Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

8. Chapter VIII


ADVANCING, as men grope for escape in a dungeon, Ione and her lover continued their uncertain way. At the moments when the volcanic lightnings lingered over the streets, they were enabled, by that awful light, to steer and guide their progress: yet, little did the view it presented to them cheer or encourage their path. In parts, where the ashes lay dry and uncommixed with the boiling torrents, cast upward from the mountain at capricious intervals, the surface of the earth presented a leprous and ghastly white. In other places, cinder and rock lay matted in heaps, from beneath which emerged the half-hid limbs of some crushed and mangled fugitive. The groans of the dying were broken by wild shrieks of women's terror--now near, now distant--which, when heard in the utter darkness, were rendered doubly appalling by the crushing sense of helplessness and the uncertainty of the perils around; and clear and distinct through all were the mighty and various noises from the Fatal Mountain; its rushing winds; its whirling torrents; and, from time to time, the burst and roar of some more fiery and fierce explosion. And ever as the winds swept howling along the street, they bore sharp streams of burning dust, and such sickening and poisonous vapors, as took away, for the instant, breath and consciousness, followed by a rapid revulsion of the arrested blood, and a tingling sensation of agony trembling through every nerve and fibre of the frame.

'Oh, Glaucus! my beloved! my own!--take me to thy arms! One embrace! let me feel thy arms around me--and in that embrace let me die--I can no more!'

'For my sake, for my life--courage, yet, sweet Ione--my life is linked with thine: and see--torches--this way! Lo! how they brave the Wind! Ha! they live through the storm--doubtless, fugitives to the sea! we will join them.'

As if to aid and reanimate the lovers, the winds and showers came to a sudden pause; the atmosphere was profoundly still--the mountain seemed at rest, gathering, perhaps, fresh fury for its next burst; the torch-bearers moved quickly on. 'We are nearing the sea,' said, in a calm voice, the person at their head. 'Liberty and wealth to each slave who survives this day! Courage! I tell you that the gods themselves have assured me of deliverance. On!'

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