Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

6. Chapter VI


THE sudden catastrophe which had, as it were, riven the very bonds of society, and left prisoner and jailer alike free, had soon rid Calenus of the guards to whose care the praetor had consigned him. And when the darkness and the crowd separated the priest from his attendants, he hastened with trembling steps towards the temple of his goddess. As he crept along, and ere the darkness was complete, he felt himself suddenly caught by the robe, and a voice muttered in his ear:

'Hist!--Calenus!--an awful hour!'

'Ay! by my father's head! Who art thou?--thy face is dim, and thy voice is strange.

'Not know thy Burbo?--fie!'

'Gods!--how the darkness gathers! Ho, ho!--by yon terrific mountain, what sudden blazes of lightning!'--How they dart and quiver! Hades is loosed on earth!'

'Tush!--thou believest not these things, Calenus! Now is the time to make our fortune!'


'Listen! Thy temple is full of gold and precious mummeries!--let us load ourselves with them, and then hasten to the sea and embark! None will ever ask an account of the doings of this day.'

'Burbo, thou art right! Hush, and follow me into the temple. Who cares now--who sees now--whether thou art a priest or not? Follow, and we will share.'

In the precincts of the temple were many priests gathered around the altars, praying, weeping, grovelling in the dust. Impostors in safety, they were not the less superstitious in danger! Calenus passed them, and entered the chamber yet to be seen in the south side of the court. Burbo followed him--the priest struck a light. Wine and viands strewed the table; the remains of a sacrificial feast.

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