HAT words of terror, yet of hope, had Nydia overheard! The next day Glaucus was to be condemned; yet there lived one who could save him, and adjudge Arbaces to his doom, and that one breathed within a few steps of her hiding-place! She caught his cries and shrieks—his imprecations—his prayers, though they fell choked and muffled on her ear. He was imprisoned, but she knew the secret of his cell: could she but escape—could she but seek the praetor he might yet in time be given to light, and preserve the Athenian. Her emotions almost stifled her; her brain reeled—she felt her sense give way—but by a violent effort she mastered herself,—and, after listening intently for several minutes, till she was convinced that Arbaces had left the space to solitude and herself, she crept on as her ear guided her to the very door that had closed upon Calenus. Here she more distinctly caught his accents of terror and despair. Thrice she attempted to speak, and thrice her voice failed to penetrate the folds of the heavy door. At length finding the lock, she applied her lips to its small aperture, and the prisoner distinctly heard a soft tone breathe his name.
His blood curdled—his hair stood on end. That awful solitude, what mysterious and preternatural being could penetrate! 'Who's there?' he cried, in new alarm; 'what spectre—what dread larva, calls upon the lost Calenus?'
'Priest,' replied the Thessalian, 'unknown to Arbaces, I have been, by the permission of the gods, a witness to his perfidy. If I myself can escape from these walls, I may save thee. But let thy voice reach my ear through this narrow passage, and answer what I ask.'
'Ah, blessed spirit,' said the priest, exultingly, and obeying the suggestion of Nydia, 'save me, and I will sell the very cups on the altar to pay thy kindness.'
'I want not thy gold—I want thy secret. Did I hear aright? Canst thou save the Athenian Glaucus from the charge against his life?'
'I can—I can!—therefore (may the Furies blast the foul Egyptian!) hath Arbaces snared me thus, and left me to starve and rot!'
'They accuse the Athenian of murder: canst thou disprove the accusation?'
'Only free me, and the proudest head of Pompeii is not more safe than his. I saw the deed done—I saw Arbaces strike the blow; I can convict the true murderer and acquit the innocent man. But if I perish, he dies also. Dost thou interest thyself for him? Oh, blessed stranger, in my heart is the urn which condemns or frees him!'
'And thou wilt give full evidence of what thou knowest?'
'Will!—Oh! were hell at my feet—yes! Revenge on the false Egyptian!—revenge!—revenge! revenge!'
As through his ground teeth Calenus shrieked forth those last words, Nydia felt that in his worst passions was her certainty of his justice to the Athenian. Her heart beat: was it to be her proud destiny to preserve her idolized—her adored? Enough,' said she, 'the powers that conducted me hither will carry me through all. Yes, I feel that I shall deliver thee. Wait in patience and hope.'
'But be cautious, be prudent, sweet stranger. Attempt not to appeal to Arbaces—he is marble. Seek the praetor—say what thou knowest—obtain his writ of search; bring soldiers, and smiths of cunning—these locks are wondrous strong! Time flies—I may starve—starve! if you are not quick! Go—go! Yet stay—it is horrible to be alone!—the air is like a charnel—and the scorpions—ha! and the pale larvae; oh! stay, stay!'
'Nay,' said Nydia, terrified by the terror of the priest, and anxious to confer with herself—'nay, for thy sake, I must depart. Take hope for thy companion—farewell!'
So saying, she glided away, and felt with extended arms along the pillared space until she had gained the farther end of the hall and the mouth of the passage that led to the upper air. But there she paused; she felt that it would be more safe to wait awhile, until the night was so far blended with the morning that the whole house would be buried in sleep, and so that she might quit it unobserved. She, therefore, once more laid herself down, and counted the weary moments. In her sanguine heart, joy was the predominant emotion. Glaucus was in deadly peril—but she should save him!
Last modified 4 January 2007