Last Days of Pompeii

Chapter IX


WHILE some stayed behind to share with the priests the funeral banquet, Ione and her handmaids took homeward their melancholy way. And now (the last duties to her brother performed) her mind awoke from its absorption, and she thought of her allianced, and the dread charge against him. Not—as we have before said—attaching even a momentary belief to the unnatural accusation, but nursing the darkest suspicion against Arbaces, she felt that justice to her lover and to her murdered relative demanded her to seek the praetor, and communicate her impression, unsupported as it might be. Questioning her maidens, who had hitherto—kindly anxious, as I have said, to save her the additional agony—refrained from informing her of the state of Glaucus, she learned that he had been dangerously ill: that he was in custody, under the roof of Sallust; that the day of his trial was appointed.

'Averting gods,' she exclaimed; 'and have I been so long forgetful of him? Have I seemed to shun him? O! let me hasten to do him justice—to show that I, the nearest relative of the dead, believe him innocent of the charge. Quick! quick! let us fly. Let me soothe—tend—cheer him! and if they will not believe me; if they will not lead to my conviction; if they sentence him to exile or to death, let me share the sentence with him!'

Instinctively she hastened her pace, confused and bewildered, scarce knowing whither she went; now designing first to seek the praetor, and now to rush to the chamber of Glaucus. She hurried on—she passed the gate of the city—she was in the long street leading up the town. The houses were opened, but none were yet astir in the streets; the life of the city was scarce awake—when lo! she came suddenly upon a small knot of men standing beside a covered litter. A tall figure stepped from the midst of them, and Ione shrieked aloud to behold Arbaces.

'Fair Ione!' said he, gently, and appearing not to heed her alarm: 'my ward, my pupil! forgive me if I disturb thy pious sorrows; but the praetor, solicitous of thy honour, and anxious that thou mayest not rashly be implicated in the coming trial; knowing the strange embarrassment of thy state (seeking justice for thy brother, but dreading punishment to thy betrothed)—sympathizing, too, with thy unprotected and friendless condition, and deeming it harsh that thou shouldst be suffered to act unguided and mourn alone—hath wisely and paternally confided thee to the care of thy lawful guardian. Behold the writing which intrusts thee to my charge!'

'Dark Egyptian!' cried Ione, drawing herself proudly aside; 'begone! It is thou that hast slain my brother! Is it to thy care, thy hands yet reeking with his blood, that they will give the sister Ha! thou turnest pale! thy conscience smites thee! thou tremblest at the thunderbolt of the avenging god! Pass on, and leave me to my woe!'

'Thy sorrows unstring thy reason, Ione,' said Arbaces, attempting in vain his usual calmness of tone. 'I forgive thee. Thou wilt find me now, as ever, thy surest friend. But the public streets are not the fitting place for us to confer—for me to console thee. Approach, slaves! Come, my sweet charge, the litter awaits thee.'

The amazed and terrified attendants gathered round Ione, and clung to her knees.

'Arbaces,' said the eldest of the maidens, 'this is surely not the law! For nine days after the funeral, is it not written that the relatives of the deceased shall not be molested in their homes, or interrupted in their solitary grief?'

'Woman!' returned Arbaces, imperiously waving his hand, 'to place a ward under the roof of her guardian is not against the funeral laws. I tell thee I have the fiat of the praetor. This delay is indecorous. Place her in the litter.'

So saying, he threw his arm firmly round the shrinking form of Ione. She drew back, gazed earnestly in his face, and then burst into hysterical laughter:

'Ha, ha! this is well—well! Excellent guardian—paternal law! Ha, ha!' And, startled herself at the dread echo of that shrill and maddened laughter, she sunk, as it died away, lifeless upon the ground... A minute more, and Arbaces had lifted her into the litter. The bearers moved swiftly on, and the unfortunate Ione was soon borne from the sight of her weeping handmaids.

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