Last Days of Pompeii

Chapter XI


WHEN the Thessalian found that Arbaces returned to her no more—when she was left, hour after hour, to all the torture of that miserable suspense which was rendered by blindness doubly intolerable, she began, with outstretched arms, to feel around her prison for some channel of escape; and finding the only entrance secure, she called aloud, and with the vehemence of a temper naturally violent, and now sharpened by impatient agony.

'Ho, girl!' said the slave in attendance, opening the door; art thou bit by a scorpion? or thinkest thou that we are dying of silence here, and only to be preserved, like the infant Jupiter, by a hullabaloo?'

'Where is thy master? and wherefore am I caged here? I want air and liberty: let me go forth!'

'Alas! little one, hast thou not seen enough of Arbaces to know that his will is imperial! He hath ordered thee to be caged; and caged thou art, and I am thy keeper. Thou canst not have air and liberty; but thou mayst have what are much better things—food and wine.'

'Proh Jupiter!' cried the girl, wringing her hands; 'and why am I thus imprisoned? What can the great Arbaces want with so poor a thing as I am?'

'That I know not, unless it be to attend on thy new mistress, who has been brought hither this day.'

'What! Ione here?'

'Yes, poor lady; she liked it little, I fear. Yet, by the Temple of Castor! Arbaces is a gallant man to the women. Thy lady is his ward, thou knowest.'

'Wilt thou take me to her?'

'She is ill—frantic with rage and spite. Besides, I have no orders to do so; and I never think for myself. When Arbaces made me slave of these chambers, he said, "I have but one lesson to give thee—while thou servest me, thou must have neither ears, eyes, nor thought; thou must be but one quality—obedience."'

'But what harm is there in seeing Ione?'

'That I know not; but if thou wantest a companion, I am willing to talk to thee, little one, for I am solitary enough in my dull cubiculum. And, by the way, thou art Thessalian—knowest thou not some cunning amusement of knife and shears, some pretty trick of telling fortunes, as most of thy race do, in order to pass the time.'

'Tush, slave, hold thy peace! or, if thou wilt speak, what hast thou heard of the state of Glaucus?'

'Why, my master has gone to the Athenian's trial; Glaucus will smart for it!'

'For what?'

'The murder of the priest Apaecides.'

'Ha!' said Nydia, pressing her hands to her forehead; 'something of this I have indeed heard, but understand not. Yet, who will dare to touch a hair of his head?'

'That will the lion, I fear.'

'Averting gods! what wickedness dost thou utter?'

'Why, only that, if he be found guilty, the lion, or may be the tiger, will be his executioner.'

Nydia leaped up, as if an arrow had entered her heart; she uttered a piercing scream; then, falling before the feet of the slave, she cried, in a tone that melted even his rude heart:

'Ah! tell me thou jestest—thou utterest not the truth—speak, speak!'

'Why, by my faith, blind girl, I know nothing of the law; it may not be so bad as I say. But Arbaces is his accuser, and the people desire a victim for the arena. Cheer thee! But what hath the fate of the Athenian to do with thine?'

'No matter, no matter—he has been kind to me: thou knowest not, then, what they will do? Arbaces his accuser! O fate! The people—the people! Ah! they can look upon his face—who will be cruel to the Athenian!—Yet was not Love itself cruel to him?'

So saying, her head drooped upon her bosom: she sunk into silence; scalding tears flowed down her cheeks; and all the kindly efforts of the slave were unable either to console her or distract the absorption of her reverie.

When his household cares obliged the ministrant to leave her room, Nydia began to re-collect her thoughts. Arbaces was the accuser of Glaucus; Arbaces had imprisoned her here; was not that a proof that her liberty might be serviceable to Glaucus? Yes, she was evidently inveigled into some snare; she was contributing to the destruction of her beloved! Oh, how she panted for release! Fortunately, for her sufferings, all sense of pain became merged in the desire of escape; and as she began to revolve the possibility of deliverance, she grew calm and thoughtful. She possessed much of the craft of her sex, and it had been increased in her breast by her early servitude. What slave was ever destitute of cunning? She resolved to practise upon her keeper; and calling suddenly to mind his superstitious query as to her Thessalian art, she hoped by that handle to work out some method of release. These doubts occupied her mind during the rest of the day and the long hours of night; and, accordingly, when Sosia visited her the following morning, she hastened to divert his garrulity into that channel in which it had before evinced a natural disposition to flow.

She was aware, however, that her only chance of escape was at night; and accordingly she was obliged with a bitter pang at the delay to defer till then her purposed attempt.

'The night,' said she, 'is the sole time in which we can well decipher the decrees of Fate—then it is thou must seek me. But what desirest thou to learn?'

'By Pollux! I should like to know as much as my master; but that is not to be expected. Let me know, at least, whether I shall save enough to purchase my freedom, or whether this Egyptian will give it me for nothing. He does such generous things sometimes. Next, supposing that be true, shall I possess myself of that snug taberna among the Myropolia, which I have long had in my eye? 'Tis a genteel trade that of a perfumer, and suits a retired slave who has something of a gentleman about him!'

'Ay! so you would have precise answers to those questions?—there are various ways of satisfying you. There is the Lithomanteia, or Speaking-stone, which answers your prayer with an infant's voice; but, then, we have not that precious stone with us—costly is it and rare. Then there is the Gastromanteia, whereby the demon casts pale and deadly images upon the water, prophetic of the future. But this art requires also glasses of a peculiar fashion, to contain the consecrated liquid, which we have not. I think, therefore, that the simplest method of satisfying your desire would be by the Magic of Air.'

'I trust,' said Sosia, tremulously, 'that there is nothing very frightful in the operation? I have no love for apparitions.'

'Fear not; thou wilt see nothing; thou wilt only hear by the bubbling of water whether or not thy suit prospers. First, then, be sure, from the rising of the evening star, that thou leavest the garden-gate somewhat open, so that the demon may feel himself invited to enter therein; and place fruits and water near the gate as a sign of hospitality; then, three hours after twilight, come here with a bowl of the coldest and purest water, and thou shalt learn all, according to the Thessalian lore my mother taught me. But forget not the garden-gate—all rests upon that: it must be open when you come, and for three hours previously.'

'Trust me,' replied the unsuspecting Sosia; 'I know what a gentleman's feelings are when a door is shut in his face, as the cookshop's hath been in mine many a day; and I know, also, that a person of respectability, as a demon of course is, cannot but be pleased, on the other hand, with any little mark of courteous hospitality. Meanwhile, pretty one, here is thy morning's meal.'

'But what of the trial?'

'Oh, the lawyers are still at it—talk, talk—it will last over all to-morrow.'

'To-morrow? You are sure of that?'

'So I hear.'

'And Ione?'

'By Bacchus! she must be tolerably well, for she was strong enough to make my master stamp and bite his lip this morning. I saw him quit her apartment with a brow like a thunderstorm.'

'Lodges she near this?'

'No—in the upper apartments. But I must not stay prating here longer. Vale!'

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