Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

10. Chapter X (continued)

The witch had resumed her seat, and her aspect of gravelike and grim repose. By her feet, upon a bed of dry weeds which half covered it, lay the wounded snake; but the quick eye of the Egyptian caught its scales glittering in the reflected light of the opposite fire, as it writhed--now contracting, now lengthening, its folds, in pain and unsated anger.

'Down, slave!' said the witch, as before, to the fox; and, as before, the animal dropped to the ground--mute, but vigilant.

'Rise, servant of Nox and Erebus!' said Arbaces, commandingly; 'a superior in thine art salutes thee! rise, and welcome him.'

At these words the hag turned her gaze upon the Egyptian's towering form and dark features. She looked long and fixedly upon him, as he stood before her in his Oriental robe, and folded arms, and steadfast and haughty brow. 'Who art thou,' she said at last, 'that callest thyself greater in art than the Saga of the Burning Fields, and the daughter of the perished Etrurian race?'

'I am he,' answered Arbaces, 'from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn.'

'There is but one such man in these places,' answered the witch, 'whom the men of the outer world, unknowing his loftier attributes and more secret fame, call Arbaces the Egyptian: to us of a higher nature and deeper knowledge, his rightful appellation is Hermes of the Burning Girdle.'

'Look again, returned Arbaces: 'I am he.'

As he spoke he drew aside his robe, and revealed a cincture seemingly of fire, that burned around his waist, clasped in the centre by a plate whereon was engraven some sign apparently vague and unintelligible but which was evidently not unknown to the Saga. She rose hastily, and threw herself at the feet of Arbaces. 'I have seen, then,' said she, in a voice of deep humility, 'the Lord of the Mighty Girdle--vouchsafe my homage.'

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