Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

5. Chapter V


THE morning sun shone over the small and odorous garden enclosed within the peristyle of the house of the Athenian. He lay reclined, sad and listlessly, on the smooth grass which intersected the viridarium; and a slight canopy stretched above, broke the fierce rays of the summer sun.

When that fairy mansion was first disinterred from the earth they found in the garden the shell of a tortoise that had been its inmate. That animal, so strange a link in the creation, to which Nature seems to have denied all the pleasure of life, save life's passive and dream-like perception, had been the guest of the place for years before Glaucus purchased it; for years, indeed which went beyond the memory of man, and to which tradition assigned an almost incredible date. The house had been built and rebuilt--its possessors had changed and fluctuated--generations had flourished and decayed--and still the tortoise dragged on its slow and unsympathizing existence. In the earthquake, which sixteen years before had overthrown many of the public buildings of the city, and scared away the amazed inhabitants, the house now inhabited by Glaucus had been terribly shattered. The possessors deserted it for many days; on their return they cleared away the ruins which encumbered the viridarium, and found still the tortoise, unharmed and unconscious of the surrounding destruction. It seemed to bear a charmed life in its languid blood and imperceptible motions; yet it was not so inactive as it seemed: it held a regular and monotonous course; inch by inch it traversed the little orbit of its domain, taking months to accomplish the whole gyration. It was a restless voyager, that tortoise!--patiently, and with pain, did it perform its self-appointed journeys, evincing no interest in the things around it--a philosopher concentrated in itself. There was something grand in its solitary selfishness!--the sun in which it basked--the waters poured daily over it--the air, which it insensibly inhaled, were its sole and unfailing luxuries. The mild changes of the season, in that lovely clime, affected it not. It covered itself with its shell--as the saint in his piety--as the sage in his wisdom--as the lover in his hope.

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