Last Days of Pompeii

Chapter III


THRICE had Sallust awakened from his morning sleep, and thrice, recollecting that his friend was that day to perish, had he turned himself with a deep sigh once more to court oblivion. His sole object in life was to avoid pain; and where he could not avoid, at least to forget it.

At length, unable any longer to steep his consciousness in slumber, he raised himself from his incumbent posture, and discovered his favorite freedman sitting by his bedside as usual; for Sallust, who, as I have said, had a gentlemanlike taste for the polite letters, was accustomed to be read to for an hour or so previous to his rising in the morning.

'No books to-day! no more Tibullus! no more Pindar for me! Pindar! alas, alas! the very name recalls those games to which our arena is the savage successor. Has it begun—the amphitheatre? are its rites commenced?'

'Long since, O Sallust! Did you not hear the trumpets and the trampling feet?'

'Ay, ay; but the gods be thanked, I was drowsy, and had only to turn round to fall asleep again.'

'The gladiators must have been long in the ring.'

'The wretches! None of my people have gone to the spectacle?'

'Assuredly not; your orders were too strict.'

'That is well—would the day were over! What is that letter yonder on the table?'

'That! Oh, the letter brought to you last night, when you were—too—too...'

'Drunk to read it, I suppose. No matter, it cannot be of much importance.'

'Shall I open it for you, Sallust,'

'Do: anything to divert my thoughts. Poor Glaucus!'

The freedman opened the letter. 'What! Greek?' said he: some learned lady, I suppose.' He glanced over the letter, and for some moments the irregular lines traced by the blind girl's hand puzzled him. Suddenly, however, his countenance exhibited emotion and surprise. 'Good gods! noble Sallust! what have we done not to attend to this before? Hear me read!

'"Nydia, the slave, to Sallust, the friend of Glaucus! I am a prisoner in the house of Arbaces. Hasten to the praetor! procure my release, and we shall yet save Glaucus from the lion. There is another prisoner within these walls, whose witness can exonerate the Athenian from the charge against him—one who saw the crime—who can prove the criminal in a villain hitherto unsuspected. Fly! hasten! quick! quick! Bring with you armed men, lest resistance be made, and a cunning and dexterous smith; for the dungeon of my fellow-prisoner is thick and strong. Oh! by thy right hand and thy father's ashes, lose not a moment!"'

'Great Jove!' exclaimed Sallust, starting, 'and this day—nay, within this hour, perhaps, he dies. What is to be done? I will instantly to the praetor.'

'Nay; not so. The praetor (as well as Pansa, the editor himself) is the creature of the mob; and the mob will not hear of delay; they will not be balked in the very moment of expectation. Besides, the publicity of the appeal would forewarn the cunning Egyptian. It is evident that he has some interest in these concealments. No; fortunately thy slaves are in thy house.'

'I seize thy meaning,' interrupted Sallust: 'arm the slaves instantly. The streets are empty. We will ourselves hasten to the house of Arbaces, and release the prisoners. Quick! quick! What ho! Davus there! My gown and sandals, the papyrus and a reed.' I will write to the praetor, to beseech him to delay the sentence of Glaucus, for that, within an hour, we may yet prove him innocent. So, so, that is well. Hasten with this, Davus, to the praetor, at the amphitheatre. See it given to his own hand. Now then, O ye gods! whose providence Epicurus denied, befriend me, and I will call Epicurus a liar!'

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