Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

8. Chapter VIII


THE evening darkened over the restless city as Apaecides took his way to the house of the Egyptian. He avoided the more lighted and populous streets; and as he strode onward with his head buried in his bosom, and his arms folded within his robe, there was something startling in the contrast, which his solemn mien and wasted form presented to the thoughtless brows and animated air of those who occasionally crossed his path.

At length, however, a man of a more sober and staid demeanor, and who had twice passed him with a curious but doubting look, touched him on the shoulder.

'Apaecides!' said he, and he made a rapid sign with his hands: it was the sign of the cross.

'Well, Nazarene,' replied the priest, and his face grew paler; 'what wouldst thou?'

'Nay,' returned the stranger, 'I would not interrupt thy meditations; but the last time we met, I seemed not to be so unwelcome.'

'You are not unwelcome, Olinthus; but I am sad and weary: nor am I able this evening to discuss with you those themes which are most acceptable to you.'

'O backward of heart!' said Olinthus, with bitter fervor; and art thou sad and weary, and wilt thou turn from the very springs that refresh and heal?'

'O earth!' cried the young priest, striking his breast passionately, 'from what regions shall my eyes open to the true Olympus, where thy gods really dwell? Am I to believe with this man, that none whom for so many centuries my fathers worshipped have a being or a name? Am I to break down, as something blasphemous and profane, the very altars which I have deemed most sacred? or am I to think with Arbaces--what?' He paused, and strode rapidly away in the impatience of a man who strives to get rid of himself. But the Nazarene was one of those hardy, vigorous, and enthusiastic men, by whom God in all times has worked the revolutions of earth, and those, above all, in the establishment and in the reformation of His own religion--men who were formed to convert, because formed to endure. It is men of this mould whom nothing discourages, nothing dismays; in the fervor of belief they are inspired and they inspire. Their reason first kindles their passion, but the passion is the instrument they use; they force themselves into men's hearts, while they appear only to appeal to their judgment. Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm; it is the real allegory of the tale of Orpheus--it moves stones, it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.

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