbing, 'and for the first time. I would die rather than cause thee a moment's pain—say that thou wilt forgive me. See! I have taken up the chain; I have put it on: I will never part from it—it is thy gift.'

'My dear Nydia,' returned Glaucus, and raising her, he kissed her forehead, 'think of it no more! But why, my child, wert thou so suddenly angry? I could not divine the cause?'

'Do not ask!' said she, coloring violently. 'I am a thing full of faults and humors; you know I am but a child—you say so often: is it from a child that you can expect a reason for every folly?'

'But, prettiest, you will soon be a child no more; and if you would have us treat you as a woman, you must learn to govern these singular impulses and gales of passion. Think not I chide: no, it is for your happiness only I speak.'

'It is true,' said Nydia, 'I must learn to govern myself I must bide, I must suppress, my heart. This is a woman's task and duty; methinks her virtue is hypocrisy.'

'Self-control is not deceit, my Nydia,' returned the Athenian; and that is the virtue necessary alike to man and to woman; it is the true senatorial toga, the badge of the dignity it covers!'

'Self-control! self-control! Well, well, what you say is right! When I listen to you, Glaucus, my wildest thoughts grow calm and sweet, and a delicious serenity falls over me. Advise, ah! guide me ever, my preserver!'

'Thy affectionate heart will be thy best guide, Nydia, when thou hast learned to regulate its feelings.'

'Ah! that will be never,' sighed Nydia, wiping away her tears.

'Say not so: the first effort is the only difficult one.'

'I have made many first efforts,' answered Nydia, innocently. 'But you, my Mentor, do you find it so easy to control yourself? Can you conceal, can you even regulate, your love for Ione?'

'Love! dear Nydia: ah! that is quite another matter,' answered the young preceptor.

'I thought so!' returned Nydia, with a melancholy smile. 'Glaucus, wilt thou take my poor flowers? Do with them as thou wilt—thou canst give them to Ione,' added she, with a little hesitation.

'Nay, Nydia,' answered Glaucus, kindly, divining something of jealousy in her language, though he imagined it only the jealousy of a vain and susceptible child; 'I will not give thy pretty flowers to any one. Sit here and weave them into a garland; I will wear it this night: it is not the first those delicate fingers have woven for me.'

The poor girl delightedly sat down beside Glaucus. She drew from her girdle a ball of the many-colored threads, or rather slender ribands, used in the weaving of garlands, and which (for it was her professional occupation) she carried constantly with her, and began quickly and gracefully to commence her task. Upon her young cheeks the tears were already dried, a faint but happy smile played round her lips—childlike, indeed, she was sensible only of the joy of the present hour: she was reconciled to Glaucus: he had forgiven her—she was beside him—he played caressingly with her silken hair—his breath fanned her cheek—Ione, the cruel Ione, was not by—none other demanded, divided, his care. Yes, she was happy and forgetful; it was one of the few moments in her brief and troubled life that it was sweet to treasure, to recall. As the butterfly, allured by the winter sun, basks for a little in the sudden light, ere yet the wind awakes and the frost comes on, which shall blast it before the eve—she rested beneath a beam, which, by contrast with the wonted skies, was not chilling; and the instinct which should have warned her of its briefness, bade her only gladden in its smile.

'Thou hast beautiful locks,' said Glaucus. 'They were once, I ween well, a mother's delight.'

Nydia sighed; it would seem that she had not been born a slave; but she ever shunned the mention of her parentage, and, whether obscure or noble, certain it is that her birth was never known by her benefactors, nor by any one in those distant shores, even to the last. The child of sorrow and of mystery, she came and went as some bird that enters our chamber for a moment; we see it flutter for a while before us, we know not whence it flew or to what region it escapes.

Nydia sighed, and after a short pause, without answering the remark, said: 'But do I weave too many roses in my wreath, Glaucus? They tell me it is thy favorite flower.'

'And ever favored, my Nydia, be it by those who have the soul of poetry: it is the flower of love, of festival; it is also the flower we dedicate to silence and to death; it blooms on our brows in life, while life be worth the having; it is scattered above our sepulchre when we are no more.'

'Ah! would,' said Nydia, 'instead of this perishable wreath, that I could take thy web from the hand of the Fates, and insert the roses there!'

'Pretty one! thy wish is worthy of a voice so attuned to song; it is uttered in the spirit of song; and, whatever my doom, I thank thee.'

'Whatever thy doom! is it not already destined to all things bright and fair? My wish was vain. The Fates will be as tender to thee as I should.'

'It might not be so, Nydia, were it not for love! While youth lasts, I may forget my country for a while. But what Athenian, in his graver manhood, can think of Athens as she was, and be contented that he is happy, while she is fallen?—fallen, and for ever?'

'And why for ever?'

'As ashes cannot be rekindled—as love once dead can never revive, so freedom departed from a people is never regained. But talk we not of these matters unsuited to thee.'

'To me, oh! thou errest. I, too, have my sighs for Greece; my cradle was rocked at the foot of Olympus; the gods have left the mountain, but their traces may be seen—seen in the hearts of their worshippers, seen in the beauty of their clime: they tell me it is beautiful, and I have felt its airs, to which even these are harsh—its sun, to which these skies are chill. Oh! talk to me of Greece! Poor fool that I am, I can comprehend thee! and methinks, had I yet lingered on those shores, had I been a Grecian maid whose happy fate it was to love and to be loved, I myself could have armed my lover for another Marathon, a new Plataea. Yes, the hand that now weaves the roses should have woven thee the olive crown!'

'If such a day could come!' said Glaucus, catching the enthusiasm of the blind Thessalian, and half rising.—'But no! the sun has set, and the night only bids us be forgetful—and in forgetfulness be gay—weave still the roses!'

But it was with a melancholy tone of forced gaiety that the Athenian uttered the last words: and sinking into a gloomy reverie, he was only wakened from it, a few minutes afterwards, by the voice of Nydia, as she sang in a low tone the following words, which he had once taught her:—



Who will assume the bays
That the hero wore?
Wreaths on the Tomb of Days
Gone evermore!
Who shall disturb the brave,
Or one leaf on their holy grave?
The laurel is vowed to them,
Leave the bay on its sacred stem!
But this, the rose, the fading rose,
Alike for slave and freeman grows.


If Memory sit beside the dead
With tombs her only treasure;
If Hope is lost and Freedom fled,
The more excuse for Pleasure.
Come, weave the wreath, the roses weave,
The rose at least is ours:
To feeble hearts our fathers leave,
In pitying scorn, the flowers!


On the summit, worn and hoary,
Of Phyle's solemn hill,
The tramp of the brave is still!
And still in the saddening Mart,
The pulse of that mighty heart,
Whose very blood was glory!
Glaucopis forsakes her own,
The angry gods forget us;
But yet, the blue streams along,
Walk the feet of the silver Song;
And the night-bird wakes the moon;
And the bees in the blushing noon
Haunt the heart of the old Hymettus.
We are fallen, but not forlorn,
If something is left to cherish;
As Love was the earliest born,
So Love is the last to perish.


Wreathe then the roses, wreathe
The BEAUTIFUL still is ours,
While the stream shall flow and the sky shall glow,
The BEAUTIFUL still is ours!
Whatever is fair, or soft, or bright,
In the lap of day or the arms of night,
Whispers our soul of Greece—of Greece,
And hushes our care with a voice of peace.
Wreathe then the roses, wreathe!
They tell me of earlier hours;
And I hear the heart of my Country breathe
From the lips of the Stranger's flowers.

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