Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

14. Chapter XIV


WHAT 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!'

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