Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

8. Chapter VIII (continued)

'Admit her,' said the Egyptian: for a moment his vain heart dreamed the stranger might be Ione.

The first glance of the visitor now entering the apartment sufficed to undeceive so erring a fancy. True, she was about the same height as Ione, and perhaps the same age--true, she was finely and richly formed--but where was that undulating and ineffable grace which accompanied every motion of the peerless Neapolitan--the chaste and decorous garb, so simple even in the care of its arrangement--the dignified yet bashful step--the majesty of womanhood and its modesty?

'Pardon me that I rise with pain,' said Arbaces, gazing on the stranger: 'I am still suffering from recent illness.'

'Do not disturb thyself, O great Egyptian!' returned Julia, seeking to disguise the fear she already experienced beneath the ready resort of flattery; 'and forgive an unfortunate female, who seeks consolation from thy wisdom.'

'Draw near, fair stranger,' said Arbaces; 'and speak without apprehension or reserve.'

Julia placed herself on a seat beside the Egyptian, and wonderingly gazed around an apartment whose elaborate and costly luxuries shamed even the ornate enrichment of her father's mansion; fearfully, too, she regarded the hieroglyphical inscriptions on the walls--the faces of the mysterious images, which at every corner gazed upon her--the tripod at a little distance--and, above all, the grave and remarkable countenance of Arbaces himself: a long white robe like a veil half covered his raven locks, and flowed to his feet: his face was made even more impressive by its present paleness; and his dark and penetrating eyes seemed to pierce the shelter of her veil, and explore the secrets of her vain and unfeminine soul.

'And what,' said his low, deep voice, 'brings thee, O maiden! to the house of the Eastern stranger?'

'His fame,' replied Julia.

'In what?' said he, with a strange and slight smile.

'Canst thou ask, O wise Arbaces? Is not thy knowledge the very gossip theme of Pompeii?'

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