BOOK THE FIFTH
6. Chapter VI
'A man who has hungered forty-eight hours,' muttered Calenus, 'has an
appetite even in such a time.' He seized on the food, and devoured it
greedily. Nothing could perhaps, be more unnaturally horrid than the
selfish baseness of these villains; for there is nothing more loathsome than
the valor of avarice. Plunder and sacrilege while the pillars of the world
tottered to and fro! What an increase to the terrors of nature can be made
by the vices of man!
'Wilt thou never have done?' said Burbo, impatiently; 'thy face purples and
thine eyes start already.'
'It is not every day one has such a right to be hungry. Oh, Jupiter! what
sound is that?--the hissing of fiery water! What! does the cloud give rain
as well as flame! Ha!--what! shrieks? And, Burbo, how silent all is now!
Amidst the other horrors, the mighty mountain now cast up columns of boiling
water. Blent and kneaded with the half-burning ashes, the streams fell like
seething mud over the streets in frequent intervals. And full, where the
priests of Isis had now cowered around the altars, on which they had vainly
sought to kindle fires and pour incense, one of the fiercest of those deadly
torrents, mingled with immense fragments of scoria, had poured its rage.
Over the bended forms of the priests it dashed: that cry had been of
death--that silence had been of eternity! The ashes--the pitchy
streams--sprinkled the altars, covered the pavement, and half concealed the
quivering corpses of the priests!
'They are dead,' said Burbo, terrified for the first time, and hurrying back
into the cell. 'I thought not the danger was so near and fatal.'
The two wretches stood staring at each other--you might have heard their
hearts beat! Calenus, the less bold by nature, but the more griping,
'We must to our task, and away!' he said, in a low whisper, frightened at
his own voice. He stepped to the threshold, paused, crossed over the heated
floor and his dead brethren to the sacred chapel, and called to Burbo to
follow. But the gladiator quaked, and drew back.